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Pakistan enjoying the sweet deserts of exile

Nation­al side is the only team yet to lose a series at home since Misbah­ul Haq took over reins back in Novemb­er 2010

Younus and Misbah have provided some much needed consistency in the past five years. PHOTO: AFP

Younus and Misbah have provided some much needed consistency in the past five years. PHOTO: AFP

Few environments in nature are harsher than the desert, where if the heat doesn’t get you then unforgiving predators will. The teams that have faced Pakistan there have discovered that too, the hard way.

While a remarkable penchant for scarcely believable implosions still remains very much intact — the first Test was a not so gentle reminder of that trademark trait — the past five years have seen almost unprecedented consistency.

Pakistan are the only team yet to lose a series at home since Misbahul Haq took over the reins back in November 2010. After the win in Dubai, that proud unbeaten streak now stretches to more than five years.

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Their modus operandi is simple — pile on the runs after batting first and in the draining desert heat, slowly suffocate the opposition. More often than not something gives and, in those moments of weakness, the death grip tightens.

For England, session one on day three was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Others, such as Australia last year and England’s own class of 2012, merely surrender without as much as a fight.

Only India — who haven’t played a Test at home in almost two years and will be swimming against the tide when their Test series against South Africa starts on November 5 — have a better win-loss ratio at home.

It is little surprise then, in this age of batsmen, that Pakistan’s overall batting average of 40.97 is second only to India’s 42.45.

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In home conditions, there is surely no top seven more resilient than Pakistan’s since Misbah took over. Barring Shan Masood, who has just two Tests in the UAE and will be replaced by Azhar Ali for the third; of the seven that started in Dubai, Sarfraz’s remarkable average of 49.27 stands as the worst of the lot. Ahmed Shehzad and his average of 57.45 at home can’t get a sniff in.

No other team comes even close to boasting such monstrous numbers across the board. South Africa may be able to call upon two beasts in Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, while also featuring the excellent Faf du Plessis, but their other batsmen just aren’t up to scratch. A similar problem plagues England, India, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka; all of whom have two or even three superb batsmen but then the standards dip drastically.

What makes Pakistan even more lethal is that all of their batsmen can cause irrevocable damage without standing out enough to be targeted or planned against, perhaps with the exception of the two age-defying Goliaths; neither of whom are yet to meet their Davids.

Younus Khan is the only batsman in the world’s top 10, but even Mohammad Hafeez — who is the lowest ranked of the regulars and barely makes it into the top 30 at 29 — averages in excess of 55 during the last two years.  Every single one of these batsmen has put in at least one match-defining performance over the last five years.

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Think Pakistan and you think bowlers — a deadly array of pace and swing, guile and spin — but this side’s successes have been based undisputedly on the batsmen. That may seem like a harsh assessment considering the much-heralded successes of the likes of spin wizards Saeed Ajmal and Yasir Shah.

But few home fast-bowlers have flourished in the UAE, and while the argument stands that the pitches and conditions are hardly pace paradises, the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and even Chanaka Welegedara have outperformed every single Pakistani pacer in the Middle East.

The spinners have been eclipsed by their counterparts also; surprising considering the unabashed praise they have received. The likes of Monty Panesar, Graeme Swann and Imran Khan have all done better than Yasir, Ajmal, Abdur Rehman and Zulfiqar Babar.

While the sample sizes of the away bowlers are understandably low, it is still worrying to see the hosts outclassed in terms of both spin and pace.

Misbah and his men will care little though if their batsmen deliver yet another win at the most famous of all Middle Eastern venues — Sharjah. Win and Pakistan will reach the lofty heights of second in the Test rankings.

Considering they were in the middle of a full-blown crisis just five years ago, this side has given a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘desert a sinking ship’.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2015.

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