Year-ender 2018: Pakistan review: Excellent in T20Is, quixotic in Tests

Excellent in T20Is, poor in ODIs and quixotic in Tests. That’s Pakistan for you. Skippered by Sarfraz Ahmed across formats – to the frustration of several former Pakistan cricketers – the team bossed every opposition in T20Is while holding on to the top spot, lost more ODIs than it won and in Tests … well, here’s where Pakistan cricket truly confounds.

Sample one: a five-wicket win over Test debutants Ireland, in which the brittleness of the batting was to the fore. Sample two: a famous win over England in England, followed by defeat in the next to draw the series 1-1. Sample three: after failing to bowl out Australia despite setting them a target of 462, Pakistan crushed them in the next Test to win the series 2-0. Sample four: the New Zealand series, where two spectacular batting collapses were sandwiched by a huge win. Sample four: defeat inside three days to South Africa, highlighted by (of course), a collapse from 101/1 to 190 all out.

Pakistan have thus slumped to seventh in Tests.

In T20Is, however, they are ranked No 1 and have 17 wins from 19 games last year. Pakistan won every series they contested, with several standout performances. In ODIs, their record is eight wins from 17 completed games which includes losing all five games in New Zealand at the start of 2018 and being eliminated before the knockouts of the Asia Cup with defeat to Bangladesh.

Mickey Arthur, who has been with the Pakistan team since 2016, may be a marked man if such performances continue.

Along the way were some personal landmarks, such as Fakhar Zaman becoming Pakistan’s first double-centurion in ODIs, and the retirement of Mohammad Hafeez  from Tests after a successful return to the T20I series.

2018 record:

Tests: P 9 W 4 L 4 D 1

ODIs: P 18 W 8 L 9 NR 1

T20Is: P 19 W 17 L 2

High: 

Beating Australia in the final of the T20I tri-series in Zimbabwe to lift the trophy. This was the biggest prize in the format for T20I’s best team, and this campaign was successful because of all-round efforts. Fakhar, Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali were consistent with runs and Mohammad Amir and Shadab Khan incisive with the ball.

Fakhar Zaman was Player of the Series in Pakistan's T20I win in Zimbabwe
Fakhar Zaman was Player of the Series in Pakistan’s T20I win in Zimbabwe. © AFP

Low: 

In ODIs, there was the 0-5 loss in New Zealand. In Tests, defeats to England, New Zealand (twice) and South Africa each featured batting collapses. Taking the cake was the nearly incomprehensible collapse on day four of the first Test against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi to hand the visiting team an unbelievable four-win win.

Pakistan, chasing a target of 176, began the fourth day on 37/0 and proceeded to lose three wickets in eight balls during the morning session. An 82-run stand between Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq was snapped on the stroke of lunch, after which New Zealand took the remaining six wickets for 41 runs when play resumed. Arthur termed it the worst defeat of his coaching career.

Top performer:

Successful across formats, Babar Azam had a year to remember: 1688 runs in 38 internationals, with two hundreds and 14 half-centuries. In T20Is, the 24-year-old averaged 62.55 while consolidating his spot at No 1  in the ICC rankings. In ODIs, he moved to fifth place with 509 runs at 36.35. In Tests, Babar averaged 56 with six fifties and a match-setting hundred against New Zealand. To bounce back from a fractured forearm in May added to the batsman’s success.

Honourable mention: In an excellent year, Mohammad Abbas had several match-winning performances. In his first Test of the year Abbas claimed nine wickets. Next, he was named Player of the Series after the 1-1 draw in England where he took 10 wickets including eight in victory at Lord’s. Abbas was Man of the Series for the second occasion in a row after bowling Pakistan to a 373-run win over Australia in Abu Dhabi last month, claiming 5/62 on the fourth day to take his tally for the match to 10/95 – the first time any fast bowler managed that in the UAE.

Fading star:

Having his place questioned is nothing new for Sarfraz Ahmed, but in a year in which he averaged 24 in Tests and ODIs and presided over a string or defeats in ODIs and some questionable losses in Tests, the captain-wicketkeeper is on the wane. In a period of under-performance under Sarfraz, Pakistan exited the Asia Cup after losing to Bangladesh  in the Super Six stage and then lost a three-Test series to New Zealand in the UAE. As the year ended, Sarfraz bagged a pair in the Boxing Day Test versus South Africa which Pakistan lost inside three days.

Sarfraz Ahmed was second best to Kane Williamson in the UAE.
Sarfraz Ahmed was second best to Kane Williamson in the UAE. ©AFP

One to watch:

In his first season of international cricket, the 18-year-old pace sensation Shaheen Afridi claimed 32 wickets from 15 matches across formats. Standing at 1.98 metres, Afridi broke into Pakistan’s Under-19 team at the junior World Cup in January 2018 where he claimed 12 wickets, and was handed debut in Tests, ODIs and T20Is between April and December. His first success came in October when he took successive four-wicket hauls and finished as Man of the Series in the ODIs versus New Zealand. In his second Test, he claimed five wickets.

Lined up in 2019:

Jan-Feb: 2 Tests, 5 ODIs, 3 T20Is vs South Africa (away)

March-April: 5 ODIs vs Australia (home)

May: 5 ODIs, 1 T20I vs England (away)

June-July: ICC Cricket World Cup

Oct-Nov: 2 Tests vs Sri Lanka (home)

Nov-Dec: 2 Tests, 3 T20Is vs Australia (away)

Dec: 3 ODIs, 3 T20Is vs Sri Lanka (home)