On Top of the World
I’ve always wanted to write; start a blog. Given that I consider myself a voracious reader with multiple interests, I always thought writing should come naturally to me. It did at one point, or maybe it didn’t, I don’t remember, it’s been that long. All this time I found comfort in a plethora of excuses and rationales as to why I can’t write. Sometimes I was too busy, other times I was lazy, couldn’t come with a topic I felt passionately about; or lately, it’s just been that I haven’t written anything for so long that there was this hesitation that maybe I can’t write or if I start now, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
All these thoughts and fears simply died down yesterday when it became official that Pakistan are the number 1 Test team in the world after the 4th test between India and West Indies got rained out (After All, how can a Pakistani success not involve rain, and Intikhab Alam). I just realized that I don’t need to wait for the right time to start writing; this has meant so much that I felt compelled to share my thoughts and joy with anyone willing to read this piece. Although a lot of great writers have already contributed a lot about a team that reached its lowest ebb during their last tour of England in 2010, how most of these players having played in Pakistan for the entirety of their careers and why this team deserves to be number 1.
So why do I want to add my two cents? What is it that someone like myself, who hasn’t written anything out of fear for a long period of time would offer that is new? Nothing, all I want to share here is what this means to me, and probably to a lot of hard core Pakistani Cricket fans who over the years have stuck with this team through thick and thin.
The evolution of this team over the past six years, led by Misbah and Younis Khan hasn’t been spectacular but steady; in fact it has been so steady and Misbah (read tuk tuk) like that it probably caught lot of people in Pakistan by surprise that this team had a chance to be number 1. Most of the casual fans associate their team’s success based on their limited overs performance, where Pakistan have been found wanting. This forced a narrative that this isn’t good enough or they can only win in UAE in helpful conditions. Not playing enough abroad makes it worse, but whenever his team had an opportunity, they stepped up, weather it was drawing a test series in South Africa, beating Australia at “home” or now drawing a series in England. For fans who have followed this team closely could clearly see a team growing and a middle order stabilizing. Misbah and Younis Khan have molded this team into their identities, unassuming, low key, patient and effective.
This brings us to the recently concluded series. A lot of pundits including former cricketers were adamant that these batsmen would be found wanting in English conditions. All four middle order batsmen scored a hundred; Sami Aslam proved why he deserves an extended run at the top of the order, while Sarfraz made a few useful contributions. After a long time, even the tail seemed to have found some spine and the ability to provide adequate support.
It’s been some experience watching this team; watching Younis Khan grow into a giant of Pakistan cricket, Misbah becoming the most successful Pakistan captain of all time. A few years ago, watching this team struggle in shorter formats as well along with an increased interest in other sports dwindled my interest in cricket. The only thing that kept me from totally shelving cricket altogether was the success of this team. The growth in players like Azhar Ali, Asad Shafig and Sarfraz has been a treat to watch.
The manner in which this team has grown over the past six years feel more like a long winded test match that slowly trickled its way to a conclusion in a manner that could only have been conceived by Misbah. They’ve played a brand of cricket one usually does not associate with Pakistan cricket. One of the best things they did on the England tour was to not abandon their style of playing boring but disciplined cricket and forcing the opposition’s hand. They’ve been consistent with the system they’ve put in place and have found players who are willing to play within the system instead of relying on individual brilliance.
This is not to say that this is a perfect team, or how this team compares to the Pakistani teams of yester years, they definitely aren’t as talented as some of the teams in the past, although statistically they are more successful.
Of course there are issues with this team as well, a perpetual issue with our openers, Amir making a comeback and still getting used to playing the longer format, Yasir Shah and how he makes the adjustments when the rest of world gets a book on him. Sterner test awaits in Australia later in the year. But no matter what happens from now on, what people say about this team or how this unfolds, especially as Misbah and Younis step away from the game, we can look back to this day and remember that Pakistan were the best team in the world.