Monday, October 27, 2014

One for Pakistan's Young (and some not so young) Brigade

Pakistan's victory over Australia in the first test was not just another test victory. It was arguably one of the best test victories for Pakistan ever, achieved on the same day they registered their first ever victory in test cricket in 1952.

Pakistan's margin of victory, 221 runs, is their highest margin of victory in terms of runs over Australia. That is a massive win over the world's number 2 test team.

What makes this victory all the more special is that Pakistan fielded a relatively young and inexperienced team, particularly their bowling attack. Imran Khan and Yasir Shah were making their test debuts, while Rahat Ali and Zulfiqar Babar were playing their 7th and 3rd test match respectively.

8 test matches between Pakistan's first choice bowling attack prior to this one against Australia, and yet they bowled them out twice on a wicket that was criticized profusely for being a flat deck.

We have all seen and talked about how great Younis Khan was in this test. Yes he was, but at the same time there were various other notable performances, all of which deserve mention and praise.

Ahmed Shehzad

The boy is not even 23 years old yet and he has rapidly established himself as Pakistan's first choice opener across all formats. There is no denying that Shehzad will go on to a forge a career spanning another decade and a half and go on to become the most successful opening batsman ever produced by Pakistan.

He is Pakistan's only batsman, and one of 7 in the world, to have scored a century in all three formats of the game.

In just 5 years of international cricket, Shehzad is already level with Aamer Sohail on 5 centuries in ODIs as an opener for Pakistan. Only Salman Butt (8), Rameez Raja (8), and Saeed Anwar (20) have more centuries as openers for Pakistan.

Shehzad scored a brilliant ton, his second in tests, in the 2nd innings against Australia to ensure that Pakistan was able to accelerate and set up a declaration to have a go at the Aussies. He played a chanceless knock, piling on 131 runs, and was fierce towards the bowling as his innings progressed.

Sarfraz Ahmed

Pakistan has finally moved on from a decade of the Akmal mob behind the stumps and have unearthed a gem in the form of Sarfraz.

Sarfraz is having a phenomenal year with the bat, after having an indifferent start to his test career. Just after 4 tests, Sarfraz was written off as someone who cannot make it at the international level. His wicketkeeping was never the concern; it was the batting or rather the lack of it that was.

In his first 4 tests, Sarfraz managed a mere 89 runs in 8 innings at an average of 11.1. The turn of the year, however, saw a new Sarfraz. The world was his stage as he demonstrated his batting ability and made his bat tell all his critics that he was here to stay.

In 5 test matches this year, Sarfraz has amassed 523 runs in 10 innings at an average of 65.4! Mind you, he bats at number 7, and his runs tally includes four 50s and two centuries. During this period, he has also managed a sequence of 5 consecutive scores over 50, and centuries in two successive tests. His last 10 tests innings read 7,74,5,48,55,52*,103,55,109,15*.

In this test against Australia, he top scored in the first innings with a belligerent knock of 109 at better than run a ball. Sarfraz reached his second test century in only 80 deliveries, which is the 4th fastest century by a Pakistani in tests and the second fastest century ever by a wicketkeeper.

Among wicketkeepers, only Adam Gilchrist has scored a faster century than Sarfraz in the history of the game.

Sarfraz' knock ensured that Pakistan posted a total in excess of 450 in the first innings, which set them up for the entire match.

Yasir Shah

Yasir is only the third leg spinner to debut for Pakistan in the past two decades, with the other two being Shahid Afridi in 1998 and Danish Kaneria in 2000.

Yasir has been a top performer on the domestic circuit and has been impressing the selectors for a long time now. Finally he got his chance in test cricket and how he grabbed it with both his hands and shone like a true champion.

Yasir's haul of 7-116 in the first test against Australia gave him the best figures ever registered by a Pakistani leg spinner on his test debut. The previous best was Shahid Afridi's 5-101, also against Australia. The 7 wickets is the second most number of wickets taken on debut by a Pakistani spinner, level with Mohammad Nazir and Tauseef Ahmed, and 1 behind Abdur Rehman's 8.

Yasir's 7 wickets against Australia included wickets of Michael Clarke, David Warner, and Steve Smith (twice!). Those three are Australia's best players of spin, which speaks volumes of Yasir's achievement in this test match.

His bowling effort managed to impress Shane Warne as well, who had been singing Yasir's praises throughout this test match. What better for a young debutant to be praised by the best leg spinner to ever play the game.

Zulfiqar Babar

He doesn't really qualify as a member of the young brigade. Like Ajmal, Babar is a late bloomer and in only his 3rd test, he managed his first 5 wicket haul to ensure a massive Pakistan victory on the final day of the first test against Australia.

In the first innings, Babar snared the wickets of Clarke and Marsh, and then started Australia's slide in the second innings by effecting Warner's first ever stumped dismissal in 157 international innings.

Babar has been around the domestic scene forever and has looked on from the sidelines finding it difficult to break into the international side due to the presence of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. Now with Ajmal banned and Rehman out of favour, Babar has made the most of this opportunity and stood up to be counted as Pakistan's main spinner.

One can only be in awe of the talent available to Pakistan that despite their first choice bowlers either banned or injured, they managed to put together a bowling attack that bowled out the world's number two test side twice in 3 days.

Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq were the find of the season four years ago, and today both of them are key figures in Pakistan's test team. Over the past season and this one, Pakistan have found Shehzad, Sarfraz, Yasir, and Babar, who have started their test careers with a bang.

We can be quite sure (and hope) that they will go on to become major players for Pakistan in years to come.

While the young brigade has shone brightly for Pakistan, a test victory cannot go by without a worthy mention of the captain. Misbah, despite being out of form and under severe criticism, fought against the odds to find some form and managed the team tremendously well on the field.

This was Pakistan's 13th test win under Misbah, which makes him Pakistan's 3rd most successful test captain behind the two greats - Imran Khan and Javed Miandad - both of whom led Pakistan in 14 test wins.

This victory over Australia was sweet... a series win, which will be a first for them over Australia in 20 years, will be even sweeter if achieved.

With Pakistan's senior citizens and the young brigade in this kind of form, it will be difficult to stop them from achieving that. 

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