You carried us this far: Misbah and Younis got a happy farewell after Pakistan won their first series in West Indies
You carried us this far: Misbah and Younis got a happy farewell after Pakistan won their first series in West Indies
The story of Pakistan's most challenging era in the words of its protagonists: Misbah-ul-Haq, Saeed Ajmal, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and others
It started with the desert and ended with a mace. In 2010, Pakistan cricket was facing two crises of such extreme consequence that either one might well have ended cricket in another nation. A team without a home, they had also lost their best players to corruption. Beginning with two wise heads as captain and senior batsman, the side slowly began to come together, each journey adding new facets to its repertoire. At the heart of it was a stubborn, gritty desire to not be swept away by the impending tide of history. Over time the resistance matured, and Pakistan cricket itself was reimagined, adding a tone of resilience and substance to its eternally enigmatic nature.
The journey from that nadir to Pakistan's brief reign at the top of the Test rankings is one of cricket's great stories. Here it is in the words of those who wrote it.
Pakistan began their first series of what became the #MisYou era by diving into the deep end, taking on South Africa, then the world's second-ranked Test team. Going into the series, they had won none of their previous nine Test series and were facing a side that would define the gold standard for much of this era, especially as an away team. The results ground out in the UAE set the foundation for the era, and also underwrote the confidence that would define the first part of this three-act play.
Pakistan v South Africa, Dubai, first Test, fifth day, 2010
When the final day began, Pakistan were shaky, awaiting the knockout punch. They began the day on 109 for 2, chasing a notional target of 451, but more realistically looking to bat out 90 overs for a draw.
Waqar Younis (then coach): At the time the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan was Misbah's appointment. We had gone through several captains. [Shahid] Afridi had left in the middle of a tour, [Salman] Butt had been banned. And yet, somehow, we landed on the guy who was the perfect person to lead us at the time, exactly the captain we needed. He is a cricket keeda [insect literally, but nerd figuratively], and that's the only thing he cares or knows about.
When Azhar Ali fell before lunch, Misbah walked in for his second innings as captain, having made just 9 in the first.
Misbah-ul-Haq: The focus in that innings was to play normal cricket. It was a turning track, so we had to bat without going into our shells. We decided we wouldn't allow them to have attacking fields and would force them on to the back foot. That was the only way to survive. To play dead there would have been wrong.
Younis Khan: (speaking in 2010) There wasn't any pressure on us because the wicket [was] different to those in the subcontinent. It didn't have the kind of uneven bounce that causes the ball to bounce up off the pads. On [that] wicket, it was possible to bat positively and that's what I was trying to do.
"We always believed that no matter how close the game, one of us would stand up and make the difference"
Misbah: We didn't want to take any risks given how demoralised the whole team was, how often we had lost in the years before that. In our minds it was that even a draw is a victory because it would instil belief back into the dressing room.
Uncharacteristically, the South Africans dropped several chances as the two batsmen put together the highest partnership in Tests for Pakistan against South Africa at the time. At 343 for 3, Misbah's decision to accept Graeme Smith's offer for the draw led to some criticism from those who felt the chase was on.
Misbah: We knew [what] sort of wicket it was, and how hard it would be for new batsmen. Add that to how easily they had removed our lower order in the first innings, got the five wickets after me for less than 50 runs, and what our tail was like back then. So we had it in our minds that if Younis or I got out, there would be a problem.
I knew I would only be able to garner respect and belief in my abilities as captain through my performances. There was no shortcut. I think the way we played that series, the way we batted, gave everyone in the team the belief that we could survive if we always fought in every game.
The second Test, also drawn, was the first instance of the middle-order quartet of Younis, Misbah, Azhar and Asad Shafiq playing together.
Asad Shafiq: Look at the team we had in my debut Test. Younis, Azhar, [Mohammad] Hafeez bhai, Misbah bhai were all there. From the first day Misbah bhai explained to us that we are good enough to succeed at this level. If we had got there, it was because we were good enough, that we were going to have ample opportunities, and that he would back us all the way.
Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Sharjah, third Test, fifth day, 2011
Safe but not somnolent: Misbah blocks his way to a draw in Sharjah against Sri Lanka in 2011
© AFP/Getty Images
Safe but not somnolent: Misbah blocks his way to a draw in Sharjah against Sri Lanka in 2011 © AFP/Getty Images
After the South Africa series, in their next eight Tests, Pakistan lost one, drew three and won four Tests, including a match in New Zealand, which provided them with their first Test series win in over four years. In 2011, on the final day of the series against Sri Lanka, Pakistan led 1-0. Asked to chase 255 in 61 overs on a rain-affected day - rare for Sharjah - Misbah arrived at the crease at 57 for 3 with around 30 overs to play. The day ended with Misbah and Shafiq stonewalling Pakistan to 87 for 4.
