Pakistan are bowled out for 49 — their lowest ever Test score — South African bowlers blow away a batting line-up boasting of Younus Khan, Misbahul Haq, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq.
Pakistan momentarily recover from the jolt, yet concede the series 3-0 including surrendering the Cape Town Test from a position of considerable strength, Asad with an average of 33 tops the batsmen’s list.
Misbah and Azhar average 22, Hafeez turned white by the fear of Dale Steyn musters his 43 runs at 7 runs per innings.
Pakistan selectors and the Dav Whatmore-Misbah team management don’t press the proverbial panic button.
Some six months later the Test squad heads to Zimbabwe for a two match series. Disaster strikes again and Pakistan lose the second Test to the minnows struggling to survive on measly wages.
Asad averages 10, Hafeez 14 and Azhar 21, only the resolve of Younus, Misbah and the wiles of Saeed Ajmal save the team from total humiliation in the two match series that ends in a 1-1 draw.
Pakistan bench Hafeez for the return series against South Africa but Asad and Azhar survive, Asad repays with a century but Azhar continues his struggles.
Sri Lanka follow South Africa to the UAE, Pakistan now bench Azhar as Hafeez re-enters the fray, by the time the series ends Azhar scores a match winning century on his comeback — after sitting out the first two matches — as the team chase down 300 plus on the final day of a Sharjah classic.
Pakistan head to Sri Lanka for a return series where they get whitewashed for the second time in 18 months, Azhar and Misbah endure ordinary returns as Rangana Herath sends the team in a spin.
March 2012 to October 2014 Pakistan lose three and draw three of the six Tests series they play.
Despite a long string of failures, the much chastised ever-changing band of selectors, cricket board officials etc resist the outrage from cricket fans and the punditry from the ‘experts’ and retain the fulcrum of the team especially the low on confidence batting line-up that had first assembled on the heels of the spot-fixing scandal in 2010.
On Sunday afternoon as Azhar Ali smeared Moeen Ali high and handsome into the Oval stands, Pakistan had completed a remarkable turnaround to square a four match Test series in England, the seeds of this moment of joy and relief were sown when the men at the helm didn’t lose their faith in Misbah and his charges during the barren 30 month period and ensured that the core of the team retained stability.
Four out of the six batsmen who were routed at Johannesburg’s Wanderers — Misbah, Younus, Azhar and Asad — featured in the eleven that routed England at Oval, Hafeez was only left out from the final Test eleven after being exposed ruefully in the games leading up to the decider.
Misbah, Younus, Azhar and Asad all struck centuries at various junctures of the series, only Azhar’s Edgbaston century was in a losing cause.
The other three played match winning knocks with Younus’ monumental 218 an epic performance on the back of failures at — at Lord’s, Old Trafford and Edgbaston —when some of the same pundits — unlikely to retire any time soon themselves called for his axing.
Since October 2014 Pakistan haven’t lost a single Test series, they have beaten Australia and England at UAE, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh away and have drawn with New Zealand in UAE and now against England away.
Stability and stable minded management has paid off for sure, while Misbah’s nomads have had a great deal of adversity to tackle the have received solid backing from the decision makers through and through.
Credit to the core for delivering to the faith that was reposed in their ability as Pakistan staved-off the English challenge with a fantastic fight back at Oval after the team had seemingly disintegrated following the Lord’s win.
As the euphoria wears off, Misbah, Mickey Arthur and the selectors have some thinking to do once they reassemble for the two match series against the West Indies in October.
Pakistan will enter the series as firm favourites and must use the two games to iron out the weaknesses at the top of the batting order besides blooding an all-rounder — Imad Wasim or a pace bowling option — for the far more sterner challenges that they are going to encounter on the tour of New Zealand and Australia.
Misbah has expressed a desire to top the Test rankings, his team is with-in striking distance of topping the table but holding fort for any length of time would largely depend on results in New Zealand and Australia — Five Test matches in all.
Misbah’s team is well past its evolutionary stage, they have arguably the most stable and longest serving middle-order core at present or perhaps second only to South Africa.
This is the time for them to set Pakistan’s woeful record straight in Australia, they must not cow down anymore, they can stand-up to a team that has beaten them in nine consecutive Tests in their own backyard.
Misbah’s has also vowed to leave a legacy behind, he came with-in a striking distance of becoming the first Pakistan captain to win a series in England in 20 years, if he conquers Australia he would be the first Pakistan captain to win a series Down Under, some legacy to leave with indeed!