Abu Dhabi: A historic 2-0 Test series whitewash against Australia and all sorts of records notwithstanding, Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq’s biggest contribution was to erase the negativity that had enveloped the team going into the Tests.
Until last month a lot was going on, on and off the field with a clear indication that the skipper was lacking support from all quarters. With his own form dipping, Misbah’s woes had doubled and he was clearly searching for answers as to where his future was headed.
Chants of ‘Go Misbah Go’ from the fans would have reverberated in his mind as Pakistan suffered a string of defeats in the ODI series. With the voice of his ouster clearly gaining momentum, a heartbroken Misbah even stepped aside for the final ODI and handed the baton to Shahid Afridi.
Had the stand-in skipper shown a little more intent and somehow seen the side across the line, it would have, most certainly, brought down the curtains on Misbah’s ODI captaincy. The last two weeks has completely turned the wheels of fortune for Misbah and his critics will surely be looking for cover.
From making an inexperienced bowling unit believe they could deliver, to shedding the ‘Mr Tuck Tuck’ tag scoring the fastest Test hundred — equalling the mark held by former West Indian great Viv Richards — Misbah has scaled the zenith of his career which most can only dream of. In the coming days, with the Kiwi series lurking, it will be interesting to see if the skipper can transform this charged up unit into a consistent domineering force.
Unceremoniously dropped from the ODI squad, Younis Khan had triggered a lot of controversy and was on the verge of calling it quits after lashing at the selectors. However, picked for the Tests, he was a man on a mission. Younis, who scored 213 and 46 in Pakistan’s 356-run victory in Abu Dhabi and aggregated 468 runs in the series, was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s success.
Azhar Ali, also was in awesome form in the company of the seniors and the two centuries in the Abu Dhabi Test, reassured that he very much belongs there. Openers Ahmed Shezhad and Mohammad Hafeez were also capable of taking the shine off the new ball with decent starts which was a good sign.
On the bowling front, it was Zulfiqar Babar who basked in the spotlight. Called to serve the nation at the age of 34, the left-arm spinner simply adapted to the world stage like fish to water. Barely into his fourth Test match, he was the biggest thorn in the Aussie flesh, which they just couldn’t get rid off.
Babar simply keeps coming at you and more importantly, has the fire and the guile to pick up wickets. Fourteen scalps in the series speaks volumes of his wicket-taking ability and makes one wonders what took Pakistan so long to spot a talent like him. One look at his first-class performance, 371 wickets in 71 matches gives you the answer — Babar is clearly a victim of boardroom politics. And Pakistan coach Waqar Younis rightly put it, “The good thing is that the world got to see such a unique talent at least now.”
Yasir Shah, who made his debut in Dubai, too matched his senior partner and bowled with more maturity than his age claiming 12 wickets in two matches and Pakistan barely missed the mystery bowler Saeed Ajmal.
Medium-pacer Rahat Ali, bowling with side arm action, bowled with decent pace and showed that he could swing the ball both ways even on flat tracks. So did Imran Khan, whose ever lasting memory would be the wicket of Australian skipper Michael Clarke.
All he needed to do for the rest of his career for inspiration is to see that video again and again of Clarke’s middle stumps going cart wheel with that in-swinger. It also assured that there is no dearth of fast bowling talent in Pakistan’s domestic cricket. The ferocity with which Pakistan went about their business to tame the Australians, would have made New Zealand fret even before a ball has been bowled.
And Pakistan’s hungry bunch of boys will already be smacking their lips and say: ‘Bring it on’.