Azhar Ali became the fourth Pakistani batsman to score triple-century in Test cricket    AFP
Azhar Ali became the fourth Pakistani batsman to score triple-century in Test cricket AFP

Test cricket has rarely seen multiple Asian teams competing for top spots despite the fact that the nature of the competition has changed drastically. Following the domination of West Indies for a very long time, the Australians emerged as the second cricketing powerhouse which ruled the roost for years across formats. But today, not any more: there are one or two, or at times, even three teams in the fray for the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket; in fact, there have been far too many frequent changes at the pinnacle of the format. England, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and India have all been the frequenters of late, but none among them have been able to stay on for long. In fact, both New Zealand and Sri Lanka have reasons to be hopeful as well, given the recent trends shown by teams across the ladder. LIVE CRICKET SCORECARD: Pakistan vs West Indies, 1st Test at Dubai

At present, there are no non-Asian teams competing for the top rank, and the battle has certainly intensified between the arch rivals in Pakistan and India. When the Indian cricket team was taking giant strides annihilating a lowly West Indies, the Pakistani cricket team conjured up excellent performances to become world No. 1 while they were in England. But this was not before Virat Kohli s team felt what it was like to be at the top of the tree even though for about one week.

But we are transgressing from the topic. It is not about the teams who may be competing for the top spot; it is about the men who make it possible. Both Pakistan and India are clear favourites for the No. 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings, and they have been there through some special performances over a period of time. The face of the Indian cricket team has changed dramatically right from the time Kohli took over as the captain of the national side, instilling that fire and determination in his team which somehow had gone missing under his predecessor. On the other hand, the resolute and venerable Misbah-ul-Haq has not only taken his team to unprecedented heights, but he has also consolidated the Test team s position compared to where they were in the past.

There may be a lot common between India and Pakistan both have excellent batsmen and two very gifted spinners but the biggest differentiating factor has been the one that has played a big role in the journey of Pakistani cricket. Since international cricket teams (barring the generous Zimbabweans, who toured Pakistan last year) have refused to play in Pakistan, their cricketers have been deprived of the essential quality that makes players turn from good to the best. Playing in front of frenetic home crowds has always pushed India to do well, but on the other hand, Pakistani cricketers have for long adjusted to playing with minimal support on the cricket grounds in UAE.

The first-ever day-night Test between two cricketing houses with rich histories began at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Wednesday, but shockingly, the stadium was so empty that cricketers and support staff from both Pakistan and West Indies would have easily outnumbered those present at the venue to just watch the game. It was mortifying for Test cricket to make its pink ball debut in the subcontinent with no spectators around, even though it was a holiday in The Gulf.

The fact that Test cricket has been facing existential problems is not new, since there are many in the cricket fraternity with the belief that the conventional format of the sport has been surviving at the behest of the windfall on the shorter versions. Limited-overs cricket may have gained markets and fans across the world, but a very little has been done for the well-being of Test cricket, which has had to remain content with whatever support it has got.

Test cricketers in England and Australia can consider themselves lucky as they invariably play in front of packed houses. Test cricket has far more greater interest in the non-Asian countries since it has attracted more footfalls, but Asian teams have had to remain content with whatever hundreds of fans who turn up. Consider this: Azhar Ali, who battled for hours against a toothless West Indies attack to become only the fourth Pakistani batsman in their cricketing history to score a triple century, had a handful of those in the stands cheering for him. Maybe, the noise from the dressing-room would have been more than that from the fans present.

What if the question arises here Pakistan had the fortune of playing in front of the home crowd? What if, had nothing gone wrong on that ill-fated day in March 2009 when a dozen terrorists opened fire on the Sri Lankan cricket team bus? Had that not happened, Azhar Ali would have found thousands cheering for him at the top of their voices after he lifted himself up finishing a quick round of push-ups.

A quick round of push-ups. Pakistan is a country going through a very critical and perhaps a perilous phase, but if there is any tranquility, it is there on the face of Misbah. A seasoned man who knows how to face the worst of times with utmost compose, Misbah has slowly but steadily changed the face of Pakistan cricket. The approach, in the process, has been as clinical as that of an army man. Maybe this is why Pakistan trained in army camps a few months ago.

The lack of fans at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on the first two days of their first-ever day-night Test was perhaps not as unfortunate as Pakistani cricketers not getting enough opportunities to play at home, but nevertheless, they deserve richest of praise for putting up with all adversities and taking their cricket ahead. In retrospect, Azhar Ali s triple century against West Indies underlined this Pakistani cricket team s doggedness and the zeal to succeed even if there is least of support. If they are able to maintain the zeal and gumption, this Pakistani cricket team will certainly have lot of bright days to experience.

(Devarchit Varma is senior writer with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)