Pakistan rose to the highest and perhaps the most respectable position in international cricket by claiming the no. 1 ranking in Test cricket earlier this month. This past week, Pakistan captain, and the man at the forefront of this achievement, Misbah ul Haq received the test mace from the ICC Chief Executive in recognition of the achievement. To mark the occasion, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the series that stand out over the last six year period, the series that now we look back, appear as signatory of the potential in this young side and the achievements that were to come, culminating in them being crowned test kings, a truly phenomenal feat when you consider that they didn’t play a single match on home soil.
1. Pakistan v South Africa in the UAE, 2010
Result: Drawn 0-0
Pakistan test team, fresh from the flaming tour of England that laid waste to the team’s reputation, and dealing with the loss of 3 key players following the spot-fixing scandal, showed guts and determination to earn a draw in their adopted home in the very next series against the world’s best test side at the time. In Misbah ul Haq’s first assignment as skipper, the team showed great fighting spirit to mark the start of a new era in Pakistan cricket.
Also notable were the contributions of the senior men, Misbah and Younus, as they came up with match saving knocks in both tests-Younis with a century in the first test, and Misbah with important fifties in both games. This was to become a trademark of Pakistan team, both men guiding the young line up with examples, and putting up their hands whenever situation demanded a steely knock.
2. Pakistan v England in the UAE, 2012
Result: Pakistan won 3-0
This series was perhaps the one that laid down the marker for future sides touring the UAE. Pakistan had adopted and embraced their makeshift home, and it was going to be a fortress that was near unassailable.
The England team, fresh from being crowned world no. 1, had to learn this the hard way. Pakistan swept away the series, winning all three matches quite comfortably. They even overcame a wobble in the second test, with England crumbling in the most inexplicable fashion in the chase of 144 in Abu Dhabi.
This series marked the true emergence of the phenomenon that was to be Saeed Ajmal. He took a whopping 24 wickets in three matches, including 10/97 in the first test. Along with Abdul Rehman, the hero of Abu Dhabi with 6 wickets in that fourth innings, he wrecked havoc on the turning pitches of the UAE, with English batsmen all at sea against his variations.
3. Pakistan v South Africa in the UAE, 2013
Result: Drawn 1-1
After sinking to a 3-0 clean sweep in South Africa earlier in the 2013, Pakistan team surprised even itself with a lifting performance when the same team came to the UAE later the same year. They won the first test with a good margin, getting SA out twice and finishing the job on the last day chasing 45.
The team was brought back down to earth in the very next match, however, losing by an innings margin, but overall performance was enough to convince Misbah that the team could go even farther. He counts this series as an important stepping stone on the road to becomng world no. 1.
4. Pakistan v England in England, 2016
Result: Drawn 2-2
This series was the culmination of all the efforts the team put in for six years, crowning them the world’s best and completing the circle of salvation in the same land where they were brought down six years earlier.
Pakistan, riding high in spite of bowling bans being imposed on their key bowlers like Saeed Ajmal and Muhammad Hafeez, stepped into the series with their newest bowling sensation. This time the man was Yasir Shah, a leggie threatening to break 120-year old record of fastest 100 wickets in tests.
The series was a reflection of Yasir Shah’s form in a true sense. The team won the first test, when Yasir took 10 wickets, and Misbah ul Haq scored a century on his England debut to show that even at 42, he is an irreplaceable asset to the team.
Yasir’s subsequent struggles in the two following tests coincided with two defeats. However, a sparkling return to form for both Yasir and veteran Younis Khan, who scored a remarkable double century, lead Pakistan to a win in the final test and ensured that the series was tied.
This result combined with India’s washed out match in the West Indies meant that Pakistan was crowned the world’s leading test nation-six years after Misbah was called upon to resurrect the broken image of the country’s cricket.
He, along with fellow veteran Younis Khan, the newer generation of key players like Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali, as well as the others, has led the turnaround with a poise that was uncharacteristic of Pakistan cricket for so long, but has become a part of its fabric now. Away from home, amid the pressure, these men have done the country proud.