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Pakistan in 2016

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Misbah-ul-Haq_cricket_PakistanThe terms 'enigma' and 'miracle-worker' carry huge value. Use these phrases in the context of cricket's magnificent 22 yard action and what do you discover?

Partly for their enormous effect on the game and partly for the sense of unfulfilled potential they bring to the table, it's Pakistan. One reckons that beside the glowing halo of Australia's (slightly patchy) badge of authority, India's winning streak (a bit of a habit carried over from 2015) and South Africa's return to playing dominant cricket, Pakistan have stood out.

And truth be told, akin to a shining enigma, they are still capable of fully surprising the cricketing world as much as causing agony to their fans.

We no longer need to be told that they are one heck of an unpredictable side. But today, in Pakistani cricket the understanding of 'unpredictability' rests more with the team's ability to snatch the near-impossible than clinging on to hopeless defeats (thanks to the availability of mighty impressive talent).

And if the recent events at The Gabba are any indication, where one of cricket's most polarized sides nearly did the unthinkable, falling just 39 short of a world record chase of 490, Pakistan commanded headlines. No, they dominated them. And deservingly so.

A younger, fiery and determined unit

The current crop of Pakistan isn’t just a fiery lot, though most of them are still newbies coming to terms with cricket's incessant demands in 21st century. They offer greater promise and capability, much like what one has seen in bygone eras. In fact, a subject that warrants serious attention is the manner in which the past glories of Wasim-Waqar-Anwar-Inzamam-Younus years have given way to the current age.

The names Babar Azam (21), Sami Aslam (21), Azhar Ali (31) along with stalwarts, Younis Khan and Misbah lend efficacy and balance to a team that has blossomed with the return of Mohammad Amir (24), fired by Yasir Shah's relentless brilliance and supported by the volatile, free-flowing Wahab Riaz (31).

In a year where they blanked West Indies, nailing them 3 nil in as many one day games and T20Is, defeated England in the home of cricket, held the English to a drawn series in Tests, further upped their winning streak by nailing them in T20s that followed and came mighty close to wrecking Australia's sure thing, Pakistan have made a strong statement. To any ardent critic or dismissive denouncer of this team, their defeats, expected against England in ODIs and unexpected at the hands of the Kiwis, hold less value than their commanding victories this season.

Pakistan's strong Test presence and ODI hopes

Of course, it helps that in Tests, Pakistan stand unmoved at 4, above South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Windies, breathing down the necks of Australia at number 3.

In ODIs, from very few of which they emerged triumphant despite trouncing Windies in UAE earlier this year, there's a lot to be desired. But this gap between being top ranked adversaries in Tests and languishing at 8 in ODIs can well be reduced by a group of talented, magnificent and hungry players who have as much youthful exuberance in them as level-headedness.

Yet, you will find a difference. Even in a year where they can gladly discuss more things than worrying over how they've been belittled by their own boards' hapless decision-making (a regular feature in the past), Pakistan haven't exactly stamped their authority on the game. By virtue of some enormously important victories, in the context of their current power and dedication, they have earned some pivotal moments of 2016.

While their haters toe the line of irrationality in deriding Pakistan, may not be converted, Pakistan will be wise enough to cling to optimism they've earned this year. And purely by playing fantastic, fighting cricket.

Pakistan's statistical achievements reveal tremendous accumulation

In 31 year old Azhar Ali, they've got a lover of long, patient innings who relishes leading a committed side. Babar Azam, just 21, has demonstrated equanimity in multiple formats, going as far as scoring 656 ODI runs at a glorious 59. His 3 ODI tons complement performances of 'elders' in the longer format, including 628 Test runs gathered by Younis Khan who struck 2 hundreds, including a magnificent 218 versus England in their own den.

While Misbah's slow but effective run, coming at 35 in 2016, hasn't exactly soured Pakistan, Azhar Ali's phenomenal unbeaten 302 against West Indies stands out. In fact, so incredible has been Azhar's 2016 run that he's garnered over 1000 Test runs at an average of 64, with 3 tons and 4 fifties. Once you realize his tally is just shy of Virat Kohli's 2016 dream run, you must accept that world cricket has increased its penchant for producing prodigious scoring batsmen.

In the bowling department, Pakistan's Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz have dominated leg spin and raw pace respectively, the latter reaching career best figures of 7/134 vs Windies in 2016. But it's clearly been Yasir Shah's year, thanks to a phenomenal streak where he took 43 of his 119 Test scalps, including two 10-for's and four 5-for's. In more than 500 overs of cunning, audacious and brave leg spin this year, he puzzled the likes of Darren Bravo, Alastair Cook and Kane Williamson.

Pakistan's 2016 is a clear indication of things to come

Pakistan have long been cricket's bipolar child, enduring both biting critics and adoring fans and vice versa. The adulation only raises the expectations for this unpredictable side. To critics, they are a power who can sting the world's best, but can’t be the best due to their upsetting inconsistency.

Today's Pakistan are edging closer to being the great force they’ve always wanted to be. It's been a long time since we had a regular winning side from the sub-continent apart from India. But what seems certain is that Azhar Ali's men are determined to make their mark in the coming years. After all, these mighty impressive numbers don't lie.

 

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