Their first series win against a higher-ranked team since 2005-06 offered a glimpse of this team's still-forming identity - a pragmatic conservatism and a distinctly un-Pakistani commitment to put in the hard yards. Misbah's side had gone from being a feel-good story to a genuinely tough team to beat.
Misbah: We have always kept our thinking pretty simple as far as the fourth innings is concerned. If the bowling team brings all their fielders up then you try to attack, otherwise you play your normal game. But that Sri Lanka game was different. We had only one session to survive and it was an easy pitch to just stop everything on.
While Misbah and Younis were the side's philosopher-kings, Shafiq and Azhar emerged to solidify its essence. It is hard to imagine either lasting long under any other regime in Pakistani cricket, mostly because they are defined by their patience rather than flash. For Shafiq this was the first of many rearguards, batting 55 balls for 7 not out.
Shafiq: In a lot of situations in Test cricket you have to be able to hold yourself back for the team's cause. It's not something I had from day one, but it's something I have developed. And it's only after you do that successfully once or twice that you realise, "Yes, I am capable of this."
Misbah: The confidence we had in our fourth-innings ability was built fairly early. In three of my first four Tests as captain, we had to bat on the fifth day to draw, and each time we were able to do so.
This series was the first played under interim coach Mohsin Khan. Despite the numbers under his run, he wasn't quite the influence on the team as the man he took over from, Waqar, who had resigned because of differences with Afridi in the ODI team. While Waqar would return to coach the team again, the players were forming their own bonds, particularly off the field.
Saeed Ajmal: For around two years [after the spot-fixing scandal], most of the guys would spend the evenings in my room having tea. And me being a Faisalabadi, I would spend the time just cracking jokes. We weren't allowed visitors and we had to be back in the hotel by 10pm, so we would hang out together, discuss the game and bond. We did that during nearly every Test for two or three years.
Pakistan v England, Abu Dhabi, second Test, fourth day, 2012
In 2012, England arrived in the UAE, ranked No. 1, to take on Pakistan for the first time since the scandal-rocked 2010 series. This tour not only rekindled a simmering rivalry but also provided a chance to see what Pakistan, on a fabulous run of six wins and just one loss in 12 Tests under Misbah, could do against a genuinely tough opponent.
"Misbah bhai told me that if you are going put extra pressure on yourself in trying to prove something to someone, then there is no point in going out to bat. If you don't enjoy what you are doing then it is useless"
Ajmal: When England arrived it felt like all our old wounds became fresh. We said to each other that we have to take revenge no matter what. Misbah said we can't let them win. We had to face a lot of disgrace on the 2010 tour, and the only way to right that wrong would be to win against them.
Ajmal and left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman terrorised England, but as the tourists got out to non-spinning deliveries, it became obvious that the mind games from the spin twins mattered more than the turn.
Ajmal: I remember one day our manager came to me and asked, "Yaar, why don't you invent a new variation for this series?" I told him, "They can't handle the variations I already have, what will they do with new ones?" He replied, "O yaar, just create some false hype, put out a rumour and name it the teesra." I was about to have my third child. So I announced to the world that the teesra is coming.
The rest of the team played along.
Mohammad Hafeez: (speaking in 2012) I have played his delivery in the nets. I can't tell more about it, he can better tell you. He has this new weapon and has command over it.
For all the bravado, England were still a quality side. Leading the series 1-0, Pakistan were in grave trouble in the second Test, in Abu Dhabi, four wickets down and trailing by 16 runs when Shafiq joined Azhar on day three. The two batted for 43 overs to put on 88 runs, which was more than half of the 145 England were eventually set.
Azhar: When Asad and I got together we decided we were just going to bat long and not think about the scoreboard or the situation of the game. We would just enjoy our batting and take it as a challenge.
Misbah: That was a difficult scenario for us, but we had the same mantra, especially from Saeed and Rehman: "Just get the lead to 100 and we'll do the rest." The sort of turn that pitch had and the form those two guys were in, you could understand their confidence.
Azhar: In such a situation you have to back your strengths. If you are the sort of player who counterattacks then you do that. Others look to tire out the bowlers. Our strength at the time was to bat like this. Asad is a strokemaker, but that wasn't the sort of wicket where you could play freely, so we thought the correct approach was to absorb pressure. As the partnership built and we saw how the pitch was deteriorating, we knew that if we get the target to 150, we'll win the match. We got it close to 100, then the tail got it to 144. Maybe we wanted 20-30 runs more.
