Absolute dominance: Is this really Pakistan?

Published November 3, 2014
Pakistan's players celebrate with the trophy after claiming victory over Australia during the fifth day of the second test cricket match in Abu Dhabi on November 3, 2014. — AFP
Pakistan's players celebrate with the trophy after claiming victory over Australia during the fifth day of the second test cricket match in Abu Dhabi on November 3, 2014. — AFP

Anyone remember what happened in Abu Dhabi about three weeks ago? I doubt it. Pakistan were so comprehensive in their Test series whitewash of Australia that, dare I say, the horrors of Sydney 2010 may also have been banished. For the time being at least.

Pakistan's performance over the Aussies was so utterly dominating over the course of the two Tests, that I doubt many could even recall names of the 11 Australians who were also part of the Test series (or at least, tried to be).

To their great credit, competing is the right word. But each session, every single day and all the headlines were won by Pakistan. And the records – too many and way too stats-laden to recall from the top of your head – were unbelievable. With Pakistan it's usually a heist but this was a takeover, a hostile one at that.

Take a look: Misbah reckons win over Australia best ever

It was the kind of jaw-dropping brilliance juxtaposed with the shocking breakdown of not so long ago, that is unique to Pakistan alone; one which leaves cricket writers reeling in wonderment.

"Is anyone in cricket rewarded for their suffering with such exquisite performances and such paroxysmic peaks of pleasure as the Pakistan fan?" wrote Andy Bull in his piece on the 'inexplicable mystery' that is Pakistan cricket.

Of course, today's win was prompted by the dramatic turnaround that led to victory in the first Test – Pakistan's riposte after losing four games on the trot to Australia in the limited-over series that preceded.

But fans and experts knew all too well not to get excited. Waqar was wary as well. This was a pattern. Pakistan has always had the habit of going up in flames after sparks of such brilliance.

But this time it was different.

Younis Khan's twin centuries, Sarfraz's smashing ton and the arrival of Zulfiqar Babar as a match-winner in the absence of Saeed Ajmal; all are events that are being trumpeted as man's triumph over machine.

To be honest, the current Australian side can be termed mediocre at best, at least in away conditions. But Pakistan must really be feted for toying around with Michael Clarke's side, just as much in the second Test as in the first.

Consistency is a word Misbah often brings up in his post-match interviews. You don't get more consistent than this.

So how did this all happen? What did Pakistan do differently to switch from the bullied to the ones doing the bullying? And to not only win but win in a manner that many will remember for a long, long time?

Also see: Twitter abuzz with praise for Pakistan's historic win

For starters, the batsmen fired, in a big way

Younis, who played like his life depended on it, hit the opening salvos after Pakistan characteristically began the first day of the first Test with two wickets down for a mere seven runs.

What followed was a run-fest so big that the Australian bowlers might continue to feel its pinch as they face off a rejuvenated South Africa very soon. It is possible that men like Mitchell Johnson may even be rested for the series.

But coming back to Younis. He is perhaps the one man in the history of Pakistan cricket who has suffered the most for his honesty. His is a type of personality which though not directly confrontational, cannot help exploding every time Pakistan Cricket Board's incompetency reaches a new height.

The man had a point to prove, and he did it in such a way that even if his ODI form is not so great, the selectors are unlikely to chop his name off the list now.

Read on: Younis has silenced his critics forever: Asif Iqbal

And the Board backed the captain

The biggest reason, in my opinion, and one which should become a regular practice, was the board fully-backing its captain.

Initially, he erred by giving the media a false impression of uncertainty within the ranks, but Chairman Shahryar Khan made up for it by clipping any hopefuls eyeing Misbah's spot as ODI skipper. When you're sure the captain is someone you can trust, you are less likely to jump ship. And that is what the solid-looking Test side proved. Everyone performed like they were sure about themselves.

Even the odd selections, especially that of Mohammad Hafeez, started looking like they belonged; it was apparent in every move Misbah made.

And how about Misbah's record for the fastest fifty and the record-equaling fastest century? Will they chant 'tuk tuk' ever again?

Look through: From tuk, tuk to world record for Misbah

Actually, considering the nature of our fans and the media, there is a strong possibility that chant may come back as early as the upcoming New Zealand series.

However, one must admit it is hard to find parallels in the current era of all that Misbah has done – not only on a personal level, but also in taking up the mantle of this most befuddling of teams and turning it into a Test giant at 'home' – all the while maintaining a dignified poise.

"Despite it all, they still find a way to win more than they lose, and as often as not they do it in style. It’s a mystery," as Bull put it.

The newbies had a dream run too

Then there were the men besides these men. Men who stood up and made a name for themselves.

Sarfraz extended his dream-run with the bat and proved as smart as his mentors Rashid Latif and Moin Khan behind the stumps. There is something about wicket-keepers from Karachi that makes them ideally suited to the role of marshaling the troops from behind the stumps; a certain brand of street cricket-imbued confidence; Wasim Bari, Taslim Arif , Salim Yousuf, all come to mind here.

Yasir Shah, who was keenly followed by leg-spin legend Shane Warne during the series, Zulfiqar Babar, and, to some extent Imran Khan; provided moments throughout the series which made experts ask:

"Where are they all coming from?"

Steve Waugh, one of the greatest Australian captains, said: "The hard thing about Pakistan is that they throw up these cricketers you've never seen before."

It will be interesting to see when Yasir starts pushing for Shahid Afridi's spot in the ODI team, in the future. For now, he still has to prove himself against sides like India and Sri Lanka before contending for the next best spinner from the country.

From 2011: Yasir Shah vows to fill Afridi's boots

With Zulfiqar Babar, though, the doubts have fallen away. He may have well and truly cemented his spot, with or without Ajmal in the side.

The fast bowling could still do with a few improvements. Put runs on the board and the bowlers will do the rest, the attack highlighted. It is a very simple solution to our problems on the field.

The very limited but so efficient Azhar Ali and the ever-improving Asad Shafiq batted so well that they would have been talking points for days, were it not for Younis and Misbah's record. But the two 'new guys' provided hope for a time when Misbah and Younis would no longer be in the dressing room.

And don't forget the support staff

Waqar Younis seems to have found a good balance and perhaps has also stepped back a bit. It is a natural tendency for great players to get too involved in the decision-making at team meetings or steering the side in a certain direction. Even though we would love to see him running into bowl again, I think he has realised that he is not a 'player' anymore.

There have also been shades of reverse swing with the old ball, from Imran Khan in particular, now that Waqar is back again as coach. It could be a great time for the fast bowlers in the ranks. It is a good mix with Mushtaq Ahmed also in the dressing room. Lastly, the way Younis, Misbah and Azhar have credited Grant Flower, he too, must be doing something right.

This Test series has been so rewarding and Pakistan have been so consistent, as opposed to the crash-bang we are used to, that it seems this was a much-longer series than the two matches alone.

The ways thing went, the Australians sure would have wanted the tour to end fast.

It will be foolish to still be hung-over from this mighty achievement when the first Test against New Zealand starts on November 9. We all know too well our team's tendency to leave us head-scratching with their trademark shocking performances.

But then, that's the beauty of Pakistan, isn't it?

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