Pakistan had another disappointing 12 months in the purest format of the game
Pakistan’s past year in Test cricket might have provided some flashy moments for the highlights reel but that does not overshadow the fact that they had another disappointing 12 months, with just one win in six Test appearances, in the purest format of the game.
Pakistan began the year with remaining two Tests, of the three-match series, away to South Africa. Despite the turn of the year, the visitors’ fortunes did not change as they suffered back-to-back defeats to suffer a whitewash in the series, after having lost the Boxing Day Test, in Centurion by six wickets, late in 2018. Pakistan lost the second Test by nine wickets in Cape Town while they succumbed to 107-run defeat in Johannesburg few days later.
Pakistan’s batting was a major let down once again, in line with their past tours, as they failed to cross the 200-run mark in the first innings of the matches during the series on all three occasions. One of the most frustrating aspects of the series, as far as Pakistan’s batting is concerned, was the tendency from the batsmen to throw away their wickets after getting a start. Pakistan’s batsmen, in total, scored nine fifties but none of them kicked on to get a hundred.
Pakistan had to wait until November for their next opportunity to don the whites as they travelled to Australia for another stiff challenge in the shape of a tw0-match series
With the sacking of wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfaraz Ahmed, top-order batsman Azhar Ali was given charge of the side ahead of the series.
Pakistan made an embarrassing record of losing the most number of consecutive Tests in a country after their innings defeat at the hands of Australia in the second and last Test of the two-match series at the Adelaide Oval in Adelaide, having lost the first Test match in Brisbane by an innings and five runs.
The Men in Green have now lost 14 consecutive Test matches in Australia, a drought that started in 1999. The record was previously held by Bangladesh who lost 13 consecutive Test matches at home from 2001 to 2003.
Pakistan unleashed their next generation of pace sensations Musa Khan and Naseem Shah, along with teenage Shaheen Shah Afridi, in Australia by naming the trio in the 16-man squad the series but they were made to learn a stern lesson as Australia piled on the runs — scoring more than 500 runs in their two innings of batting during the series.
Pakistan’s final series of the year in the longest format of the game turned out to be a memorable one as Test cricket returned to home soil after more than 10 years, with Sri Lanka playing their World Test Championship matches in Rawalpindi and Karachi during December.
Weather played spoilsport in the first Test in Rawalpindi, as the match ended in a draw, but not before Abid Ali and Babar Azam, who scored tons, delighted the local crowd with their batting prowess.
Moving on to the second Test in Karachi, Pakistan found their backs against the wall after being dismissed for just 191 runs in the first innings. But a spirited effort from the bowlers and a much-improved batting display, 555/3 (declared), in the second innings helped Pakistan win the match, and clinch series, by 263 runs.
Pakistan currently sits on third position in the ICC World Test Championship table but the gap between them and second placed is a whopping 176 points. If Pakistan are to stay in contention for the final in 2021, they will have to improve their performance by a fair bit especially bearing in mind that they have to face England and New Zealand away from home.
Abid Ali makes history
Over the years, Pakistan have struggled to find an opener who can provide stability at the top of the order but arrival of Abid Ali has been a refreshing sight for the team.
The opener set the world record of becoming the first batsman to score a century on his One-day International (ODI) as well as Test debut, over the course of the year. The 32-year-old achieved the milestone when he reached the triple figures against Sri Lanka on the fifth day of the first Test match in Rawalpindi.
The right-hand batsman made his ODI debut earlier their year against Australia in Dubai, in which he played a 112-run knock off 119 deliveries.
Babar banishes Test demons
There were questions marks over Babar Azam’s ability in the longest format of the game, at the beginning of the year, but he did enough in 2019 to prove his credentials as one of the best batsmen in the world.
The way he dominated, former world number one bowler, Dale Steyn during South Africa Tests, earlier in the year, and then his exploits in the Australia series, against one of the best bowling attacks in the world, were a treat to watch.
The right-hander scored over 600 runs at an average of 68, along with three hundreds and three half-centuries, and also entered the top ten of the ICC World Test rankings of batsmen for the first time in his career.
Pakistan’s young pace battery
Pakistan’s fast-bowling arsenal suffered a major blow due to the retirements of left-arm pacers Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir but teenage quicks Naseem Shah and Shaheen Afridi surprised everyone with their steep progress.
Shaheen was easily one of Pakistan’s better bowlers in Australia despite struggling to take wickets while Naseem made the world sit up and take notice with his raw pace. The duo continued their impressive performance in the home Test against Sri Lanka by picking up five-wicket hauls in the first and second innings, respectively.
Pakistan’s fast-bowling will be well-served for the next few years, if they continue to put in the hard yards, with these youngsters leading the charge.
Peshwar Zalmi's all-rounder spoke to Cricket Pakistan in an exclusive interview ahead of HBL PSL517/Feb/2020