Pakistan surpassed expectations by winning friends and playing in right spirit
By Saj Sadiq - @Saj_PakPassion
Last Updated: 26/12/16 1:43pm
Pakistan's class of 2016 buried the ghosts of 2010 with style and dignity under the influence of Misbah-ul-Haq, says Sajid Sadiq…
As press conferences go, the last one of Pakistan's 2016 tour of England was the usual hum-drum affair of statements from both sides about positives and negatives that could be extracted from all of 20 overs of an IT20 game played in Manchester.
What was not par for the course was the spontaneous ripple of applause at the end of the Pakistan press conference attended by Wahab Riaz and Sarfraz Ahmed. While such displays of appreciation at the end of international tours may well be a common sight, it is also a fact that in times gone by, joy is not an emotion which has been associated with the last rites of tours by Pakistan to England.
In fact, the word relief has been the overriding feeling whenever Pakistan, a team known for extraordinary brilliance and depressing mediocrity in equal measures, have left the shores of England in recent times. In 2010, the word "shame" also entered the discourse to describe the actions of three cricketers who were enticed into an elaborate sting. What ensued was a result of the actions of a few appeared to permanently damage relations between two of the world's top cricketing nations.
Which is exactly why the manner in which Pakistan's tour was conducted and the spirit all games were played in has set a new high of expectations for future meetings between the teams. There had been fears that given the history of the dark events of the previous tour, it would have been somewhat far-fetched to expect the tour to pass-off without an incident involving Pakistan in a negative light. Instead what we effectively saw was the ghosts of 2010 buried by the class of 2016 with such style and dignity that astute observers of the game such as former England captains Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan were left waxing lyrical about the conduct and performance of the touring party.
To fully understand the reason behind the transformation of the oft-reviled Pakistan team, one needs to look no further than the influence of one man: Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq. Although he was only part of the Test team, the fact remains that the ethos espoused by Misbah affected players in all of the Pakistan squads. While he inspired the team to produce performances which helped square a seemingly lost Test series, his bigger victory was to win the hearts and minds of the English viewing public as well as the media; an achievement which will undoubtedly ease the paths of many a visiting side from Pakistan in the future.
Pakistan's Test side did carry themselves with aplomb with some fantastic batting performances by well-established names such as Misbah-ul-Haq, Younus Khan, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, ably supported by Sarfraz Ahmed, with the young Sami Aslam also announcing himself to the world with two superb innings played under immense pressure. Read Wasim Akram's Pakistan ratings here.
Among the Test bowlers, Yasir Shah and Mohammad Amir confirmed their importance to the Pakistan side, with Amir completing a much-awaited return to Test cricket without any serious issues as was feared at the onset of this series. Sohail Khan was the other unexpected performer later in the series and Wahab Riaz once again showed in spells what a dangerous bowler he is when on-song.
With the world No 1 ranking safely secured for Pakistan due to the 2-2 result in the Test series, the show moved on to the limited-overs segment of the tour. The Pakistan ODI side was known to have several weaknesses and the ICC's ranking of a lowly ninth position was no fluke. There was some optimism based upon the "feel good" effect of the fourth Test victory at The Oval but as the result of the series demonstrated, the gulf between Pakistan and the better sides of the world in the 50-over format was as large as ever.
A hapless Azhar watched his side succumb to defeat after defeat in the first four ODI games with a record-breaking embarrassment where England put on a massive 444 runs at Trent Bridge. The fifth and final game is where Pakistan turned it around but the damage to Pakistan and especially to Azhar's captaincy appeared to be irreversible.
While the Pakistan ODI side took a fair share of criticism for its lacklustre performance, the emergence of Imad Wasim as a viable all-round option would have pleased many as would the arrival of young Hasan Ali who ended up as the highest wicket taker for Pakistan in the ODI series, with eight wickets. Both these players further went on to demonstrate their skills in the Twenty20 format in the one-off final game of the tour. Incidentally, that game also saw the belated arrival on the scene for the hard-hitting opener Sharjeel Khan whose brutal hitting power laid waste to England's first choice Twenty20 bowling attack in front of an enthusiastic and largely Pakistani crowd, giving Sarfraz Ahmed a victory to savour in his first game as Pakistan captain.
The abiding memories of the summer of 2016 from a Pakistan point of view would undoubtedly pivot around that now famous press-up display at Lord's, but the manner of their fightback in the Test series at The Oval after back-to-back defeats would have also won them many admirers. Pakistan did not fare well in the ODI series but spectacularly managed to restore some dignity in the final game of the series. More importantly, they leave English shores with their heads held high and if the objective was to win friends and play good cricket in the right spirit, Pakistan surpassed all expectations.