Well how about that!
Zimbabwe threatened to take the Twenty20s, pulled off a surprise ODI win, went on to dominate proceedings in the first Test before Younus Khan delivered the damning verdict, but the hosts pulled off the mightiest of heists by flooring Pakistan in the final Test.
It was Zimbabwe’s first Test win over a side other than Bangladesh since 2001 and their third against Pakistan. For the tourists, this was their fifth Test defeat since the England whitewash early last year, and it meant that Pakistan are still without a Test-series win since that one (played three, lost two, drawn one).
Coach Dav Whatmore wasn’t worried about his side’s inability to win Tests, but surely, he hadn’t anticipated Pakistan falling to such depths and Zimbabwe utilising conditions and the tourists’ tepidness to such effect.
The series brought to the front plenty of winners for Zimbabwe and plenty of losers for Pakistan. Here, we highlight a few.
For players engulfed in off-field issues, having not been paid and with no signs of that happening and having been forced to call off training ahead of the ODI series decider, the win couldn’t have come at a better time.
On paper, the hosts were weaker than Pakistan in all departments. On the field, it was the lions chasing the rabbits. Roles seemed to have been reversed ever since a returning Brendan Taylor opted to bat. All were warning signs for Pakistan who would be batting last.
But the hosts made it all count through disciplined bowling, stubborn batting, sharp handling of Saeed Ajmal, who had a 10-for in the opening Test, and not giving up. They lost the opening wicket off just the second ball of the match, but what followed aptly illustrated Zimbabwe’s patience and the reward of keeping it simple and being consistent.
Hamilton Masakadza was lucky to survive Junaid Khan’s opening-hour burst but survive he did to great rewards. Brian Vitori knew of Pakistan’s love for fishing outside the off-stump, and he made them pay for it again. The obdurate Prosper Utseya showed players around the world the art of survival and patience—with bat and ball—against quality bowlers and in front of quality batsmen.
The final runout, the celebrations on the field and in the dressing room, the dancing in the stands and the lap of honour, it all showed what the win meant to Zimbabwe—the players and the nation. For cricket’s sake, the team must ensure it leads to something more, something bigger.
Pakistan’s Twenty20 captain—and tipped to succeed Misbah-Ul-Haq as Test captain—came into the Test series injured.
His place in the Test side has always been on the back of the support he has from team management and his performance as an allrounder. However, not being able to bowl—and a poor Test run—really hampered his performance. Hafeez ended with 59 runs in four innings and bowled four overs.
With a torrid time against Dale Steyn earlier this year, Hafeez—if retained in the Test side—is set to face his old nemesis next time he takes guard. Stats, and performance, show Hafeez is clearly not a given in the Test side.
This is especially true at the top of the order, given his frailty against the moving ball. But surely it can’t simply be down to lack of talent. His limited-overs show would’ve been downright dismal, too, if he didn’t have what it took.
Perhaps, it’s down to bad luck, poor technique, injury or just lack of confidence against the red ball. But Hafeez’s inability with the bat, and Pakistan devoid of a bowling option due to his injury, proved to be really costly. He can, perhaps, be pushed down the order—if Misbah and Co. insist he remains a Test player—for his ability with the ball in the UAE will come in handy.
But for the sake of his future, and Pakistan cricket’s, Hafeez needs a session or two of self-evaluation, of admitting his shortcomings and failures and an assessment of his worth to the national side.
Four innings, three half-centuries, but a series not won—the story of Misbah’s life.
He showed his teammates how it’s done and, perhaps, gave Zimbabwe batsmen a lesson or two as well—patience, the true test of a batsmen’s mettle, paying rich dividends. Once again, perhaps for the umpteenth time since his comeback in 2007, Misbah was the last man standing, frustrated on the outside, raging inside.
He simply cannot stop scoring in either of the formats he plays, mixing his dead-bat approach with the lofted drives over long-on and midwicket.
He often forgets, or refuses in true Pakistani manner, to learn from his mistakes, and reaches for the ball in a costly manner, but the agony and pain that follows his dismissal aptly illustrates the man’s hunger for success and struggle for the cause.
Misbah doesn’t have long left on the cricket field, but he’s adamant on ensuring he milks every minute of it. He doesn’t have that many centuries, but that’s mostly because he runs out of partners.
He comes in at No. 5—some say he should bat at four in Tests—but given Pakistan’s unreliable batting on either side of him, no matter where he bats, others will continue to desert him.
It’s a sorry tale between Misbah the batsman and Misbah the captain.
Following a drawn series in the UAE against South Africa almost three years ago, Misbah famously admitted he would rather play defensively and draw a match than be aggressive and lose.
That might have been what Pakistan needed most at the time—a series loss in England, losing their captain and best bowlers to greed and the fall in rankings—but it set a trend that defied all those who had strived to make cricket exciting before him.
Aggression was brighter than Pakistan cricket’s blood. Imran Khan’s men were nicknamed tigers not for their timid approach, but for the fearlessness and bold cricket. You fight, you lose but you get up to fight again.
Misbah’s approach was what Pakistan needed to be able to restore its lost pride, to get back on its feet before it could attack again. But Pakistan, with their fear of losing—the match or their place in the side—have adapted mediocrity as their badge.
In a way, Pakistan’s approach and planning has been tweaked to suit the captain. It works for him—and God help Pakistan if Misbah didn’t score—but inability to take singles, to press on when needed, to impose pressure and take risks in order to come out on top and to be plain fearless are traits no longer visible in the side.
One-off cameos aside, the team is in gradual decline—the same team (almost) that floored England just last year lies flat on its front. As a captain, Misbah is clearly frustrated, but he must realise this is not 2010 anymore. The crooks have moved on. The team should, too.
Tendai Chitara might have gotten the man-of-the-match award, but it was the returning Brian Vitori who started the rot first-up.
He caused the visitors much pain in the ODIs, with the ball angled across the right-handers. Pakistan’s love for flirting with the unwanted has been causing their downfall for years. It didn’t stop in Zimbabwe.
Although he wasn’t as menacing at Junaid with the movement, Vitori’s ability to consistently hit the right channel, and invite probes from the batsmen, brought him success. He knew the importance of patience and consistency, of testing the batsmen’s mental strength and level of endurance.
He managed a solitary wicket in the final innings of the series and did get a bit of a stick, but in between, the balls that went accounted, he ensued fear showed no leniency as the batsmen fought for survival and failed.