Babar Azam, Shan Masood shine amid gloom for Pakistan

Babar Azam, Shan Masood shine amid gloom for Pakistan

The worrying aspect is this is simply another point on the curve that depicts Pakistan''s sliding fortunes in Test cricket, and no one quite knows whether this is the nadir, or fi they have further to fall.

Pakistan lost, perhaps not unexpectedly, 3-0 in South Africa, leaving plenty of questions for Mickey Arthur and his team ahead of their next Test assignment in September. Here we take a glance at some of the aspects of Pakistan’s Test side that deserve more scrutiny.

It isn’t so much the clean sweep that should trouble Pakistan fans. Better teams than this one have gone to South Africa and come back empty-handed. Indeed, the last touring party from Pakistan returned with the same result, including the ignominy of being shot out for 49 in the opening game and, in Mohammad Hafeez against Dale Steyn, providing us with one of cricket’s classic mismatches.

The worrying aspect is this is simply another point on the curve that depicts Pakistan’s sliding fortunes in Test cricket, and no one quite knows whether this is the nadir, or fi they have further to fall. The team came here, after all, following their first home series loss to New Zealand in half a century, and they have now won one series in five since Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan retired in 2017 (plus a one-off Test against Ireland).

What happened was what everyone expected to happen, in a way. Pakistan’s batting was consistently unable to post the runs on the board to give them a chance, and Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq still struggle to assume the positions of responsibility required from them. The bowling was good, but shrug-of-the-shoulders good, not drop-your-jaw good. Little of this was expected to challenge South Africa at home, and duly, little of it did.

With 77, 74 and 70 runs in each game respectively, Babar Azam was Pakistan’s second-most prolific batsmen. What there is little doubt about, however, is he’s the country’s best batsman in each format, with the series he had here in South Africa further vindication of that. Just months ago derided as a limited-overs player, he has shaken off the label comprehensively since the start of Pakistan’s home season. He ended 2018 with the third highest Test average for the year for players who scored over 500 runs, behind only Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls.

Most famously, he was the player who dismantled perhaps the greatest fast bowler of all, smashing Steyn for 21 boundaries across the series. No player has ever dispatched Steyn to the fence more often in one series, or scored runs faster against him. Whatever Babar may go on to achieve in his career, this duel will be one for the rocking chair, and Pakistan fans will hope it isn’t the only lore he recounts to his grandchildren in what has begun to take the shape of a glistening career.

Remember that book you gave up on because the first chapter was rather dull, or that TV series you never got around to watching ever since the first 10 minutes bored your pants off? You packed them along in your suitcase just in case you had absolutely nothing else to do, and because people had started to tell you they weren’t all that bad after all.

That, loosely (okay, very loosely), is what Pakistan did with Shan Masood this tour. They had discarded him after several short stints in the side showed promise but never blossomed; for all his elegance, he had averaged 23 in 12 Test matches. They took him along after a couple of promising A tours against New Zealand and England, to warm the bench more than anything else, it seemed.

But then, Haris Sohail’s knee, as reliable as the Artful Dodger, flared up on the morning of the first Test. Pakistan fished around in that suitcase, and dug out Masood. And boy, were they thankful. This newer version of Masood gave them better mileage, was more reliable, yet continued to look as pretty as it always had done. Agencies