8 moments that defined Pakistan cricket in 2015

Sarfraz and Wahab at the World Cup, Younis' unending appetite for runs and a few comical run-outs shaped the year.
Published December 30, 2015

Sometimes the magnitude of a single ball is so enormous that it leaves a permanent mark. Hundred, double hundred and the accolades that follow are etched in history, but the perfect drive that paved the way for it is forgotten through assumed inconsequentiality. These events in forgotten dimensions of time and space constitute the actualisation of an innings, a career or simply a team's performance as a whole.

Here's what defined Pakistan cricket in 2015:

Sarfraz Dhoka Nahee Deyga (Sarfraz will not betray)

7th March 2015, Pakistan vs South Africa (Eden Park, Aukland, New Zealand)

Dayle Steyn marks his run-up for the first ball of the match. Sarfraz Ahmed takes his guard, ready to face his first delivery of the World Cup.

It is Pakistan’s fifth match in the competition and it is a do or die encounter. As public and media pressure mounts, the team management and in particular coach Waqar Younis have run out of excuses for not giving Sarfraz a go.

And here he stands facing arguably the most dangerous fast bowler of his generation, while senior partner Ahmed Shehzad watches the first ball from the non-strikers end. But Sarfraz is not just standing and waiting. He is mounted almost two feet outside the crease to South Africa’s meanest and fastest bowler.

Sarfraz is already a hero, at least in his own mind and those backing his inclusion in the Pakistan side. Seven and a half hours later, he is declared man of the match for his attacking 49 and ODI record-equaling six catches.

Sarfraz is now a hero in the mind of millions.

Fast and Furious

20th March 2015, Pakistan vs Australia (Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, Australia)

Wahab Riaz comes steaming in towards Shane Watson on what has already been a spell for the ages. He has earlier bounced David Warner and captain Michael Clarke back to the pavilion.

They must be counting their lucky stars for not being at the receiving end after watching Watson survive twelve bloodthirsty deliveries. He has scored just two runs, one of them from the shoulder of the bat, the ball flying over the slip cordon.

Wahab fires another thunder bolt at over 150kph aimed between the batsman’s ears. Watson in a desperate attempt manages to get some willow on that one as the ball skies towards fine leg in what appears to be the simplest of catches.

Rahat Ali spills it. Wahab is gutted.

Watson goes onto score 64*, hitting the winning runs and knocking Pakistan out in the quarter-final of the World Cup.

“Watson looked like he was at school. It was amazing cricket,” West Indies batting legend Brian Lara says of Wahab's spell.

“I can’t wait to meet this guy.”

Yasir bamboozles Sri Lanka's best

17th June 2015, Pakistan vs Sri Lanka (Galle International Stadium, Galle, Sri Lanka)

Yasir Shah is into his fourth over in the first Test against Sri Lanka. He has already won Test matches against Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh. But Sri Lanka poses a completely different challenge. He is bowling to the great Kumar Sangakara for the first time in his life.

Sangakara has made three cautious runs in his first ten deliveries against the leg spinner.

Pakistan fans could have hardly imagined how Yasir's dream year would end. — AP
Pakistan fans could have hardly imagined how Yasir's dream year would end. — AP

He walks down and across the crease and turns his bat towards short leg; Azhar Ali gets both hands to the ball, but is not able to hold on. Sangakara has survived, but in this first meeting, Yasir has set his dominance over Sri Lanka’s most experienced and important batsman.

Yasir gets his man in the second innings and again in the following Test, both times caught at short leg by Azhar Ali! The last one is a first ball (Golden) duck.

Sangakara manages to score 32 runs against Yasir, in four attempts, and over all averages 25 in the series.

Yasir becomes the fastest man in Pakistan’s history to get to 50 wickets and is declared man of the series.

Pakistan record their first Test series win on the Island in 9 years as Yasir becomes the most important member of Misbah-ul-Haq's bowling attack.

Pakistan fans could have hardly imagined how Yasir's dream year would end.

King Khan breaks more records

7th July 2015, Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, 3rd Test (Pallekele, Kandy, Sri Lanka)

Jehan Mubarak comes around the wicket to Misbah-ul-Haq, who stays in his crease and launches into the stroke; the ball is dispatched into the empty stand behind the bowler.

The Pakistani captain who has hit more sixes than anyone in Pakistan Test cricket history is greeted by his chief comrade, Younis Khan - second on the all time list of six hitters in Pakistan.

