As far as bad calendar years ago, it would be hard to top Pakistan’s 2022 in Test cricket.
Exactly a year ago, they entered the new year second on the World Test Championship (WTC) standings, and were confident that they’d certainly make it to the final. They, after all, had seven home Tests lined up and had to only play away from Pakistan twice, that too against a very beatable Sri Lankan side.
Pakistan, really, couldn’t have asked for a clearer, easier path to the final. 2022 was supposed to be ‘their’ year in Test cricket.
Well, 12 months later, here we are.
Babar Azam’s side are all set to play their 14th and final match of the ongoing cycle and they are, umm, placed seventh, behind West Indies, England and Sri Lanka. They will be entering the contest having won ZERO home Tests in the entire cycle, and will be scrambling for a win not to finish in the Top 2, but to avoid being placed in the bottom three.
This, right here, is what you call shambles. It was only fitting that, for Pakistan, 2022 ended in the most crackbrained manner imaginable, with an atrocious declaration from skipper Babar nearly turning a guaranteed draw into a loss.
Either way, they say the birth of a New Year signifies the birth of new beginnings, so as they brace for their final match of the ongoing WTC final, Pakistan will be hoping to put the horrors of 2022 behind and start afresh.
Easier said than done, of course, but as England showed last year, if you’re determined enough, and if you’re clear about the path forward, you WILL turn a corner.
For Pakistan a reset is still far away, but there’ll be no harm in starting the year off on a positive note, with a series win, even if it counts for little.
Babar, at least, would be desperate for a ‘W’, for otherwise he’ll forever be known as the skipper whose side got humiliated at home by Australia, England and New Zealand.
Pakistan need runs from the bat of Abdullah ShafiqueWhen Abdullah Shafique brought up his third Test hundred in the Rawalpindi Test against England — in his first innings of the series — it was assumed that the 23-year-old was set for another prolific series like the Australia one, where he averaged 79.40.
Post the 114 in the first innings in Rawalpindi, Shafique’s average at home read 85.16 and so it was entirely reasonable to consider him a guaranteed run-bank for the rest of the home stretch.
However, Pakistan have since had to deal with a curveball: an unexpected, sudden dip in form Shafique.
In 7 innings since, the right-hander has accumulated just 123 runs, averaging 17.57 while passing fifty zero times. He’s essentially gone from a run-bank to a batter that’s finding it hard to buy runs.
Shafique’s dip in form wouldn’t have been that big a problem had Pakistan had a stable number three that accumulates runs, but since the start of the Sri Lanka series, their number three batters have averaged 25.6.
Azhar Ali — 120 runs @ 20.17 — could never find consistency and had to be dropped (before his farewell), and while Babar did comparatively well — 173 runs @ 43.25 — it wasn’t hard for the management to figure out that he was far more valuable at No.4.
Shan Masood, after not capitalizing on two starts as an opener against England, was shoe-horned into the No.3 spot in the first Test against the Kiwis but he misfired, posting 3 and 10.
Hence with the No.3 spot already unstable, Shafique’s loss of form has enabled opponents to run though the top-order and instantly put Pakistan on the back-foot.
Come the second Test, then, the hosts desperately need runs from the willow of the 23-year-old if they are to assert their dominance over the Kiwi bowlers.
More of the same from New Zealand’s perspective
Playing their first Test in over five months, New Zealand, overall as a team, enjoyed a fine outing in the first Test in Karachi. Kane Wiliamson roared back to form with a double-ton, the other senior batters all showed up and the bowlers tried to play the patience game to their level best.
It can be argued that, at times, the bowling lacked a bit of teeth, but overall, they outplayed the hosts and were the better of the two sides.
Come the second Test, Southee will be hoping for more of the same from his men, except perhaps a slight improvement on the bowling front.
In the first Test, across both the innings, the Kiwis had Pakistan in a significant spot of bother: 110/4 in the first and 100/4 in the second. But they were unable to finish the job off in both the innings — Pakistan recovered to post 438 and 311/8 — and due to that very reason, the game ended in a draw.
Southee, then, will be hoping that his bowlers — himself included — prove to be more deadly and efficient, especially when there’s an opening.
What will be interesting to see if the Black Caps opt to bench Neil Wagner, who despite his reputation of being a relentless enforcer on flat wickets, proved to be the most ineffective Kiwi bowler. In his 24 overs, Wagner drew a false shot percentage of just 4.8% — the second-lowest among all bowlers in the match behind Mohammad Wasim Jr. He looked innocuous in the first innings, but more concerningly was not able to keep the runs down either, conceding at 3.10 an over.
Should they bench Wagner, the Kiwis have the option of bringing in Matt Henry or a more pacy, unknown entity in Blair Tickner.
Naseem Shah played for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a List A game two days ago, so he will walk into the XI should the management deem him fit enough. Both Mir Hamza and Wasim Jr were unimpressive in the first Test so it’s anybody’s guess who drops out (could be both).
Abdullah Shafique, Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood, Babar Azam (c), Saud Shakeel, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Agha Salman, Nauman Ali, Abrar Ahmed, Naseem Shah, Mir Hamza / Mohammad Wasim Jr / Shahnawaz Dahani
From the Kiwi XI that started the first Test, no individual’s place is under threat outside of Wagner
Tom Latham, Devon Conway, Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell (wk), Michael Bracewell, Tim Southee (c), Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner / Matt Henry / Tickner, Ajaz Patel