“Unpredictable” is an adjective perpetually affiliated with Pakistan cricket. In the recent past, “transition” is another word that seems to be similarly attached. In sport, the longer you’re dubbed “in transition” the longer you’ve continued to fail.
Pakistan’s ODI side has been in relative “transition” for almost the entirety of the ongoing century. After the 2003 World Cup debacle dismantled the regularly world-beating side of the 1990s, Pakistan have largely been an average ODI side even when the 50-over game was the only limited-overs format.
The 2011 World Cup semifinal and the 2017 Champions Trophy have been the glaring exceptions over the past two decades – barring perhaps the brief period in 2012-13, when Pakistan beat India and South Africa away and won the Asia Cup. In that regard, the year 2019 was no different on the ODI front.
For the third time in the past five World Cups, Pakistan failed to make it to the knockout stages in this year’s edition. Perhaps not as glaring a knockout as the 2007 or 2003 editions, but given the time given to the then management and leadership, failure to make the top four was average at best. This is especially true given the side’s ODI performances leading up to the World Cup included a run of 11 successive defeats in three series losses against England, Australia and South Africa.
The ODI series win against Sri Lanka in September might have stopped that rot, but the ODI side has been the greatest underachiever among all Pakistan teams in recent years. However, this year they were joined by the T20 team as well.
It would appear a miracle that despite losses against South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and Australia Pakistan are still atop the T20I rankings. However, that is owing to just how dominant the side had been in the format in the preceding two years.
The slump began in South Africa this year, with a three-nil clean sweep against Sri Lanka at home in October being the obvious low. The new management has inherited a struggling side in a format that Pakistan has not just dominated over the past couple of seasons, but one where it has done well historically. However, the year 2019 was an absolute low for Pakistan in T20Is as well.
Test cricket is the one where the word “transition” has been most frequently used over the past couple of years. This is because in the five-day format, the turning points have been the most obvious ones over the past decade.
Following the retirement of the now coach-selector Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan in May 2017, Pakistan have largely fared abysmally in Test cricket. This has included the first ever series defeats for Pakistan in the UAE – against Sri Lanka in 2017 and New Zealand 2018. This year there were the almost expected clean sweeps away to South Africa and Australia for Pakistan.
However, as we discussed over the past couple of weeks, the Karachi Test win has single handedly turned things around for Pakistan cricket not just in Test cricket but overall as well – especially the new embattled management.
The 1-0 series win against Sri Lanka, in the first Test series contested in Pakistan for over a decade, generated the right noise both on and off the ground. Now one hopes that Bangladesh does the right thing, so that Pakistan can get sustained cricket both as a host nation and the Test side.
The year 2019 clearly had more lows than highs for Pakistan, but there is tangible hope going into the 2020s. As cricket returns to Pakistan in the coming decade, so should more stability in the team’s performances.