With the combined age of 79 years they return to the pavilion after an unbeaten partnership of 127 runs. At 382/3 they have just recorded Pakistan’s highest ever fourth inning total and successful run chase, sixth overall in Test cricket.

Younis khan’s 171* becomes the highest-ever Pakistani fourth inning score and 5th over all behind Arthur Moris, Sir Don Bradman, Gordon Greenidge and Mark Butcher.

Younis steers Pakistan to No.3 in the ICC Test rankings.

Misbah takes Malik to ground

5th November 2015, Pakistan vs England, 3rd Test (Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates)

Shoaib Malik comes around the wicket to the masterly Alastair Cook. The English captain stands between a miracle and the inevitable.

Malik is one of the last of a generation of bowlers that directly inherited the pause of spin wizard Saqlain Mushtaq, the stutter, the split second delay before the ball is released; time moves faster than the bowlers arm.

That extra moment gives Malik enough time to see Cook dance down the track, he fires it in quick and pulls his length back. Sarfraz whips the bails, captain Misbah ul Haq leaps on Malik and takes him to ground in celebration. The weight of an expectant nation is upon him.

Three balls later, Malik says farewell to Test cricket, Misbah becomes the first Pakistani captain to get twenty Test match wins under his belt and Pakistan jumps to second position in the ICC Test Rankings.

Younis Khan's big surprise

11th November 2015, Pakistan vs England, 1st ODI (Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)

Reece Topley of England runs into bowl to Younis Khan who has been at the crease for 28 minutes but has only managed to score 9 runs.

Younis Khan's departure from ODI cricket was shocking but not surprising. —AFP
Younis Khan's departure from ODI cricket was shocking but not surprising. —AFP

After a two-year purple patch in Test cricket, Younis is finding it tough to come up to pace and meet the demands of modern ODI cricket. He tries to force his way but doesn’t connect and pulls it straight to mid-on. His last innings summarizes his ODI career and his relationship with the PCB and his teammates.

He announced his retirement just before the start of that match to leave the Pakistan camp shocked. Chief selector Haroon Rasheed had fought to get Younis in the ODI team.

It shocking but not surprising because Younis has his ways.

He later admits that he had planned and 'dreamt' of this all along but kept it close to his heart.

Arguably Pakistan’s greatest Test batsman, Younis could never cement his place in the ODI Team and averaged a modest 31.24. He is second lowest among the 35 batsmen with over 7000 runs, only above Shahid Afridi’s 23.57 runs per innings.

He gets a lukewarm guard of honour from a dressing room where he commands respect. Khan says farewell to ODI cricket after 256 games, perhaps a few too many.

Photo finish

26th November 2015, Pakistan vs England, 1st T20 (Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

Two men are racing in a 10-meter dash towards the finish line. Their arms stretched out wide and bats sliding in textbook fashion. No one is sure who has won the sprint and who has to go back to the pavilion. The third umpire has been called into question for a photo finish usually witnessed on a 100m track.

Umar Akmal has to eventually make the long walk as Sohaib Maqsood triumphs over his partner.

Pakistan is bleeding at 74-5, but the fans at the stadium erupt in joy as they see Shahid Afridi walk out. He departs two balls later without bothering the scorers, and soon people start emptying out the stands as well. In the space of three deliveries the team spirit of the Pakistani dressing room is exposed in slow motion and the mindset of their fans is broadcasted far and wide.

Pakistan loses the next two T20s against England as well, surrendering the series 3-0.

Hafeez, Amir and karma

8th December 2015, Chittagong Vikings v Dhaka Dynamites, BPL (Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur, Bangladesh)

Mohammad Amir has his tail up. He hasn’t run with such vengeance in years.

Commentators suggest that he is sending them down 10kmh faster than his usual pace. In a T20 game he hasn’t given a run in his first eight deliveries.

But the previous three are closest to his heart and mind. Aware of the chink in his opponents armour, they have all been on a probing length outside off stump. One left alone, the other a tentative push and one has gone perilously close to the outside of the blade.

Amir sends another one down the same line as Hafeez edges it to the keeper, while trying to leave. Amir hasn’t celebrated this hard in a long time either, pumping his fist in the air.

Some see it as a battle between good and evil, others see it as a clash of ideologies, as two countrymen and ex teammates take their fight from the tabloids to the ring. The entire nation is split in their support; retribution, betrayal, deterrence and rehabilitation are all loosely used on dinner tables across the country.

More than anything else, however, it is a stark reminder of the limitless bowling talent Pakistan possesses and the technical frailty of its batting powers.

Pakistan’s genetic success and failure are summed up in one delivery.