In Abu Dhabi in 2012, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq propped up the second innings with an 88-run stand - 16 more than the whole England team could manage in their second innings
© AFP/Getty Images
In Abu Dhabi in 2012, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq propped up the second innings with an 88-run stand - 16 more than the whole England team could manage in their second innings © AFP/Getty Images
Ajmal: When both Azhar and Asad got out early on the fourth morning, it was me and Rehman batting. I wasn't sure we had enough runs. I told Rehman we need to get 40-odd somehow and then England will start biting their nails.
When the innings ended, Mohsin Khan asked our opinion on what to do. I told him the wicket was deteriorating and spinning more than normal. If we get the openers somehow then you watch - [Kevin] Pietersen is mine, [Ian] Bell is mine. In fact, Bell and [Eoin] Morgan were so under my thumb that they batted like they were blindfolded. I said, "Aena nu mei nai chaddna!" [I won't let them go.]
England were bowled out for 72 in 36.1 overs. Both Pietersen and Morgan fell to Rehman, who ended with career-best figures of 6 for 25.
Misbah: I only bowled one or two overs from the pacers [Umar Gul bowled three] as it was clear that England's mindset was to attack the pacers early to cut down the target. We had a three-pronged spin attack, so we could have Hafeez against their lefties at the top, bring Rehman in with him, and then as the ball got older, just let Ajmal do what he does. All three rely on control rather than unplayable deliveries, so it wasn't going to be easy to attack them.
Ajmal: As soon as [Alastair] Cook got out, Misbah told me to bowl. Bell came out to bat and I bowled a doosra straight away. He played at it, it took an inside edge to bowl him between his legs.
They put too much pressure on themselves by blocking. If they had attacked us, 145 isn't worth anything. But they kept blocking, and as the ball wore down it spun more. We don't have that extravagant spin you see in India. We just varied our pace slightly or spun it a little more. When England weren't scoring, then we knew they were ours and we started to give it a bit more loop, but our pace remained 90kph. In fact, our pace was between 90 and 96kph throughout that series.
Since the spot-fixing scandal, Pakistan had won nine Tests, drawn five and lost only one. They had won four series and lost none. But things were changing. And nothing illustrated that better than the board's reaction to Ajmal's now legendary chai sessions.
Ajmal: Around the end of 2012, I think, this allegation [from the board] began that I was doing "grouping" by having players over in my room. I was told I had too many players over all the time and needed to stop doing that. I told them we aren't allowed to go out or meet anyone, how else did they expect us to pass the time? But they said that we had to stop doing that.
Like with most storylines, the second act for this Pakistan team featured disasters and setbacks. Dav Whatmore had taken over from Mohsin as coach in March 2012 and soon began to have a positive impact on the white-ball teams. But just as they prepared for their toughest tour, in South Africa, Pakistan's Test form began to unravel.
"Most of the guys would spend the evenings in my room having tea. I would crack jokes. We weren't allowed visitors and we had to be back in the hotel by 10pm. So we would hang out together, discuss the game and bond"
South Africa v Pakistan, Cape Town, second Test, third day, 2013
A few months after the England win, Pakistan suffered their first series defeat under Misbah, losing away to Sri Lanka. But this loss was simply viewed as a hiccup ahead of the team's first top-class away tour - to South Africa. However, Pakistan lost their second series in a row, a whitewash this time. The second Test was particularly painful, largely because of how competitive Pakistan were, a surprise given they had been bowled out for 49 in the first Test. Pakistan held the match in their hands at several points, and the scars of the collapse as well as the desperate reliance on Ajmal would go on to have long-term consequences.
Ajmal: In our previous match, at the Wanderers, you couldn't tell the pitch apart from the outfield there was so much grass. But at Cape Town, when I went to inspect the pitch, I remember rubbing my hands in glee. The commentator doing the pitch report asked me about it. I told him I will take ten wickets here. He told me that the best figures here by a spinner were by Harbhajan [Singh], who took seven but went for plenty, and he added that Paul Harris had never taken many here either. I told him, "Look, I have a feeling, I know how I will play and I will get ten in this match."
Batting first, Pakistan were reduced to 33 for 4, before Younis and Shafiq led the fight back. Their 219-run stand broke the previous record for the highest Pakistani partnership against South Africa.
