Apart from Misbah-ul-Haq (left) and Younis Khan, the other young batsmen have failed to grab the opportunities to cement their place in the side © AFP
By R Vishal
In the ongoing Test series against an inexperienced Sri Lankan bowling line-up, Pakistan batsmen were expected to make mincemeat out of Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal and co. However to everyone’s disbelief , the Pakistan batsmen have crumbled under pressure and it took the old warhorses Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan to steady the ship, not for the first time in this series or the recent past, and to steer them out of trouble.
The duo had posted superb hundreds in the first Test to set up their team for a win before Angelo Mathews spoiled the party. This time around in the second Test, heading for an embarrassing innings defeat, the veterans’ valiant efforts helped Pakistan post a lead of 136, which the Sri Lankans chased comfortably.
In 2013, Pakistan suffered landslide defeats at the hands of South Africa and lowly Zimbabwe. While the bowlers were yet again atoning for the cardinal and at times amateurish sins committed by the Pakistan batsmen, Misbah and Younis stood like warriors willing to fight for the war-torn nation’s cause where everyone around them seldom showed the application, technique and the graft that it takes to be a quality Test player.
The supporting casts have left a lot to be desired: Azhar Ali looked like bridging the alarming gap between the ever reliable duo and the rest but since 2013, the solidity and stroke-making abilities of the elegant middle-order batsman suffered an alarming dip.
Azhar has registered seven ducks in that period and that indicates a blow hot-blow cold nature, increasingly turning anonymous when runs at the top order could set the tone for the mercurial right-handers at No 4 and No 5 to set the team up for a 400-plus total and he subsequently lost his place in the line-up.
Being around the fringes of the team for a little over a decade now, Mohammad Hafeez’s commitment to the longer format still remains unreliable, for all his superlative all-round performances in the shorter formats of the game.
The retirement of Mohammad Yousuf left a gaping void in the middle-order; Asad Shafiq has done reasonably well filing in those big boots. He had the verve and steel to score a magnificent 111 against South Africa. But with a batting average of around 37, Shafiq has still a lot to do to catch up with Misbah and Younis.
Since the ill-fated England tour of 2010, which was mired in controversies of spot-fixing allegations, Pakistan cricket was left in shambles. But Younis and Misbah have picked up the pieces and shouldered the near inhuman responsibility of bailing the team out from top-order blues, consolidating and accumulating big scores.
While many great players have found the dual responsibilities of captaincy and batting too taxing; Misbah has managed to keep an average in excess of 55, placing him in the list on a long line of his predecessors who have all made a significant leap since leading the team — Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and even the much vaunted Shoaib Malik have all, increased 10 runs or more in their overall average after taking over as captain. Misbah’s has leapfrogged from 46 to 56.
The results, however have been a mixed bag with heady highs like mauling England in the Gulf in 2012. But since then, they have faltered consistently against South Africa on tour, going down against Zimbabwe and now in front of an inexperienced Sri Lankan pace attack.
Both batsmen are now in the twilight of their careers and the talent pool that is tipped to take over from them in the near future is nowhere in Younis and Misbah’s ilk. Unless the incoming batsmen follow to emulate the hard work and cricketing acumen shown by the current and former captain, Pakistan’s batting will forever be stuck in transition.
(R Vishal is a journalist and an alumni of the Asian School of Journalism. He can be followed on Twitter @vishhell)