There was a time not too long ago, an unbelievable span of 15 months, where Pakistan lost just one Test match. The unbeaten run went into double figures – 10 matches without losing one – as the team shrugged off the taunts, the heckling and the scheduled obsession with white-ball cricket.
The brain and the legs were lost to greed as there seemed no way out of the biggest mess of all times. The team, they said, will not be able to recover or find replacements for the trio. But despite that, they managed to hold off South Africa in the UAE, win in New Zealand, draw in the Caribbean, put aside Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh before humiliating table-toppers England.
Saeed Ajmal, Misbahul Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar, they all chipped in as Pakistan rose in the rankings and in the supporters’ eyes, threatening to be real contenders if the belief and form continued. Waqar Younis resigned and Mohsin Khan carried on the good work, fully aware of someone bigger and better being searched for. Misbah ul Haq, too, had lost just one Test in the 15 that he captained Pakistan in. Things were looking good for Pakistan cricket.
Somehow, they were not able to keep it up. Luck deserted them, decisions went against Pakistan, the absence of DRS infuriated the coach, the opposition grew too strong and the real ‘test’ of playing in South Africa showed the players just how deep the water was. The ascent was surprising, the downfall depressing. They played just nine Tests in the last 17 months in stark comparison to the 18 months before that when Pakistan played 18 Tests.
While the team has failed to win a Test under Dav Whatmore, Pakistan had not lost a Test series since the infamous 3-1 loss in England amid the spot-fixing saga in 2010. Eight of those 15 Tests, however, took place in the UAE where Pakistani batsmen had become used to the conditions.
But as Pakistan prepare to get their hands on a 50-over trophy, Whatmore has played down the team’s inability to win any Test matches since he took over, adding that losing four of six in the last 12 months was ‘not a concern’.
“Losing both Test series [in Sri Lanka and South Africa] is not a concern to be honest,” Whatmore told Dawn.com.
“Our Test squad is the most settled of all three formats. They’ve been playing very well. We played a decent series against Sri Lanka and the horrible events that took place in Galle at the first Test [absence of DRS, umpiring decisions going against Pakistan] conspired to put us in a difficult position. But that result against South Africa was not an easy pill to swallow. We knew they were strong but we still had a chance to do little better.”
The results, however, could have been different had Pakistan played more five-day cricket leading up to the South Africa series, according to Whatmore. The opponents, added the coach, were more prepared to the format while Pakistan had only played limited-overs cricket.
“All our matches since the Sri Lanka tour had been white ball cricket. South Africa, meanwhile, had played a lot of Tests - they won in England, in Australia and beat New Zealand just before our series. These are not excuses but hard facts that people should consider. We’re playing them again in the UAE later this year. It will be different this time around. But we still need to play well to beat them.”
Following the 2013 Champions Trophy next month, Pakistan will play an ODI and T20 series in the West Indies before a full tour of Zimbabwe and full series against South Africa and Sri Lanka in the UAE later this year – a possible seven Tests, 18 ODIs and nine T20s in seven months. Burnout, injuries and fatigue may get to play a role but despite the ‘settled squad’, Whatmore believes the selectors have a good chance to test out Pakistan’s bench-strength in the crammed schedule. The aim, though, is to get back to winning ways and into the top-three for each format.
“Now it’s a case of carrying on being competitive in each series. The players are painfully aware that they have extra difficulty attached to all their matches since they’re all offshore. My brief, when I was appointed coach, was to get the team playing well and winning and that’s what we need to do.”
Pakistan do not play a Test for almost three months. Improvement is a gradual process and given the batsmen’s lack of patience and the ability to counter testing conditions, Whatmore is happy to wait for the results. His zero per cent success rate in Tests so far, though, remains a concern for a nation demanding wins at any cost and a board that is keen to see a return on the $15,000 they spend on him per month.
Stats under Whatmore:
Tests – P 6, W 0, Lost 4
ODIs – P 21, W 10, Lost 10
T20s – P 14, Won 8, lost 5**