Shafiq: Before the series everyone kept telling me that South Africa had the fastest pitches and that Asian batsmen always struggled there. When people talk like that you start to have negative thoughts. You can practise all you want, but even for practice there isn't any wicket in Pakistan that is like a South African wicket.
I talked to Mohammad Yousuf and Mohsin Khan, and they told me to camp on the back foot and practise horizontal bat shots. After that innings I think my perspective towards my own game changed. I realised that it wasn't just in Asia that I could score. If I applied myself I could score regardless of the conditions.
Pakistan's bowling had been depleted by an injury to Junaid Khan. They fielded a novice attack. Umar Gul was supported by Mohammad Irfan, on his debut, and Tanvir Ahmed in his fifth Test. However, it was their main spinner who did all the damage, even in South Africa's first innings. A spell of bowling to Hashim Amla, in particular, stood out.
Ajmal: I was bowling to Amla and he kept getting runs off the back foot to leg. Misbah asked me what I was doing, and I told him to take the slip to square leg so I can stop his single. Misbah asked "then what" and I said, I'll tempt him outside off stump and if he misses, he'll be lbw. I gave him an off-stump line for one over, and he kept going back to square leg and hitting it to the fielder. I went through another over, and then when I faced him I bowled it faster, above 90kph, and pinned him on the back foot. It wasn't given, but I was convinced and took the review. It was plumb.
There's no team without tea: cooped up in hotels because of restrictions imposed after the spot-fixing scandal, the players spent a lot of time together, having a cuppa or five and chatting in Saeed Ajmal's room
There's no team without tea: cooped up in hotels because of restrictions imposed after the spot-fixing scandal, the players spent a lot of time together, having a cuppa or five and chatting in Saeed Ajmal's room © AFP
Then the on-field umpire gave Jacques Kallis caught but the TV umpire gave him lbw. Then Faf du Plessis - if you see the ball that got him out you'll be confused where that ball came from. Back then he was quite scared of me. Even [AB] de Villiers, who got 61, was out in my first over to him but we didn't have any reviews left.
Ajmal took the first five wickets to fall as South Africa ended the day at 139 for 5.
Ajmal: The next morning at the hotel we discussed that we just needed one pacer to step up. Misbah talked about how Saeed Ajmal has taken five from the top, so now just the tailenders are left, you need to focus on your lengths and be consistent. We wanted to get a lead of around 100 to 150 runs.
South Africa seemed to be conceding such a lead when de Villiers was dismissed on 210 for 7, but Robin Peterson blitzed 84 to take South Africa past 300. Pakistan were then dismissed for 169, and while Ajmal fulfilled his prophecy by taking ten wickets in the match, South Africa won by four wickets to take the series.
Zimbabwe v Pakistan, Harare, second Test, third day, 2013
Six months after the whitewash in South Africa, Pakistan returned to the continent to play two Tests in Zimbabwe. They were an unrecognisable mess, neither displaying the style and rock-star charisma of previous Pakistani sides nor the industry and patience that had set Misbah's side apart.
Misbah: The first two years we had stability, but after that with the openers and fast bowlers we had instability. The openers not playing well affected Azhar too. He was the reason behind our victories through those first two years, but after the South Africa series his confidence was shattered and he couldn't adjust to the pitches in Zimbabwe.
Look at all the matches in 2013. Until the UAE series against South Africa [which followed the Zimbabwe series], we never had a good start. Even the match we won against Zimbabwe was because Younis Khan scored a double-hundred. That was due to a lack of confidence in the top three. At the time our tail wasn't particularly good either, so basically it was up to three guys to score all the runs.
Pakistan won the first Test and made a decent start in the second. They began day three with both Misbah and Younis together at 163 for 3, in response to Zimbabwe's 294. They reached 211 for 4 before collapsing to 230 all out. That first-innings deficit proved the difference as Pakistan eventually lost the match by 24 runs, drawing the series against a side facing a future far bleaker than their own. Azhar's African sojourn ended with 218 runs in ten innings, with scores of 0, 7 and 0 in his final three outings.
"Younis is the best player among us all, especially in batting with the tail. He gives trust and confidence to whoever is batting with him. He knows when and whom to attack, and whom to protect his partner from"
Azhar: There were a lot of gaps in between our Test series at the time, and I was also dropped from the one-day team. So after two years of success I was going through turmoil. Instead of enjoying my batting, I was only thinking of scoring big. I think I overcompensated in trying to do that, so I didn't perform for seven to eight matches straight. Then I had a talk with Misbah bhai. He told me that if you are going put extra pressure on yourself in trying to prove something to someone then there is no point in going out to bat. If you don't enjoy what you are doing then it is useless.
