Pakistan's journey in 2017 © Getty Images
Pakistan’s journey in 2017 © Getty Images

What was Pakistan cricket like in 2017? There were highs (the Champions Trophy), lows (conceding their desert fortress to Sri Lanka), a batch of outrageously talented cricketers arrived (that happens almost every year), and a cohort of equally talented players got banned (that happens from time to time, too). There was nothing unusual about all that.

This was also a melancholic year for Pakistan, for they lost two of the biggest names in their chequered history. No Pakistan captain has matched Misbah-ul-Haq’s staggering tally of 26 Test wins (nobody had even 15), and Misbah had never led Pakistan in a Test at home.

There is more to Misbah. Only Jack Hobbs had scored more Test runs than Misbah’s 2,004 (at 43.56, too) after turning forty. And no 42-year-old had scored a hundred on maiden appearance at Lord’s (in orange boots, too).

The other, Younis Khan, scored most Test runs than Pakistan, full stop. In fact, he got over 10,000 when nobody had 9,000. But more importantly, amidst the gloom of match-fixing and a volatile board and no home matches, Younis and Misbah combined to serve the role of the local guardian of the Pakistan cricket team.

Misbah was emphatic on his way out, scoring two 99s (no typographic error there) in his final series. Younis had a quieter tour, but his final series also took him past the 10,000-run mark. He had also scored a regal 175 not out at Sydney, evoking memories of golden days.

They started the year with their customary miserable tour of Australia (this was their fourth consecutive Test whitewash and seventh consecutive series defeat in the country). Then they won their first ever series in West Indies (in eight attempts). And to round things off, they lost a complete Test series in UAE for the second time (the 0-2 defeat against Australia in Sharjah in 2002-03 was part of a 0-3 series where the other Test was played in Colombo).

Sarfraz’s supermen

If you think that was a topsy-turvy year, it was nothing compared to what they achieved in ODIs. Every edition of the Champions Trophy has had a winner. However, none of them had a fact sheet that resembled anything remotely close to this:
– Pakistan were the lowest-ranked side of the eight that played the tournament.
– They had a new captain, appointed full-time only a series before.
– They lost their opening match by 124 runs, to India.
– After a win against South Africa, they scraped through in a must-win match against Sri Lanka only after Thisara Perera dropped Sarfraz Ahmed.
– They trampled England, unbeaten till then, in the semi-final; and they did the same to India (remember the first match?) in the final.
– Fakhar Zaman, Faheem Ashraf, and Rumman Raees all debuted during the tournament. Fakhar scored 31, 50, 58, and 114 — all at a strike rate of 113 — and was named Man of the Match in the final. Faheem took 2 for 37 and Rumman 2 for 44 in their only matches of the tournament.

Till the defeat against India, Pakistan had a win-loss ratio of 0.5 (3 wins, 6 defeats). Since then they have won 9 in a row (including a whitewash over Sri Lanka).

Debutants galore

Pakistan have also given out six ODI caps. One of them, Shadab Khan, is a teenage leg-spinner who finished the year with 19 wickets at 25.47 and an economy rate below 5. He has batted twice, is yet to be dismissed, and has scored a fifty from No. 8. To sum it up, Pakistan have produced another teenage prodigy. That is step one. Whether PCB will go out of their way to end his career is something future will tell.

Inam-ul-Haq wears glasses while batting (this is 2017). He also scored a hundred on ODI debut. He earned a serious female fan following for one or both reasons.

Usman Khan, the other debutant, does not wear glasses while bowling, but he took 5 for 34 in his second (and till date, last) match. This included the first five wickets. At one point his figures read 3.3-0-12-5.

While still on debutants, Hasan Ali took 6 wickets at 27.33 from 2 Tests. We will talk about Hasan at lengths later. Mohammad Abbas has done better, with 23 from 5 Tests at 21.34. The seam attack has arrived from their perpetually replenishing infinite trove.

Sharjeel Khan walked out against a target of 465 at Sydney; he scored a 38-ball 40 and got promptly banned for spot-fixing in PSL.

And then, there was Haris Sohail, a man who had played limited-overs cricket till 2015. He was recalled for the Sri Lanka Tests. He was top-scorer once and second-best twice in four innings; only Asad Shafiq (183) got more runs than his 176 (at 44); and his 5 wickets came at 18.60. For all you know, he may not play for Pakistan till 2019.

