Pakistan January 4, 2017

From No. 1 to now what have you done

From the top of the world, Pakistan came crashing down

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Pakistan's player of the year- Yasir Shah

How high do the highs have to be for the lows to be numbed?

When, on August 22 2016, Pakistan officially became the top-ranked Test side in the world, they had never known a high like it. Well, they had, but back in August and September 1988 nobody knew they were the best side in the world. They might have thought it, and if they did, they could only say it and hope no one argued back. They couldn't prove it by holding a mace and pointing to a table.

The real high - and on field the culmination came a week earlier at The Oval, when Azhar Ali thumped Moeen Ali into the stands at long-on - was in the journey. No, really. Pakistan had worked their way up to this. They didn't suddenly decide to turn it on and upturn the order of the world. They had arrived in England undefeated in five series. They were smartly prepared for this tour, so smartly that at The Oval they were able to rebound from, in turn, one old-school crushing loss and one old-school traumatic one. This was progress. This was process. This was a high unheard of and hitherto unfelt. And it actually felt sweeter for it.

For a month and a half, Pakistan were exultant. They didn't actually play a single Test in that time but it was the best time of their lives. These players were path-breakers. It took a month for the ICC to get a mace to Misbah-ul-Haq - so long that a fortnight later he was not the rightful holder of it, as India took over in October.

That little period, it turned out, was not the light at the end of the tunnel but a passing one within it. When will come another one, if it comes at all? After getting to No. 1, Pakistan forsook what took them there. They prepared poorly for a home series against West Indies, became complacent, and from some angles, were fortunate to win it.

Ovalediction: Pakistan ended their Test series in England with a ten-wicket win in the fourth Test to level the series 2-2 © Getty Images

They didn't prepare at all for New Zealand, and maybe even took it for granted ahead of a bigger series with Australia. Nearly chasing 490 and not lasting two full sessions on the last day of a Test on a blameless surface is, even by Pakistan standards, not straightforward. But just like that, five Tests in a row lost, in the year they became No. 1; a 4-7 win-loss record in the year they became No. 1. How high is high enough?

Can it have masked the horrors of their limited-overs year? They ended up losing only one ODI more than they won, and won more T20Is than they lost, but if there was ever a case to be made against win-loss records, this was it. Pakistan turned up at the 2016 World T20 playing 1992 World Cup cricket; they were that out of date. It was no surprise, given their captain was closer to that generation than to this one. Had they not sent any fielders out, they might have fielded better; they were powerless with the bat; with the ball they were out of ideas. It was, frankly, embarrassing.

Old school: Pakistan's limited-overs performances were like watching a flashback sequence © Getty Images

They turned up for a 2016 ODI series in England playing a brand of cricket that might have won them a few games in the heyday of the 60-over Gillette Cup. Those defeats, and especially the 444 at Trent Bridge, were the wake-up-and-smell-the-napalm moments Mickey Arthur and his men needed; this was a side in free-fall.

In light of which, perhaps a significant moment came earlier in the year with the first Pakistan Super League (PSL). Eight years in gestation, several false starts behind it, it would have been a relief that it was staged at all. That it went ahead with good crowds, a gaggle of international players mixing with Pakistan's, and some new names, was a bonus. The cricket wasn't great but it turned heads and it turned a profit. At last, Pakistan had joined the party cricket had been having since 2008. Now, time to catch up with everyone.

High point
a) The Oval
b) The Oval
c) a) or b)

So many past Pakistan sides could have fallen apart under the combined weight of defeats at Old Trafford and Edgbaston. Instead, Pakistan put together their performance of the year, a performance for the ages. It was classic Pakistan: one batting masterclass, pace bowling of all sorts, and quality legspin. And it had a sense of occasion, arriving on August 14, the anniversary of the birth of the country, in tribute to the passing of a master, Hanif Mohammad, and a golden sun washing over it all.

Low point
A bumper year. The World T20 was a disaster. Trent Bridge was carnage. Losing to West Indies in Sharjah will not be forgotten soon. Batting collapses littered the year. But, and this may be too soon, it will be difficult to eclipse with darkness Pakistan's last cricketing act of the year: the fall at the MCG. This series was Pakistan's best chance for a result in Australia. They were buoyant after Brisbane. There have been far better Australian sides. And still to lose by an innings a Test in which they first declared on 443, and in which nearly two full days of play were lost? This was one for the ages, not least because it heralded the end of Misbah.

Mohammad Amir's return was a boost to Pakistan as he was one of the more consistent bowlers of the side © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

New kid on the block
New is not the word exactly, but Mohammad Amir Mark II may as well be a new man altogether. For a start, five years since he was last on this scene, he is no longer a teenager. The locks have gone, the face has hardened a little and he is married.

The bowler? Thirty wickets in ten Tests doesn't sound too hot, but neither does at least 12 catches dropped off his bowling. And remember, he had done almost no bowling at all for four years. Across all formats, he has consistently been Pakistan's best bowler, the one man you can rely on to bring some control, some smarts and no little effort. Plus, from afar, he seems to have reintegrated himself into the side diligently, and a to possess a sense of duty.

What 2017 holds
A future without Misbah and, resultantly, some uncertainty. Who will take over from Misbah, though, given Azhar Ali's performances as ODI captain do not make a great audition (and that the PCB chairman is happy to publicly say so)? The case for Sarfraz Ahmed is growing, by dint of Azhar's perceived weaknesses as much as by Sarfraz building an emphatic case.