Shafiq: I think we were underprepared for that series. We had expected batting wickets, but we found sluggish wickets. I think the blame for that series rests with us batsmen.
Misbah: Despite the losses, it never felt like the end. Anyone can have a bad patch, but I believe if you have the quality you'll find a way to get out of that. At that time we could have panicked and made a lot of changes, but we felt we were already unstable because of our injuries and we didn't want to create more instability. We knew that with Azhar or whoever, all they needed was one good performance and they would be back to where they were when we were winning.
Pakistan v Sri Lanka, Sharjah, third Test, fifth day, 2014
Pakistan hosted South Africa for a return series soon after the tour to Zimbabwe, and went 1-0 up following a surprise win in the opening Test. They were drubbed in the next match, becoming one of the few sides in Test cricket to be undone by Imran Tahir.
Before the start of the final Test against Sri Lanka, Pakistan were on a run of two wins, three draws and seven losses. They went into the series decider 0-1 down, and were on the verge of losing their unbeaten record at home in the UAE.
Misbah: Before the match started we looked at the pitch and were really disappointed. We had intimated to the curators that we wanted a pitch that would produce a result. We were fine with losing the game, but when we looked at the pitch it was a road. And that's been the case with us in the UAE - mostly, we haven't gotten the pitches we would have wanted.
Sri Lanka declared on 428 after batting for nearly two days. A fine hundred from Ahmed Shehzad couldn't stop Pakistan from conceding a lead of 87. The Test was moving slowly, though, and despite a top-order wobble Sri Lanka were only halfway through their second innings - on 189 for 5 - on the final day, when Rehman and Ajmal ripped through the lower order to dismiss them for 214 by lunch. That left Pakistan 302 runs to chase in two sessions to win the match and maintain their unbeaten record at home.
Misbah: In their second innings, they made the mistake of playing negatively. In our minds we knew that all we needed was to get them out - even if we had to chase 300 in 40 overs, we would go for it. We were happy with having two sessions to chase. We had expected a target of 300 in 40 overs, instead we got 300 in 60 overs, so for us it was like a simple one-day game, and the pitch was flat.
Azhar: I was pretty sure I would be dropped for the next series, so by the time this match came I was already thinking about a future comeback. It was a blessing that the situation of the match turned out as it did because you don't even think about your own runs and what you have scored. You are just looking at the required runs and rate. Before we batted I asked Younis what I should do. He asked me what's the decision - I told him that we were going to go for the chase. So he told me: just take God's name and get to it. By the time I got to 40 or 50, I realised that I probably wouldn't be dropped after this match after all.
Who's stonewalling now? Azhar Ali led Pakistan's chase of 302 in 60 overs in a thrilling victory against Sri Lanka in Sharjah, 2014
Who's stonewalling now? Azhar Ali led Pakistan's chase of 302 in 60 overs in a thrilling victory against Sri Lanka in Sharjah, 2014 © AFP
Pakistan were 97 for 3 when Younis fell in the 22nd over. They still needed over 200, and a burst of wickets here would have ended the match. Sarfraz Ahmed was promoted up the order over Misbah.
Sarfraz Ahmed: I was never really part of the team until that Test. Just four Tests in three years [before this series]. In 2013-14, when I came back, Moin bhai [Moin Khan, the team manager] gave me a lot of backing and confidence, something that maybe I didn't have before. Him being my hero and idol, it was very important for me.
Misbah: We had seen glimpses of Sarfraz and we knew from the domestic game that this situation was ideal for him. The message was to go out there and play as he normally would in a domestic game. In Sarfraz we found the solution to a lot of our problems in the long term.
Azhar: That partnership with Sarfraz was what saved my position in the team, and probably cemented his too. He batted so well, and he allowed me to just play as I do without taking undue risks.
Sarfraz: Moin bhai came to me and said I have asked Misbah to send you up the order and he's agreed to it. His logic was that I could go after the score, and if something bad happened, Misbah and Asad were there. When I padded up, Misbah told me to play my natural game, don't think about anything else. We needed momentum in that chase, and my innings provided that.
Sarfraz's 48 off 46 balls took Pakistan to 186 for 4 in the 37th over, and the remaining runs were chased down in about 20 overs to complete an unexpected and stunning victory. This was Whatmore's last series. Misbah paid tribute with a moustache-twirling celebration. Despite the poor results, the Whatmore period had toughened up the side. More importantly, by coming out of it with its core not only intact but enhanced with the addition of Sarfraz, the team was now ready to complete its final journey to the summit of Test cricket.
