Team Pakistan’s batting ailments are finally showing tentative signs of improvement after a nightmare series against the South Africans in the UAE. Facing an eternal batting dip in their cricketing travails; low-scoring games, an inability to chase modest scores, frequent middle-order collapses and a tail that never wagged, became the hall-marks of a batting line that lost the team more matches than it won. For too long, thanks to its’ batting demons, Pakistan has languished in the lower half of the ICC Rankings in all three formats.
Nevertheless, the team’s plans to end the year 2013 on a positive note were indeed made possible by none other than the batsmen’s commanding performances. After commendable performances in the return tour to South Africa, the series against Srilanka in the UAE brought new highs for the team, including the Professor, who became only the second Pakistani batsman after Zaheer Abbas to score 3 tons in a bilateral ODI series. Hafeez’s, and in general, Pakistan’s batting successes in the series may be attributed to the impotency of the Srilankan bowling attack, which has become remarkably toothless since Lasith Malinga’s loss of form. The Lankan batting line put up a fight, winning the second T20 almost without any help from the bowlers, but with Pakistan’s robust bowling attack, there could only be so much they could do in the ODIs.
The first ODI saw Pakistan’s batsmen run riot against Malinga & Co. after Misbah-ul-Haq opted to bat first. With his nemesis (Dale Steyn) not in the picture anymore, Hafeez bounced back from his abysmal showings against the Proteas. His 122, along with pacey half-centuries from Sohaib Maqsood and Sharjeel Khan, and a rapid-fire cameo from Lala, ensured Pakistan had a daunting total of 322 to defend. Srilanka never looked capable of reaching the target, and a late surge from Prasanna and Senanayake was nullified by Junaid, giving Pakistan a modest 11-run victory. Things followed a similar pattern in the second ODI with Pakistan batting first to post a decent total thanks to another ton by the in-form Ahmed Shehzad. Only this time, the Srilankan batting triumphed against the Pakistan bowling, successfully managing to run down the 285, thanks to contribution from almost everyone in their deep-running batting roster.
With the inadequacies of the pace battery exposed, Pakistan recalled Umar Gul for the third ODI. The team came back strongly, with Hafeez punishing Srilanka for a dropped catch by scoring a career-best 140 not-out. A late burst from the Captain Reliable, with the last 10 overs conceding 105 runs, ensured Pakistan posted a mammoth 326. Srilanka were not done any favors by the comeback-star, Gul, who struck twice in his second over to dent Srilanka’s already-difficult chase. The rest of the batting duly folded, and Pakistan wrapped up a huge 113-run victory. Srilanka’s bid to to keep the series alive in the fourth ODI spluttered and died before it could get going, as the batting gave way to Gul & Co. again. A target of 225 for the in-form Pakistan batting line-up seemed too easy, and it was so, as Hafeez posted yet another ton to take Pakistan home with an eight wicket victory, and give the team an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series.
Pakistan’s aim to add sugar to the series victory by winning the dead rubber was foiled by their batting demons, who returned from their slumber, to put a halt to four handsome batting performances. Chasing a very gettable total, Srilanka almost made a mess of it, but Chandimal and Mendis guided Srilanka home with their unbroken stand of 40 coming in only 4.1 overs. In the end, the series ended 3-2 in favor of Pakistan, as the men in green wrapped up their sixth ODI series victory of 2013.
Lineups were shuffled at the start of the Test series, and Pakistan again showed their superiority on Day 1 of the first test, as Junaid & Co. skittled Srilanka out for a lowly 204, and then Younis and Misbah posted tons to take Pakistan to a formidable 329 for 4. From there on, though, Pakistan’s inability to bat the opposition out of matches showed again, as a trademark lower-order collapse saw Pakistan’s last 6 wickets fall for just 54 runs. Srilanka then batted their way back into the match with Kaushal Silva, Chandimal and Mathews all playing their part in ensuring that a draw was the only result that the Test could see.
Nevertheless, the top order’s batting performances have been really encouraging this series, as Pakistan build up to the World Cup 2015. The return to form of the Professor, and the coming-of-age of some youngsters, like Sohaib Maqsood and Ahmed Shehzad, who have shown that they can bat with both maturity and intent, will surely prove to be of some solace for fans who have been suffering from the inadequacies of the batting line for a long time. Here’s to hoping the progress continues.