PAKISTAN’S crushing innings victories over Zimbabwe in the two Tests were a befitting end to their highly successful tour of southern Africa. In a rare show of consistency and teamwork, Babar Azam’s men first outplayed South Africa in the back-to-back ODI and T20 series and then scored successive wins over Zimbabwe in the T20s and the Tests to handsomely wrap up the African safari.

More importantly, none among Pakistan’s 35-member contingent tested positive for Covid-19 during the 44-day sojourn in Africa which contributed greatly to the players’ performance. The top order came out with guns blazing as opener Abid Ali outshone the rest with a double hundred in the second Test against Zimbabwe. Veteran Azhar Ali, prolific Fawad Alam, young opener Imran Butt and spinning all-rounder Nauman Ali all performed well with the bat against the mediocre Zimbabwe bowling. The bowlers, too, led by the mercurial Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi, captured a bagful of wickets. In Nauman, Pakistan seems to have found a perfect replacement for spinner Yasir Shah whose lack of variety and chequered form had left a lot to be desired. For millions of Pakistani fans, it was a thrilling experience to see their team returning to its winning ways.

Read: Babar Azam voted ICC Men’s Player of the Month for April 2021

To be fair to the side, they have not had much international cricket since 2009 following the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in Lahore. That had left them rusty and demoralised, because cricket at home had been almost non-existent while the away tours were few. This 2020-21 season has been a busy one. Apart from allowing the players to demonstrate their abilities in front of their own crowds in the home series against South Africa, it has shown them beginning to gel as a team. Of course, they will be mindful of the challenging tour of England in June, followed by the West Indies series. But no challenge is big enough for them if they play to their potential and remain fit and focused.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2021

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