Test cricket was in the midst of a new equilibrium by the time Pakistan's 2014-15 home season began. Every team seemed to struggle away from home, even South Africa. Pakistan had a string of series lined up in their exiled home, which they had built into a hard-to-breach fortress.
"When we entered Lord's, everything from 2010 came flooding back. All the jeering, the humiliations. I was with Amir. I told him this is where our izzat [honour] was lost, and this is where we will get it back"
Pakistan v Australia, Dubai, first Test, first day, 2014
In July 2014, Pakistan toured Sri Lanka for a two-match Test series and lost both games. More disturbingly, it was the last time Ajmal played Test cricket, exactly five years after his debut. The ICC first suspended and then banned him and Hafeez from bowling because of illegal actions. Some wondered whether the overburdened Ajmal had lost his action over these last few years, having previously been tested and declared legal. When the Australians, who had been atop the ICC Test rankings just six months before, arrived, Pakistan's four main bowlers had played a combined total of eight Tests, with two debutants. But they had Waqar back as coach again.
Misbah: In that series we knew that if we consistently got 350-plus then in UAE conditions we would beat any team in the world, especially England or Australia. We had the bowling quality. People thought it was an inexperienced bowling attack, but I knew how good Yasir [Shah] was because he played under me for years at SNGPL, and Zulfiqar Babar was at his peak too.
Batting first in the first Test, Pakistan fell to 7 for 2 before recovering through a 108-run stand between Azhar and Younis. They ended day one on 219 for 4.
Misbah: The first innings is like a 100m race. If you get out of the blocks well then half your race is sorted. I think that series was decided in that Younis-Azhar partnership. By showing we could resist their bowling, those two guys sent a message to our dressing room and their dressing room too. Then with Sarfraz attacking at the end we found a formula to succeed. All the success we had in the two years after that followed that same formula.
Coming in at 291 for 5, Sarfraz turned on the turbo chargers to smash a brilliant maiden century.
Sarfraz: While we were batting I thought to myself, "I wish I get to bat when Steve Smith is bowling. I'm not going to let him go." By sheer fortune I came in after Misbah bhai got out on the first ball of Smith's over, trying to hit over the top. I hit the first ball for four, swept the second ball, then tried sweeping the third ball and it hit me on the helmet. Asad came to me and said, "Easy tiger, araam se, araam se." But the next ball was short and wide, so I hit that for four too. In just a couple of overs I was on 24 off 13 balls. I just never let that momentum go.
Sarfraz's century came off just 80 balls, at the time the fourth fastest by a Pakistani. Australia conceded a lead of 151 and when set 402 to chase in the final innings, they collapsed to 216, with Babar picking up five wickets.
Pakistan v England, Dubai, second Test, fifth day, 2015
With Sarfraz Ahmed at No. 7, Pakistan weren't completely lost even if their specialist batsmen failed
© Getty Images
With Sarfraz Ahmed at No. 7, Pakistan weren't completely lost even if their specialist batsmen failed © Getty Images
Pakistan's first series win against Australia in two decades was followed by a drawn series against New Zealand, in which they lost a final Test rendered almost irrelevant by the tragic death of Philip Hughes. But with renewed momentum from that season Pakistan won away series in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before hosting England once more. They drew the first Test in Abu Dhabi after mild panic on the final day nearly cost them. In the second Test, England were comfortable at 206 for 3 when Wahab Riaz picked up the key wicket of Joe Root and then bowled them out for 242.
Wahab Riaz: In the match before that, I thought I had bowled well, but Waqar bhai came to me and asked, "What are you feeling so happy about? You are judged by your wickets, not by how well you bowled." We had let England score 600, so after that Test he called all bowlers into his hotel room and tore into us. Then he sat with us and made plans for the next Test.
That day I had great rhythm. Once you start taking wickets then you don't care about tiredness anymore. It's all about fitness and that's what allowed me to bowl that spell. Nine overs in 40-degree heat, bowling at 90mph. When I was going off the field after that spell, Waqar bhai and Misbah bhai stopped me. Waqar bhai said that this is your chance to get a five-fer, you can't come off now. When you are in rhythm, when you are enjoying your game, and the ball is doing exactly what you want it to do, then you don't feel tired at all. You live for those moments.
Set 491 to win over five sessions, England's tail dug in. There were only seven overs left when Yasir Shah picked up the final wicket for a famous win.
