Friday, October 18, 2013

Pakistan - The Giant Killers

It has been 12 hours since Pakistan defeated South Africa in the first test of the two match series in Abu Dhabi, and the feeling that what a great achievement the win is for Pakistan has started to sink in.

There could not have been a more stark contrast between the test record of the two teams coming into this match.

South Africa - undefeated in 15 tests prior to this one, ranked world number 1, and boasting the presence of the top two ranked test batsmen and the top two ranked test bowlers in their XI.

Pakistan - 1 test win in their last 8 tests that too against lowly ranked Zimbabwe, ranked number 6, and coming fresh of a test defeat to Zimbabwe.

South Africa were clear favourites. No one really gave Pakistan a chance.

Except for those quietly confident eternally optimistic fans who believed that the UAE always brings about special performances from Pakistan.

It was just last year, in the UAE, that Pakistan had clean swept the then world number 1 test team - England. However, since then Pakistan had been poor in tests. They had lost a series to Sri Lanka, were whitewashed in South Africa, and drew a series 1-1 in Zimbabwe.

Pakistan, who had risen to number 4 in the test rankings, had fallen to 6 this year.

The slide was unfathomable for the fans.

Yet for the quietly confident eternally optimistic fans, it was just a matter of time before those fortunes swung again.

Pakistan might have become poor travellers, but they are a super power at home. They have not lost a single test match in the UAE since it became "home" for them in 2010.

Even prior to that, Pakistan's home record was second to none. They have the best W:L ratio among all teams in test matches played at home.

Pakistan's record in the UAE prior to this match against South Africa was also enviable. Played 12, Won 6, Lost 2, Draw 4.

Despite the fact that South Africa were favourites going into the first test in Abu Dhabi, I am sure that there were others like me who thought that Pakistan could not be counted out.

Yet to achieve a victory like Pakistan did was a big achievement.

Forget the fact that Pakistan defeated the world number 1 test team. Think about the fact that Pakistan managed to bowl out a team, whose batting line up comprised of the names Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, AB De Villiers, JP Duminy, and Faf Du Plessis, not once but twice for less than 250 inside 4 days.

Those 6 names are synonymous with feats like chasing 414 to win a test match in Australia and batting out 148 overs to save a test match in Australia. Two of those names sit pretty at the top of the test batsmen rankings.

The fact Pakistan's 4 man attack bowled them out for 249 and 232 on a relatively good batting surface highlights the enormity of Pakistan's achievement.

Every bowler chipped in. Mohammad Irfan softened the batsmen upfront and got the initial breakthroughs; Junaid Khan troubled the batsmen with his swing and got the prized wicket of Kallis twice in the match; the debutant Zulfiqar Babar bowled rippers and asked questions of the batsmen in every over; and the magician Saeed Ajmal continued to cast a spell ending the match as the leading wicket taker among both teams.

Pakistan's bowling has delivered time and again in the past and it did so again. What made Pakistan count in this match was its batsmen, who stood up to be counted, and almost ensured that Pakistan would not have to bat again.

There are numerous examples of test matches in which Pakistan's batsmen have thrown away the advantage that their bowlers have created for them.

That did not happen this time round.

Besides the two centuries and a solid 75 by the debutant opener, the highlight of Pakistan's batting performance was the running between the wickets. There was assurance and confidence in the manner the Pakistan batsmen ran.

The strike was rotated constantly and there was hardly any time in their innings that one felt that the Pakistanis were embroiled in meaningless defence for prolonged periods.

That allowed them to score at over 3 an over (3.18 for the innings). There were even long periods of the game when Pakistan was scoring at over 4 an over. In contrast, South Africa's run rate in its two innings was 2.67 and 2.80.

Pakistan have a lot to be proud of after this win and there are many feats that they will treasure and take with them into the next test match in Dubai.

  1. Khurram Manzoor's 146 was the highest score by a Pakistan batsman in a test match against South Africa.
  2. Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood's 135 run opening partnership was the second highest opening partnership for Pakistan against South Africa. They fell short by two runs of the record partnership, which was between Taufeeq Umar and Imran Farhat in 2003.
  3. The opener's century stand was Pakistan's first after 10 tests. The last century opening stand came 22 innings ago.
  4. Misbah, with scores of 100 and 28*, became the leading run scorer in all international matches played in 2013.
  5. Asad Shafiq scored his 7th test 50 while batting at number 6. That is now the highest number of test 50s for a number 6 batsman in tests in the past three years (since 1st November 2010). Angelo Matthews and Ian bell have 6 fifties each at number 6 during this period. Asad Shafiq also has 3 centuries at this position during this period; Only Michael Hussey with 5 centuries has more. Asad Shafiq needs 101 more runs to over take Hussey and become the leading run scorer at the number 6 position in tests since 1st November 2010.
  6. Misbah became the oldest man to score a test century for Pakistan.
  7. Dale Steyn's opening spell of 5-0-31-0 was his most expensive opening spell ever in test cricket.

UAE is fast becoming Pakistan's fortress, while Pakistan is fast gaining the reputation of being Giant Killers. This was their fourth consecutive win in the UAE against the number 1 test team.

Additionally, in the past two years they have managed to:

Beat England (World #1 Test Team) 3-0
Beat India (ODI World Champions) 2-1
Beat West Indies (World T20 Champions) 2-0

This win against South Africa is no surprise. Not for the quietly confident eternally optimistic fans. However, it is one big achievement and all Pakistani should be proud.

Especially Misbah and his men.

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