It’s hard to know exactly where Pakistan are compared with the rest of the world, because of how few matches, particularly Tests, they have played this year. They trampled all over England largely thanks to their spinners (and without demeaning Pakistan’s performance, also due to England’s batting woes), but then were mostly outplayed by Sri Lanka in a Test series they lost 1-0.
What is clear is that with three hundreds and an average of 55, Azhar Ali leads the batting. The whole Pakistan batting line-up was again pretty settled for the year, however with Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan both older than 35, they will need to rely on the likes of Ali taking the side forward in the medium-to-long term.
The bowling is obviously spearheaded by Saeed Ajmal, whose 39 wickets from six matches would be extrapolated to a world-beating tally for the year if he was fortunate enough to play as many Tests as England (Rangana Herath obviously doesn’t count). Abdur Rehman (25 wickets at 22.64) is much more than ancillary to Ajmal, a point that we have tried to make every time we’ve discussed Pakistan on this site this year. Although Umar Gul is rapidly moving from the column marked ‘inconsistent’ to the one marked ‘shitheap’, Junaid Khan has made a very healthy start to Test matches in his eight games thus far. Mohammad Hafeez provides not only a more than handy bowling option, but also – by opening the batting – brings a degree of balance to the side, enabling the side to play with six batsmen and five bowling options.
The World T20 was obviously a key part of the 2012 cricketing calendar, but even more so for Hafeez’s men due to their shortage of matches. They flew through the opening stages of the tournament, beat South Africa in an extraordinary game but succumbed to the hosts in the semi-finals, to the dismay of a certain 51allout correspondent who had been trumpeting that they would win the competition from the start. If nothing else though, the tournament did at least reconfirm that Shahid Afridi is now utterly useless with the bat.
The scarcity of their cricket is sad, especially that a proposed tour by Bangladesh had to be cancelled. However these fixtures have now been rescheduled for January; even though it comprises only one T20 and one ODI, it is better than nothing. Hopefully, these will be the first of many international matches to take place in Pakistan – though even we can accept that there are more important matters at stake than giving the team opportunities to play. Mind you, between now and the first match the tour will likely be postponed and uncancelled at least three times. At least in the meantime there’s the small matter of some limited overs fun in India.
Players such as Ali, Hafeez, Ajmal and Khan form a handy core that Pakistan ought to be able to build on as they continue to develop from one plagued by inconsistency, scandal and irresponsibility to one that not only challenges, but competes with and defeats, the best sides in the world. Coach Dav Whatmore and the split captaincy (Misbah and Hafeez) deserve a lot of credit and with a busier year coming up, it should be rewarding for fans of Pakistan and cricket in general.