Pakistan somehow managed to lose to New Zealand by four runs in the first Test in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Here are our five takeaways from that match:
Fast bowlers, unpredictability and epic meltdowns — for good or for bad, these are the three hallmarks of Pakistan cricket. Muhammad Abbas and Shaheen Shah Afridi showed us the pace this year, the Champions Trophy ticked the unpredictability box, and now this New Zealand fixture has reinforced the age-old notion that the Men in Green can melt faster than a popsicle in peak Karachi summer.
Chasing a paltry 176, Sarfraz Ahmed's men went from being 40-0 to 171 all-out on a wicket that wasn't a day five wicket and against a spinner who was making his debut at the ripe age of 30.
This was such a train wreck of a 4th innings performance that you can't even get worked up over. The best you can do is shake your head in disbelief and admire its absurdity.
Neither of bowling, fielding or captaincy were at fault here. Truth is that Pakistan had played a near perfect game up until that final session on the fourth day. Hasan Ali and Yasir Shah picked up wickets, there were no notable dropped catches and Sarfraz generally made decent decisions. Behind the dramatic downfall once again was none other than the batsmen.
All the Kiwis had to do was go through their bowling motion and hurl the ball where ever. The home team's batters did the rest. If it was a wide ball, they chased, if there wasn't a run, they ran anyway, if there was a need to conserve wickets, they played wild slogs.
Ajaz Patel did well but let's be honest, this was no Shane Warne here. This was a bowler simply hitting the right areas with the hope that the batsmen will somehow lose their collective minds and throw away their wickets. The plan worked like a charm.
Another factor was Pakistani batters' less-talked-about susceptibility in front of left-arm spinners. Usually decent players of spin, Pakistan have had notable struggles against Rangana Herath and Monty Panesar — both left-arm spin bowlers. It's surprising then that Mickey Arthur did not do his homework against Patel. The Black Caps dealt with Mohammad Abbas by blocking everything he bowled, thus neutralising his threat.
The home team did not do the same against Patel despite their struggles against southpaw spinners. In the end, when they should have treat lightly, they attempted to sprint and fell flat on their face.
Sarfraz made a total of five runs in both the innings. Of the first nine batsmen, his contribution was the lowest. In fact, the only Pakistan batter he outscored in the match was the twice not-out Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali, whose four runs was just one shy of Sarfraz's tally of five.
Much has been said about Sarfraz's captaincy in recent weeks. The only thing is that his captaincy isn't an issue here, his batting is. Runs have dried up for the skipper, and if can't turn on the faucet again, no amount of PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani's votes of confidence will be enough to save his job, and possibly even his place in the side, past the World Cup.
While the Monday afternoon meltdown was horrible, it does spice things up a little and sets the tone for the remainder of the series to be interesting, at the very least.
The home team can now not afford to even have a single off session if they want to come back in the series. For the players that must be nerve-racking, but for the fans it now has the makings of a mouth-watering series.
The writer is a cricket aficionado based in Karachi.