Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Rare Success for Pakistan's Leadership

This 2-0 series win over Australia was sweet. Extremely sweet! There are so many stories within this 2-test series that I don't really know where to begin; but they all need to be told, for this series win is right up there as Pakistan's best test series victory, in my lifetime, if not ever.

When I think of Pakistan's victories in test series that I have witnessed, the greatest ones that come to mind are the ones against England '92, Australia '94, Asian Test Championship '99, South Africa '03, England '05, India '06, England '12, and this one Australia '14.

It will take time for this win to sink in and to realize how this one compares with past victories; and time will also tell the role this victory plays in shaping the future of Pakistan's test team.

However, one thing is quite clear. I don't think Pakistan has ever dominated a series the way they did this one. And that too against expectations considering that Pakistan were ranked number 6 in the world and they were up against the world's number 2 side, which was the top ranked side till a few months ago! Those lucky punters who believed in us with the bookies like Paddy Power will be rubbing their hands excitedly now too!

Pakistan completely outplayed the Australians and how.

I think that the greatest story of this 2-0 test series victory over Australia lies in the rare success of the PCB and the team management. No one could have even thought of a result like this considering that barely a few weeks ago Younis Khan had threatened to quit tests due to his sacking from ODIs and Misbah Ul Haq had stepped down from the team for the 3rd ODI against Australia due to losing all his confidence in himself.

In a situation like this with Pakistan's senior most cricketers down and out, it was PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan' years of diplomatic service experience that came to the rescue. You can't give enough credit to Shaharyar sahab for convincing Younis to continue his test career and also for putting his weight behind Misbah at a time when the skipper was at an all time confidence low.

For a cricket board that has had leadership problems and management issues for as long as I have known it, this series will go down in history as the rare occurrence where true leadership was demonstrated by the Board. I salute you Shaharyar Sahab.

As for the new team management, this was their second series in charge. Moin Khan, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, and Grant Flower had got off to the worst possible start in their first series in charge in Sri Lanka a couple of months ago. The T20 and ODIs against Australia were also nothing to write home about.

The tests against Australia however were a different story altogether. Younis Khan has publicly acknowledged the effort that Grant Flower put in with him. The success of Pakistan's batting line up, in a series where Australia's world beating batsmen failed, also lies in the work that Grant Flower has put in.

Sarfraz Ahmed has had a marvellous year with the gloves and the bat. Moin Khan deserves a lot of credit for not only Sarfraz' inclusion in the team, but also for the confidence Moin has had in his abilities for a long time now.

Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah combined to take 28 Australian wickets in the 2 tests. Prior to this series, Babar had played all of 2 tests for Pakistan, while Yasir had played none. They did have tonnes of first class experience, but this series was no domestic game, it was against the mighty Australians and both the spinners exploited the Aussie weakness against spin to great effect.

It was a big ask in the absence of the more experienced Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman, yet both Zulfiqar and Yasir stood up and performed like champions, and I believe some credit must go to the spin consultant, Mushtaq Ahmed, who has been working behind the scenes with Pakistan's spinners.

While Pakistan's batsmen and spinners dominated the series, the pacers, Imran Khan and Rahat Ali, both with very little international experience, also performed their role to great effect. Both of them provided crucial breakthroughs in both the tests and their reverse swing was noteworthy, especially compared to the Australian pacers, who were pedestrian at best.

Every time Waqar Younis gets involved with the Pakistan team, the pacers tend to pick up their performance. Whether it is as bowling coach, or head coach, Waqar has always had a positive impact on the team, and more so, on the fast bowlers. This time is no different. He made a difference when Rana Naveed was part of the team; he did it with Umar Gul, Mohammad Aamer, and Mohammad Asif; and now he has done it with Imran Khan and Rahat Ali.

I know that everything looks good when the team performs. It makes the captain look good, it makes the team management look good, and it makes the board look like a professional unit. There may be little chunks here and there that need ironing out, but for Pakistan, this leadership and management seems to be coming together well, and at the right time considering that the World Cup is right round the corner.

Praising the leadership will be incomplete without a word or two about Misbah Ul Haq. Anyone in power is prone to criticism and being Pakistan's captain makes you even more vulnerable. Every single move is scrutinized and every little mistake is admonished as if one has committed a grave sin. With Misbah, it is no different.

For the past 3 years, Misbah has been criticized by former players, his own players, and the large fan base of Pakistan cricket. He has had supporters too, but he has heard his fair share of criticism for a number of things - for the way he bats, for the way he leads, for the players he supports, and for really everything he does on the field.

The pressure on Misbah, particularly during this year, has been immense. The losses have hurt, and the loss of his own form has hurt even more. One of Misbah's great strengths has been his performances under pressure. Hell, he took over the team when they were going through the worst crisis in their history; if that is not absorbing pressure and leading then I don't know what is.

The pressure never really did get to Misbah. Or so I thought. He seemed to soak it all in, ignore the critics, and continue in the way he thought best. But he finally crumbled. He buckled under pressure after a number of losses for Pakistan and batting failures for him, and he decided to sit out of the last ODI of the series against Australia.

For a captain to sit out of a match because he has no confidence left and he feels the team will be better off without him should result in the end of a captaincy career.

Not for Misbah though.

To come back from that to lead the team to its first test series win over Australia in 20 years, whitewash the Aussies and dominate them like they were some minnow, score twin centuries in the same test, and smash the fastest century ever in test cricket is nothing short of remarkable!

Misbah came back from the ditch and at the end of the series stood tall as the most successful captain in Pakistan's test history, along with Imran Khan and Javed Miandad.

The series win over Australia and the largest ever win for Pakistan in terms of runs was a rare occurrence, but so was the success of Pakistan cricket's leadership.

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  1. Unknown said...

    Pakistan won the series, its really good for a team who had not won any Test series for last 3 years. Even Pakistan could not win against Zimbabwe. the only difference that I feel that the inclusion of a Leg-spinner with an left arm spinner. Pakistan has been playing test cricket since last 3 years without a leg spinner. The second thing which I believe is the Role of Younis Kahan. Read my complete series report

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