Yesterday Australia, Tomorrow New Zealand?
It’s been such an unexpected, unusual and incredible Test series in that it has bedazzled, bemused and entertained. It has been all the more unbelievable coming after a putrid performance by Pakistan in the limited over games.
Undoubtedly the biggest buzz has surrounded the allegedly aging but youthfully ebullient pair of Misbah and Younus. The Khan of Karachi had initially owned the media and the masses by enthralling with his twin hundreds in the first Test and when he followed it up with a double in Abu Dhabi he more than partially eclipsed the first innings hundred by Misbah; much like the captain’s seemingly less important half century in Dubai.
So the man from Mianwali just had to do something sensational to get back the attention of, as I said, the media and the masses; and did he do it in style. That he didn’t break the record for the fastest hundred disappointed millions as did me. But to have your name next to Sir Vivian Richards has a special feeling in itself. After all the former Australian captain Mark Taylor declared the innings when he was 334 not out at close on the second day equaling the then highest score by an Australian batsman, Sir Donald Bradman himself.
Everyone was stunned that third morning thinking that Taylor would go to surpass the then all time highest score of 375 by Brian Lara. But Taylor explained that he could not think of surpassing Sir Donald Bradman, such respect he had for Sir Don. And also that for posterity his name would come alongside the greatest batsman of all time and his country’s legend.
In the same manner to have your name next to the greatest batsman of the last half of the 20th century, who to many is no less a mortal than Bradman, is a huge honour. That Misbah did it against the No.2 rated side in the world goes down well with his supporters.
My columns, blogs and comments on social media over the last 4 years bear testament that I have been his most vociferous supporter as captain and just for this reason; that he is a man who has enormous contribution to Pakistan cricket. He is dubbed the strangler when it comes to chases not realizing that he remains burdened in such circumstances with a batting order that has not the strength that Inzi surrounded himself with. No Yousuf next to him and after him no Razzaq. When they faltered there was precious little Inzamam could do in the 2007 World Cup. Likewise when Yousuf had no Inzi or had out of form Malik, Kamran Akmal and Razzaq his team wilted and Yousuf himself could not chase down some 170-odd on a placid pitch at Melbourne back in early 2010.
So when he got himself a line up consisting of Ahmed Shahzad, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan before him and below him Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed he arrived in settled times and knew he had stability even if he went cheap; hence the gay abandon with which he exhibited a strokeplay which was always his hallmark.
He still has not the eye of Inzamam nor the timing that Inzi was a master of; nor does he have the languidness of Yousuf or the sanguinity of Younis. But none of them has ever hit with such power dressed in such stylishness. And none can match the distance of his sixes, though Yousuf has hit them long and hard once in the longer boundaries of the MCG. In fact in that one innings where he hit 5 it almost equaled the collective number of sixes hit by Australians; and his overall 8 surpassed their team effort.
And what of Younus Khan, the man who now averages over 50 in each of the 4 innings of a Test match? He has had the greatest series ever no doubt. Matching Herbert Sutcliff by scoring three successive hundreds against is an achievement and he will now have his name next to one of the greatest batsmen of the second quarter of the last century. But Younus is one up in that it included a double century whereas Sutcliffe’s highest of the three was 176.
The achievements of Misbah and Younus have also side lighted the hundreds from Azhar Ali, Ahmed Shahzad and Sarfraz Ahmed, which were in no manner less important; without them and Asad’s near hundred Pakistan could not have won the first Test or got Pakistan into such an invincible position in the second.
Sarfraz especially needs to be mentioned separately. At Dubai he came in when the main batsmen had gone and yet batted with a flair that none of the earlier batsman had. It was almost like he was telling the Australians: “You guys can’t bowl.”
The psychological impact to the Australians of that hundred in 80 balls was no less definitive than what Javed Miandad’s last ball six had had on the Indians back in Sharjah on that infamous evening of 1986. It shook them up and to the Pakistanis it showed their bowling to be far more weaker than what the grinding innings of Azhar, Younus, Misbah and Asad had made them out to be.
Perhaps what equally surprised everyone including the Pakistanis was the way their spinners performed in the absence of Ajmal and the perceived absence of Abdul Rehman, both heroes of the whitewash against England on these pitches back in 2011. After the Dubai Test coach Darren Lehmann might have rued the fact that his batsmen were out to straight balls by the spinners but his best buddy Shane Warne used to bowl them to great effect too. And if it comes to that one can say what the great England fast bowler Fred Trueman once said to a batsman who tried to play down his dismissal with an in swinger saying it was just a straight one. “Aye, and a straight one was good enough for ye,” came the sharp retort from the Yorkshireman.
But it weren’t straight ones that got them all tied up when they lost their last 5 wickets for a handful to lose the second Test. Twenty six wickets between them at an average of less than 22 says little of the grip Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah held over the Australian batsmen throughout the time they were on the field.
On now to New Zealand and a whole new challenge. Yes challenge, because they will not necessarily be push overs that the Australians turned out to be. Their bowlers are likely to struggle like the Aussies but they bat well in the middle of the order and in Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Ronchi have master counter strikers. The Pakistani coaching staff needs to realize that Rahat Ali remains quite impotent on these pitches and Imran Khan took only 5 wickets at over 30. Expecting too much over three Tests from the spin duo and Hafeez (who took just 4 wickets at over 33 each) would be extracting.
Yes, New Zealand is the new tomorrow for Pakistan and after the conquering of their Tasman Sea neighbours, it seems the turn of the Black Caps. But it might not be so easy.
Originally published in The News on November 9, 2014