Waqar: We had so many close matches, and we always pulled off wins in those. I think that has to do with the faith that players have in each other. That belief leads to team work, which leads to success.
Zulfiqar Babar: We had to get three wickets in three hours, so maybe we relaxed a little bit. Then with about 20 overs to go and [Mark] Wood and [Adil] Rashid batting strong, I went to Hafeez and asked him to tell Misbah to only have spinners on. We had fast bowlers from one end nearly throughout that session, and I felt like the pitch was too slow for somebody like Imran [Khan] to do any damage.
I had been under pressure before that Test but I had confidence from my senior players, and confidence from that pitch. We only had attacking fields, and we tried to force the batsmen onto the front foot. England bat till No. 11. Adil Rashid that day batted like an Asian batsman, someone who was used to our slow, low pitches.
"In the previous match when I got out for a pair, Younis bhai told me, 'You will score a hundred in the next game.' The next innings I ended up scoring a ton and he said to me, 'See, I told you so'"
England v Pakistan, The Oval, fourth Test, third day, 2016
Remarkably, six years after leaving England in disgrace, Pakistan returned with an outside chance of going to No. 1 in the Test rankings. Waqar had stepped down after the team's disappointing performances at the Asia Cup and the World T20. The new coach, Mickey Arthur, didn't have to change much in a well-grooved side, but he led the effort to transform fitness levels, which the team would later commemorate in iconic celebrations. The first Test, at Lord's, also saw Mohammad Amir return to the scene of his greatest crime.
Wahab: When we entered Lord's, everything from 2010 came flooding back. All the jeering we heard, the humiliations we suffered in that ground. When we entered the field I was with Amir. I told him this is where our izzat [honour] was lost, and this is where we will get it back. I don't think any of us have been so eager to win a match as we were that one.
Azhar: Before the series all we heard was that if Misbah and Younis succeed only then will the team succeed. All the pressure was on them, but at the same time we thought it was disrespectful to us - it's not like Asad, Sarfraz or I had been failing all these years. So we took that series as a challenge, and all of us contributed in it. People used to say about Misbah bhai that he only scores in Asia. They said that about all of us. So when he did what he did on the first day at Lord's, we were all inspired.
Pakistan got a famous victory at Lord's before being hammered in the next Test, at Old Trafford. They dominated most of the third Test, at Edgbaston, only to collapse at the death and lose. Down, but not yet out.
Misbah: Of course everyone was disappointed after Edgbaston. We dominated that match for three and a half days. It wasn't one-sided like Old Trafford. Everyone knew that we just had two bad sessions. If we could remove that we were still better than England.
Pakistan needed to win the final Test to draw the series. And thanks to Younis' double-hundred, they romped to a ten-wicket win at The Oval, the scene of several famous Pakistan wins.
No Ajmal, no problem: legspinner Yasir Shah filled the huge hole left by Ajmal's ban
No Ajmal, no problem: legspinner Yasir Shah filled the huge hole left by Ajmal's ban © AFP
Misbah: We knew that if we won there was a chance for us going to No. 1. And it was around 14th August, Pakistan's Independence Day, and at The Oval, where Pakistan always plays well. So we weren't as demoralised as people thought we might be.
We could see this was unlike Edgbaston. The Oval had reverse swing but it also had help for the spinners. We knew Yasir couldn't be neutralised here, like in the previous two Tests.
Azhar: I met a former Pakistan player before that Test who told me it was time for Younis bhai to quit. Without even thinking, I said: he will score a double. I was just trying to defend him, but he ended up doing exactly that. That's what he has always done and what we have tried to learn from him. For every single one of his 10,000 runs he has been proving people wrong.
Wahab: We were inspired by what Yasir did as the nightwatchman [he batted over an hour for 26 on the second morning]. He gave us an example to follow. He was hit several times by their pacers and he still didn't give his wicket away. All of us bowlers then wanted to do the same, especially with Younis bhai there. Chris Woakes hit me pretty much as soon as I came out to bat, but I got confidence from that and was like, 'I won't give my wicket away easily.'
Shafiq: In the previous match when I got out for a pair, I came back to the dressing room and before I could take my pads off, Younis bhai came and sat with me and told me that you will score a hundred in the next game. I told him I knew he was trying to raise my spirits but I wasn't in a state to believe right now. He sat with me for a while, telling me stories of his own struggles throughout his career and said that whenever he had a lean patch, he got out of it with a hundred. So he told me that you need to work hard, eventually luck will come to your side. The next innings I ended up scoring a ton, and he was batting with me when I got there. He didn't say anything to me in the lead-up to that, but when I did cross my hundred he said to me, "See, I told you so." All I could do was laugh.