This will be their first real period of transition in many years, and Pakistan are hardly expert at negotiating those. Throw in, as the wildest card, the future of Younis Khan and, well, Misbah might not be gone five minutes before they start missing him. Pakistan wouldn't, it should be said, like to lose both simultaneously. A credible chance for history beckons with a tour to West Indies, where they have never won a Test series. Even in their current trough, Pakistan start favourites. According to the FTP, there is an away tour to India at the end of year. Solemn advice: don't hold your breath.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harikrishnan on January 6, 2017, 16:55 GMT

    There are lot of resources that Pak can use. They have the all time best left hand fast bowler in Wasim, they have the brilliant Waqar, they have Inzi, Saqlain, etc. Still these skills/experiences are not being passed on to the current team. The bowling unit could very well use some real help. They have the potential. It just needs to be guided in a positive manner by these legends. I am not sure if finances is what is blocking this from happening. Fortunately, Azar have developed into one gem of a player. Younis seems to be sticking around for some more time. But rest of the team needs some guidance and inspiration. Just to think about it, how wonderful it would be if Amir gets trained by Wasim! That would be scary proposition for the batsmen. Full disclosure, I am an Indian fan.

  • Jayman on January 6, 2017, 14:12 GMT

    If Australia had played their home games in Sharjah, Pakistan would still be the No.1 Test team.

  • winter4633821 on January 6, 2017, 8:45 GMT

    Number 1 for 3 weeks, Great .

  • talha on January 6, 2017, 4:49 GMT

    It's high time that Pak should get Wasim Akram as Head Coach. He got involved with Kolkata knight riders they won, got involved with Islamabad united, they won. Captained Pak brilliantly in 90s. And bring Inzi as batting coach. I was never in favour of Inzi being the selector.

  • on January 6, 2017, 3:57 GMT

    all subcontinent teams come to Australia with negative mindset and loose on consistent basis, keep doing same and expecting different result, Pakistan did same, if yo need to beat asussies play positive cricket, wickets in australia are not what it used to be 20 years ago, if one bats sensibly you can score in quick time and put pressure on australia, only smith and warner are experienced player but aussies batting was never under pressure by pakistan, they bowled poorly, poor field placing by Misbah, i was expecting better with new coach to make the mind set of team more positive like the played in England. Ok they lost the first test but 2nd test was a golden chance but slow batting caused the game, they should never lost that game after winning toss. Aussies won toss in sydney and look how they played. India is the only team who played Aussies with no fear like Pakistan used to play with WI when WI on top, Misbah should have retired when team was #1. YK and Misbah are liability now

  • asad on January 5, 2017, 23:47 GMT

    I think overall this was a bad year for Pakistan but for those guys saying that Pakistan didn't deserve to be no.1 you guys are wrong. If you look at the period from 2013 to the England series (the period that was considered when Pakistan became no.1) then you'll see we lost only 2 series out of 11. Meanwhile India lost 4 out of 10 in that period, England lost 3 out of 13, Australia lost 5 out of 13 and SA lost 3 out of 11 (the rest don't need to be mentioned as they weren't in contention for no.1 anyways). So we got to no.1 fair & square because we were the best over the concerned ranking period. Anyways, this year we've undone all our good work in tests losing so many & we also haven't been too good in ODIs. I think the positive this year was Azhar's batting in tests (especially considering that he's not a regular test opener & we spent most of the year touring tough countries), Imad Wasim's all-round excellence in ODIs & t20s & Babar Azam's continued rise in ODIs with 3 100s.

  • asad on January 5, 2017, 22:54 GMT

    @Bengal-Tigers-Roar: Pace is not everything. If you say Wahab Riaz is our only world class bowler then I have to doubt your cricketing knowledge. Not because you're saying that we have only one world class bowler (I'd say we don't have any) but because you're saying that Wahab is world class. Wahab can bowl fast & reverse it but otherwise he gets too excited by Oz bouncy pitches & bowls short while also bowling no-balls & going for plenty of runs. Don't forget how terrible he was in that 444 game. I like Wahab's attacking attitude but otherwise he's so inconsistent and the fact that he's already 31 means he's not going to get much better. Just to take into account how bad he is, compare him to Morne Morkel. Morkel started out his short fomat career 1 year before Wahab but has a much better record despite both playing a similar amount of games (Morkel has played a few more due to debuting earlier). Wahab isn't world class in anyway.

  • talha on January 5, 2017, 19:17 GMT

    @Sagar543. But then India lost in 2005 at home against a depleted Inzi team. With Rana Naveed leading the attack. In 2004 as well India lost 4 consecutive matches and then again in 2012. Brother but winning or loosing series is not my point. You have to go through all my comments and other readers comments to understand the whole issue.

  • Sagar on January 5, 2017, 18:41 GMT

    @stn11 as far as odi's are taken, u have conveniently forgotten 2004,2006,2007 odi series where India won .From 1999 to 2002 starting,india was in building more thing india never lost a crucial encounter in that period apart from champions trophy 2004 where they played with out sachin

  •   Khurram S Chaudhry on January 5, 2017, 18:08 GMT

    they have always been inconsistent and this year was perfect example of that. few lost test matches in this year were lost from a position where they could have easily saved. 3rd test in Eng, 2nd test vs NZ, 2nd test vs AUS, Collapsed vs WI in one session, collapse vs AUS in 1st match and then almost chasing a record total. One moment batting line up scoring 400s in these conditions and in next not even crossing 250. I think low is bowling. Bowling has been poor for a while but we used to put blame on batting so bowlers escaped. Even in current series bowling has been really poor. As far as players are concerned; Misbah is almost done, YK is blinking, Yasir's inability to learn is exposed, Asad-sarfraz proved to be inconsistent. Plus is rise of Azhar Ali. In bowling Amir was unlucky but playing for past, Wahab is just spell master. ODI team is at bottom for many reasons; captaincy, selection, poor bowling, wrong combinations. Roller coaster year.

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