Shadab had a miserable outing in his only Test, but more than made up for it in T20Is. After 2 matches his numbers read 8-1-21-7. He took 7 more wickets from another 8 matches, but his numbers still read 35.5-1-233-14. You do the arithmetic.

Fakhar and Faheem also made their T20I debuts this year. Fakhar has had a quiet time in 20-over cricket, but Faheem, in his third match, became the first Pakistani to take a T20I hat-trick.

Of Hasan Ali and Yasir Shah

The results on that West Indies tour summed up Pakistan’s year (and Pakistan cricket across eras) nicely: a 7-wicket win, a 106-run defeat, and a 101-run win.

They had looked on course for a win at Bridgetown. They needed to chase only 188. Then, well inside two hours, they were suddenly 36 for 7 against Shannon Gabriel. They couldn’t make it past 81.

Some argued that Misbah kept the declaration at Roseau for too late. The same Gabriel went for the wildest of slogs (off Yasir Shah, too) with 7 balls left in the Test; the ball hit off-stump — and history was created.

Talking of Yasir, his 43 wickets from 6 Tests came at 28.88. Take the Sydney Test away, and his 5 Tests have got him 41 wickets at 23.19. A breakup by Test reads 8, 9, 8, 8, 8: in other words, he did not have a single poor Test since the first week of January.

Abbas (see above) had a superior average, but he took 23 wickets, and nobody else from Pakistan reached even 15. Seven others have taken more wickets than Yasir this year, but all of them have played 10 or more Tests. No, there is little doubt that Yasir remains Pakistan’s go-to man in Test cricket.

Hasan has done well despite his limited outings in whites. Mohammad Aamer’s 14 wickets were not cheap, but he has shown glimpses of being Pakistan’s long-term spearhead.

Wahab Riaz was the only Pakistan bowler to put up a show at Sydney (4 for 117). He tore the heart out of Sri Lanka to skittle them out for 96 at Dubai (he took 4 for 41), but for some reason his 3 Tests came across three series. He finished the year with 11 wickets at 28.63.

In ODIs, Hasan finished with more wickets than anyone in the world. His 45 wickets came at a remarkable 17.04, the best for anyone with 20 or more wickets this year. He also became the ninth bowler to take 3 five-wicket hauls in a single season.

Junaid Khan and Aamer have done well sporadically, but Hasan’s chief support this year has really been Shadab. He came to his elements in the Sri Lanka series, where his 10 wickets cost him 16.30 apiece. Shadab (14 wickets at 16.64) and Hasan (12 at 21.41) have ruled the T20Is too. In fact, they picked up 26 of the 62 wickets to fall to Pakistan bowlers in the year.

The visible chink

Pakistan’s batting woes, however, continue to plague them. Rangana Herath exposed them brutally, as had Gabriel. The top two men on the averages chart are Misbah and Younis. Haris, the third, played only 2 Tests.

Of the others, Azhar Ali and Sarfraz played all 6, and have predictably scored most runs for Pakistan this year. Azhar Ali scored 2 of the 4 hundreds for them. He has crept up to the seventh spot on the all-time list of run-getters from the country without anyone noticing. Another half-decent year (I am talking of 640 runs here) will take him past Misbah and Saleem Malik as well.

A lot was expected of Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam, but none of them did anything of note. Babar, of course, ruled the realm in coloured gear: 872 runs at 67.07 (ODIs) and 352 more at 39.11 (T20Is) do not come easily. It is no surprise that he topped both lists.

Shoaib Malik came third on both lists. In T20Is, his 273 runs came at an average of 45.50 and a strike rate of 144. In ODIs, the numbers read 57.33 and 94. These are excellent numbers for anyone who is not Steven Smith.

His only chink was an ordinary Champions Trophy, but other than that he has simply refused to fail. Even in Australia (where Pakistan were thrashed 1-4), Malik contributed with 42*, 39, and 47 before having to retire for 10.

Mohammad Hafeez made decent contributions. The most crucial of these was the 37-ball unbeaten 57 in the Champions Trophy final — an innings that sealed the fate of the match after Fakhar had set it up. He had found his rhythm with ball (an ODI economy rate of 4.24 says a lot) before getting suspended for his action yet again.

Sharjeel will remain one of Pakistan cricket’s “what ifs”. Goodness knows where he came from after an inexplicable hiatus, but he has surely muscled his way to brutal assaults since then. The team struggled in Australia, but Sharjeel hammered the bowlers with ridiculous nonchalance for 250 runs at 50 with a strike rate of 115. Then he disappeared with a poof.

