2019 in review: The highs and lows of Pakistan cricket
Pakistan had a content ending to 2019 with a series win against Sri Lanka which also marked Test cricket’s return to the country after a gap of ten years. Most of the results in the year didn’t go Pakistan’s way but 2019 was about the start of cricket normalcy in the country. Despite political tensions and border skirmishes in February and March, 39 overseas players, including the likes of Alex Hales, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Shane Watson came to Karachi for eight matches of the Pakistan Super League. Later in the year, Sri Lanka made a full tour to three cities, albeit in two legs, for two Tests, three ODIs and as many T20Is.
While cricket events on home soil brought happiness to the faces of the fans, performances on the field once again painted a grim picture – the biggest disappointment being the failure to qualify for the semi-final of the World Cup in England and Wales. Pakistan suffered a heavy loss at the hands of West Indies in their opening game which hit their net run rate and took their ODI losing streak to 11 games (the worst in their history).
Pakistan had come into the tournament on the back of a 5-0 loss to Australia in UAE and 4-0 to England in the UK. They also lost an ODI series in South Africa (3-2) in January. The only ODI series Pakistan won was against Sri Lanka (2-0) at home.
The World Cup was a tournament of missed opportunities and tactical errors which cost them a place in the semi-finals. Haris Sohail (198 runs at 39.60), their second-best batsman in the tournament after Babar Azam, scored two centuries against Australia in the UAE but surprisingly didn’t play three games at the expense of Shoaib Malik, who averaged 14.37 across 25 innings in England. Shaheen Shah Afridi (16 wickets at 14.62), their best bowler in the tournament, also missed three games in the first half.
Both Haris and Shaheen didn’t play against India in Manchester where Pakistan made the mistake of bowling first after winning the toss and were a fast bowler short despite the struggles of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni against Pakistan’s pacers. Considering Pakistan missed out only because of NRR, their final position in the tournament could have been different had the right selections and tactical moves been made.
The results in Tests were even worse. They started the year with a 3-0 loss in South Africa and were thrashed 2-0 by Australia Down Under, where their bowlers took only 13 wickets across two Tests. In terms of bowling average (88.69), it was Pakistan’s worst ever Test series. It was also only the second time in their history that they suffered 6 straight losses in Tests (one of them coming against New Zealand last year). Their only Test win in the year came in their last game of 2019 as they defeated Sri Lanka by 263 runs in Karachi.
T20 cricket was one format where Pakistan had excelled in recent years, but in 2019, they got a severe beating in the 20-over format as well. Their streak of 11 consecutive T20I series wins came to an end in South Africa with a 2-1 loss which was followed by defeats to England, Sri Lanka and Australia. In the entire year, they won only one out of 9 completed T20Is.
The idea of bringing back Ahmed Shahzad and Umar Akmal in T20Is didn’t work as both failed in the home series against Sri Lanka. Akmal bagged two golden ducks in as many games. Selections played a major role in the dip in form in T20Is. Misbah, after becoming the head coach, had talked about the importance of winning the powerplay but his decision to have four slow-starters (Imam, Babar, Haris, Rizwan) as the top-four batsmen in the third T20I against Australia underlined how poorly the plans were executed.
The Women’s team, on the other hand, produced contrasting results in T20Is as they clean-swept Bangladesh 3-0 in Lahore. Earlier in the year, they narrowly lost (2-1) to West Indies in Karachi. In ODIs, they lost only one out of four ODI series and beat West Indies 2-1 at home. Despite a 2-0 series loss against England in Malaysia, they are ranked four in the ICC Women’s Championship at the end of the year.
Pakistan have a huge distance to cover in Women’s cricket to be able to compete with top teams such as Australia and England. However, this year showed improvements on many fronts. They hit 33 sixes in 14 T20Is. In the previous year, they had hit only eight in 18 games. In ODIs, their overall run-rate (4.21) was the highest for them in any calendar year. The power-hitting and bowling skills of Nida Dar helped her become the first-ever player from Pakistan to join the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia.
Player of the year
While there was never a doubt on his limited-overs skills, Babar Azam stamped his authority in Test cricket as well in 2019. He finished the year with 616 runs at an average of 68.44 and hit three centuries in his last four Tests, including one in Brisbane. He missed another by just three runs in Adelaide. Across the three formats, his tally of 2082 runs in 41 innings was third-highest in international cricket in 2019 and is only behind Rohit Sharma (2442 in 47 innings) and Virat Kohli (2455 in 46 innings). Babar also had a stellar World Cup, scoring 474 runs at 67.71. His unbeaten 101 against New Zealand was one of the best innings in the tournament. The 25-year-old is currently ranked sixth in Tests, third in ODIs and top-ranked in T20Is.
Debutant of the year
Abid Ali became the first man in cricket history to score centuries on both ODI and Test debuts. He kicked off his international career with a century against Australia in the ODI series in UAE. On his Test debut against Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi, he scored 109 not out. He scored another century (174) in the second Test in Karachi, becoming the first Pakistan batsman to score hundreds in each of the first two Tests.
Emerging player of the year
16-year-old Naseem Shah caught the attention of the world even before he played international cricket. His intimidating spell in the warm-up match against Australia A in Perth made him the talk of the town, though he only took one wicket on debut against Australia in Brisbane. In his third Test against Sri Lanka in Karachi, he became the youngest fast bowler to grab a five-wicket haul in Tests.
Changes of the year
Pakistan did away with Mickey Arthur after the World Cup and in a radical move, they gave a dual role of head coach and chief selector to Misbah-ul-Haq. It raised a few eyebrows because Misbah didn’t meet the criteria of having a three-year coaching experience that was stated as one of the requirements in the advertisement. He was also tipped to be Islamabad United’s coach in the PSL at that time.
After a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in T20Is in Lahore, Pakistan removed Sarfaraz Ahmad from T20I and Test captaincy. Babar Azam made his captaincy debut in the T20I series in Australia whereas Azhar Ali was appointed captain for Tests. The decision for ODI captaincy is yet to be taken as Pakistan is not playing any ODIs before they take on the Netherlands in July next year.
The controversy of the year
Pakistan cricket and controversies go hand in hand and 2019 was no different. At the start of the year, the ICC banned Pakistan’s ODI captain at that time, Sarfaraz Ahmed, for four matches after he was found breaching the anti-racism code in the second ODI against South Africa in Durban. Sarfaraz was heard using word Kaale (which literally translates to black) for South African all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo. The Pakistan captain admitted the offense and issued a public apology but missed two ODIs and as many T20Is.
What 2020 holds for Pakistan?
Pakistan are set to host Bangladesh for two Tests and three T20Is at the start of the year but the tour is engulfed with uncertainty. Pakistan’s most important Test series of the year will be on a tour to England in July-August where they play three Tests. Their third and last Test series of the year will be in New Zealand in December.
In limited-overs cricket, the most important assignment for both the women and men's teams will be T20I World Cup in Australia. Meanwhile, Pakistan are also scheduled to host South Africa for three ODIs and as many T20Is. The T20I leg of that series might be played immediately after the PSL in March. For the first time, the entire PSL will be played in Pakistan with Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan selected as the four venues. Pakistan also have the hosting rights for Asia Cup which will be played in the T20 format in the upcoming year but it remains to be seen which venues will be picked for those games.