With Sarfraz, Wahab and Amir, Younis helped Pakistan extract over 200 runs from their lower order.
Misbah: When people were criticising Yasir and Younis in that series I never questioned them, because if those two can't succeed in a situation then no one can. If you think you can replace Younis Khan or Yasir Shah then you are being delusional. We were not surprised by that innings from Younis. He is the best player among us all, especially in batting with the tail. He gives trust and confidence to whoever is batting with him. And his understanding of the game is such that he knows when and whom to attack, and whom to protect his partner from. At the same time he is never predictable, so you can't really plan for him.
"At the time the best thing that could have happened to Pakistan was Misbah's appointment. He is a cricket keeda and that's the only thing he cares or knows about"
Most players when they are out of form want to play practice matches. He didn't play our side match between the third and fourth Test and just worked with Grant [Flower] in the nets. I let him do what he wants. Mentally he is so strong, he never thinks he is out of form.
Results elsewhere meant that Pakistan briefly, and unbelievably, claimed the No. 1 spot in the Test rankings. The only way now was down, but no one had been prepared for the frighteningly disastrous descent. It began in the home series against West Indies, where Pakistan won the series but constant collapses gave the visitors a rare away win. That loss in the final Test was followed by two defeats in New Zealand.
Still, there was plenty of hope when they arrived in Australia, the first Pakistan side in decades with a decent chance of avoiding the now customary whitewash. In what Misbah would later describe as his greatest regret, the series ended 3-0. Pakistan began brightly, almost pulling off an audacious world-record chase under lights at the Gabba. Azhar scored a double-century in the Boxing Day Test, but they lost by an innings. The final rites, in Sydney, came as no surprise.
Misbah: In all my years as a player that whole series, even more than the World Cup, World T20 or anything else, is the biggest regret. The situation we were in, the sort of team we were, and how close we were in the first two Tests, it was so disappointing. That could have been 1-1 or 1-0 to them, but never 3-0. And the regret is that if the series was alive going into Sydney, considering the conditions, we would have backed ourselves to win that series. But in cricket the difference between a drawn series and a 3-0 can be just one or two bad sessions.
Redemption, however, came in the last series of the #MisYou era. Chasing Pakistan's maiden series win in the Caribbean, the team began with a comfortable win. Then, another collapse meant that the series was open going into the final Test, and remained so into the final day, the final session, and then the final seven balls of the era and of the careers of Misbah and Younis. And then Shannon Gabriel played that stroke.
Shafiq: I think we should just be thankful for what Gabriel did.
Sarfraz: Throughout that last session we all had the belief that we would get out with a win, because that's what we always did. But no one could have foreseen that Gabriel would do such a thing. Maybe with all the fielders next to him he got under pressure, but I don't really have an explanation for what he did.
Azhar: The last hour, I think several of our guys had tears in their eyes, because we were so helpless. We had done everything, we had a DRS overturned, a wicket off a no-ball, and tailenders resisting on a pitch that gave us nothing. We kept thinking, 'This isn't how we are going to send those two off. This just isn't appropriate.'
Younis Khan was not only the team's best batsman, he was also teacher, mentor, cheerleader, and older brother to the younger players
© Getty Images
Younis Khan was not only the team's best batsman, he was also teacher, mentor, cheerleader, and older brother to the younger players © Getty Images
Sarfraz: We had plans for Younis bhai and Misbah bhai. We were preparing at tea on day five - push-ups, salutes and other things, a proper send-off. But the match got so close and when the time came for it, all we could do was raise them on our shoulders.
Azhar: Everyone wanted to be part of the team that won Pakistan's first series in West Indies, but especially because we could do it for Misbah and Younis. They had been our teachers, our elder brothers, our father figures in the dressing room since so many of us started. It was really emotional even when we were travelling to the Caribbean because we knew this was our last tour with them. We met up in Dubai to travel to West Indies and we kept taking photos with them. We wanted to make every moment memorable. We might be their colleagues but we are also their fans.
Sarfraz: I have played more close matches in four years with this team than a decade of playing domestic cricket. So many matches that we pulled off in the last hours, because all of us had so much confidence in each other. We always believed that no matter how close the game, one of us would stand up and make the difference.
Ahmer Naqvi writes on cricket, music, film and pop culture. @karachikhatmal. Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, commentator, co-manager of the Islamabad United PSL franchise. @mediagag.
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