Imad Wasim started the year well, but faded out as it approached an end. Ahmed Shehzad batted 9 times and reached double-figures in 8 of them (got 22 or more 6 times). Had he not irked the fans with one selfie too many, they would probably have cared to look up his numbers. His 89 against the ICC World XI was one of the finest T20I innings of the year.

While still on the topic of riling up fans, Umar Akmal was dealt with rather harshly this year. He was picked for the Australia series, reached double-figures all five times, and has not played since. Big brother Kamran got off to starts as well (2 ducks but crossed 20 the other five times), but did not play before or after the West Indies tour.

The little matter of Sarfraz

Sarfraz did brilliantly in the Champions Trophy, and has not faced a major challenge since then. When he did, Pakistan crumbled against Herath, but it is impossible to blame Sarfraz for that. He turned the tables in the limited-overs series after having a successful series against the ICC World XI.

In Test cricket, however, a bigger challenge awaits him. He has massive boots to fill (orange ones, too), and the Pakistan batting line-up can really do with some support for Azhar Ali.

Sarfraz’s own batting form petered out in the Sri Lanka series, but he has delivered when his side needed the most — in the must-win Champions Trophy match against Sri Lanka. The unbeaten 72 on a burning deck at Sydney was perhaps a more spectacular innings, but the Sri Lanka innings was definitely a more important one.

Homecoming

Everything I have written above — perhaps even the Champions Trophy or the swansong of the giants — pales into insignificance when one pits them against the return of international cricket to Lahore Pakistan.

Since that ghastly day in 2009, Zimbabwe had been the only team to tour Pakistan (they had even brought their own umpire!). This time Faf du Plessis arrived with a team to play a full 3-match T20I series on Pakistan soil. The squad was represented by almost all major sides, and turned out to be a logistic triumph for Pakistan.

Sri Lanka rounded off their full tour with a T20I at Lahore as well. One can only hope things go uphill from here. It would have been perfect if Misbah and Younis had been around.

Pakistan in numbers, across formats, in 2017:

M W L W/L
Tests 6 4 2 2
ODIs 18 12 6 2
T20Is 10 8 2 4

Most runs

Tests ODIs T20Is
M R Ave 100s M R Ave SR M R SR
Azhar 6 504 42 2 Babar 18 872 67.07 79 Babar 10 352 120
Sarfraz 6 350 35 Hafeez 18 555 39.64 82 Shehzad 9 304 120
Misbah 4 327 54.5 Malik 17 516 57.33 94 Malik 10 273 144
Younis 4 310 44.28 1 Fakhar 9 400 44.44 101 Fakhar 9 130 110
Shafiq 6 284 25.81 1 Azhar 8 265 33.12 71 Kamran 4 90 113

Most wickets

Tests ODIs T20Is
  M W Ave 5s   M W Ave Econ   M W Econ
Yasir

6

43

28.88

5

Hasan

18

45

17.04

5.03

Shadab

10

14

6.50

Abbas

5

23

21.34

1

Junaid

14

19

31.57

5.41

Hasan

9

12

7.67

Aamer

6

14

33.85

1

Shadab

12

19

25.47

4.98

Faheem

4

6

4.80

Wahab

3

11

28.63

Aamer

12

18

31.67

5.25

Imad

10

6

6.50

Hasan

2

6

27.33

Imad

16

9

50.55

4.38

Aamer

1

4

3.25

Most wicketkeeping dismissals

Tests ODIs T20Is
M C S M C S M C S
Sarfraz 6 21 1 Sarfraz 13 21 2 Sarfraz 10 4 3
Rizwan 5 12

Postscript

Shahid Afridi still plays. His age may remain static, but the formats he plays in have gone shorter. He has rounded off the year with a T10 hat-trick. He tonked 81 runs off 41 balls in the tournament (that is a strike rate of 231) and his 4 wickets came at 13.50.

Oh, and he finished BPL just before that with 15 wickets at 14 and an economy rate of 7. This was in addition to 126 runs at a strike rate of 168.

In the NatWest T20 blast before that he got 151 at 157 for Hampshire. It took him 9 innings, and it included a 43-ball 101, his maiden T20 hundred. He also went for 7.20 an over and took 13 wickets.

So yes, there is still some life left in cricket’s own Peter Pan.