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Falling short and fighting back

Updated December 30, 2013


Ajmal finished the year as the highest wicket-taker in ODIs with 62 wickets at average 20.45, followed by Junaid Khan with 52. -Photo by AFP
Ajmal finished the year as the highest wicket-taker in ODIs with 62 wickets at average 20.45, followed by Junaid Khan with 52. -Photo by AFP

Seven ODI series wins, a Test series hammering, a historic surrender; in between tales of grit, capitulation and the most scorching of ripostes.

It wasn’t a cataclysmic year by Pakistan’s standards but 2013 had its share of the usual agony and ecstasy linked with the country’s cricket team.

It all began with the climax of a hurriedly-arranged bilateral series against World Champions India. This was a tour which would give credence to Pakistan’s classy bowling line, much rather, be its acid test. Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh had comfortably dispatched the threat when the two teams met at the 2012 World T20, hence, the local supporters were a bit edgy before the team embarked for India for the first time since 2007. Although the two sides shared the spoils of the two-match T20 skirmish that preceded the ODIs, Pakistan managed to make a statement. Former stars suggested a dose of ‘pace and aggression’ before the series started, a formula which had accounted for India on many occasions in the past. Mohammad Irfan’s first delivery in that T20 series, a 146kph steepler, had dealt just that blow and set the tone for the rest of the trip. Junaid Khan, who was virtually unplayable throughout the series, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal then combined to take India down. But it was opener Nasir Jamshed who shone brightest in the 2-1 series win, the left-hander scoring back to back tons in the first two games and earning high praise from fans, experts and even opponents. As Jamshed would discover later in the year though, there were far bigger tests, and better bowling lines waiting.

They came in the form of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, a hitherto unknown Kyle Abbot and a spicy Wanderers pitch. By the end of the three-Test series Pakistan had been bowled out for scores of 49, 268, 338, 169, 156 and 235, Mohammad Hafeez was in Steyn’s pocket and Misbah-ul-Haq was under the hammer. Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq’s identical scores off 111 in the second Test and Ajmal’s magic were the only bright spots in the whitewash of Pakistan. The team did spring back, taking the two-match T20 series 1-0 before going down fighting 3-2 in the ODI campaign. All in all the tour left Pakistan well and truly jolted. The after effects of these encounters would be felt a little later, first in the last edition of the Champions Trophy, where Pakistan lost all three group matches and failed to progress, and then on another African safari.

Absolute stunner

Sandwiched between these two events was Pakistan’s tour of the Caribbean. Pakistan needed to turn the tide after skill and confidence completely deserted them in the summer. It was left to the man who had been dropped for the Champions Trophy and written off with statements along the lines of “he’s played 150 matches too many.” Shahid Afridi got off the mark with a huge six over long-off off the bowling of Kemar Roach with Pakistan 47/5. Four more sixes and six boundaries followed during the course of a 55-ball 76 and along with captain Misbah, Afridi managed to push his side to 224. Then with the ball in hand Afridi jutted his chest out on so many occasions that his Vitruvian Man-like celebration became almost boring. His 7/12 from nine overs were the best ODI figures in 2013, the second best figures ever in ODIs, the best for a spinner and earned the Afridi his 30th man-of-the-match award. He also became the only the second player player in ODI history to score 7000 or more runs and take 350 wickets after his feat. “Wow, wow, wow, what a pitch it was for me to bowl on,” Afridi said after the match.

Falling short and fighting back

Riding the wave, Pakistan took the five-match series 3-1, with one match tied, before brushing aside Zimbabwe in the T20 and ODI series that followed. It all came crashing down soon, however, as soon as Brendan Taylor’s men counter-attacked in the Test series. It seemed unlikely after Pakistan won the first Test by 221 runs but Zimbabwe’s 24-run win in the second came simply because they were the better team. More than the ignominy of defeat it was the prospect of facing up to South Africa, this time in the UAE, that killed the spirit even more.

What followed was shocking in a not-so-shocking way, considering Pakistan’s famous unpredictability, but a seven-wicket win in the first Test in Abu Dhabi paved the way for the resurgence of sorts that Misbah’s men experienced for the rest of the year even as they lost the second Test by an innings and 92 runs and the ODI series to the Proteas 4-1.

First, as fillers for India, they created history by beating South Africa for their maiden ODI series triumph in the country, the first Asian side to do so. A few weeks later, Hafeez had gotten over the spell Steyn cast on him to record three back-to-back centuries, equaling Zaheer Abbas’ mark, to help Pakistan to a 3-2 win over Sri Lanka and end 2013 with seven bilateral series wins, the most for them in a calendar year.

Through the thick and thin of it, Misbah emerged as Pakistan’s most consistent performer with 15 fifties, even as critics and supporters tore him apart. He finished as the top scorer in ODIs in 2013 ahead of teammate Mohammad Hafeez and India’s Virat Kohli. Ajmal finished the year as the highest wicket-taker in ODIs with 62 wickets at average 20.45, followed by Junaid Khan with 52. Umar Gul’s 2.2-6-5 were the best figures in T20s, a performance which earned him an ICC award. Umar Akmal, to the great surprise of many, finished as the second best keeper in 2013 with his 32 dismissals just below India’s MS Dhoni and above Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara.

The so-called ‘Mr Tuk Tuk’ recorded another astonishing stat, hitting 28 sixes, just two less than numbers one and two George Bailey and Rohit Sharma, and three more than ‘Boom Boom’.

—By Taimur Sikander