If Pakistan were a member of the periodic table, it would beat the chloride family in terms of volatility. They are so reactive and unpredictable that the to absorb the best elements of Test cricket, you need to fervently watch Pakistan play.
A Test series against a team thrashed left, right and centre at home by India in the middle of the deserts where Pakistan have an impeccable record seemed like another drab draw for Test cricket. It had suffered enough with the one-sided India – Sri Lanka and South Africa – Bangladesh Tests. This just seemed like another of those boring games.
But with Pakistan, you never know.
They have this inherent ability to sway off and come back bursting, a tendency that makes them one of the most exciting teams in World cricket. It was exemplified multiple times in World cricket with the most recent one being in the Champions Trophy (for which they barely qualified past West Indies) where they beat India in the finals of the tournament to lift the Trophy.
The first Test set the tempo for the series and when Pakistan came charging in after being behind in the game, one sensed they were in the mood. But, in a horrifying cricketing tale, they collapsed in the final innings, chasing 135 for victory, to lose by 14 runs. It was drama until the last session at Abu Dhabi; the kind which only Pakistan can conjure up.
Yet, when they turned up at Dubai a few days later, little had changed. The game followed pretty much a similar pattern although their batting in the first innings never clicked enough to threaten the Lankans. Cometh the second innings, and Pakistan were roaring yet again. Harsha Bhogle best describes Pakistan’s style of play in his tweet here.
When you think it is all over, Pakistan come storming back. When there is everything to play for, they stumble. Makes them great viewing
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) October 9, 2017
It pretty much sums up what Pakistan have been doing in cricket all these years. Few expected them to win the 1992 World Cup, few expected them to reach the finals of the ICC World T20 in 2007, few expected them to lift the World Cup four years later, few expected them to win the Champions Trophy. Yet, they did it all.
When Pakistan wins, it doesn’t seem like a ‘bolt from the blue’ victory, instead, it feels like they were destined to win. They evoke the feelings of Champions when they conjure up the unthinkable. However, the moment they nosedive, they fall hard and fast. One moment they play like champions and the next they turn into this unrecognisable minnow outfit.
It was perhaps best described by Wahab Riaz in the second Test of the series against Sri Lanka. The pacy fast bowler missed his run-up as many as five times while running in during the first innings. Forget being an international bowler for seven years, it felt like he wasn’t even good enough to play club cricket. Yet, with the same pink cherry in hand, in the second innings, he ripped apart Sri Lanka’s top order to reduce them to 34/5.
That is Pakistan for you.
But the truth is that their unpredictability made a series that seemed like it would go without much noise, into a much watched entertaining encounter. Test cricket owes Pakistan for bringing this Test series alive.
Take a glance at Sri Lanka’s scores in this Test series and you would know why Pakistan are what they are. The scores read 419, 138, 482, 96.
Twice in the first innings, Sri Lanka notched up scores of 400+ while both times their second innings was pegged back by some outstanding bowling from the hosts.
In contrast, Pakistan’s scores look pretty much the same too but they somehow managed to perform poorer than the Lankans. Their scores read 422, 114, 262 and 248. In hindsight, they were more consistent than Lanka but let themselves down by performing at the wrong time.
In the first Test, they had Sri Lanka tottering at 61/3 but ended up conceding 419 runs. With the bat, they were 326/7 and it looked like they would concede a lead when Haris Sohail turned up and tagged the tail-enders along to take them to 422.
The bowlers, led by Yasir Shah, then burst open Lanka to set themselves a target of 135. Given the manner in which Pakistan had roared back into the contest, it looked it was their game to lose. But they went on to lose, falling short by 21 runs, to lose the Test.
At Dubai, they showed little improvement. Once again they conceded 400+, with Karunaratne alone making 196 of them even as his teammates got starts and went back. Pakistan, however, steadily lost wickets to be bowled out for 262. Then their tails went up and even with Mohammad Amir missing due to injury, they bowled the visitors out for 96 in the second innings.
Still with 316 to win, Pakistan looked out of the contest. True to that notion, the hosts were 52/5 before Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq strung together a 173 run stand that promised to change the match around. With 118 to win and five wickets in hand on the final day, it seemed like Pakistan’s game to lose yet again. And as the story goes, they folded for 248, losing by 68 runs in the end.
The outcomes may not have been way different had Pakistan not conceded 400+ in the first innings or didn’t bowl them out for less than 150 twice. But the cricket would have been different. It would have been boring, one-sided, regular Test cricket. Pakistan added their magical touch to it and turned alive Test cricket. In fact, they have done that on numerous occasions here in UAE, where most games heading into the fifth day. Pakistan might have lost 2-0, conceding their first-ever series defeat in the UAE, but they made this Test series worth watching!