- Pakistan remained seventh in Tests, moved to fifth position in ODIs and finished the year as the No.1 ranked T20I side
- Yasir and Babar created world records, Fakhar became the first Pakistan batsman to score a double-century in ODIs
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed and coach Mickey Arthur have reflected on 2018 with satisfaction but hope for better results in the coming year.
“It has been a long year in which there have been some exceptional and some ordinary performances. Overall, I think we have done well, but I accept we could have had better results had we shown a little more consistency,” said Sarfraz.
Arthur concurred, when he remarked: “The Lord’s victory over England, a 1-0 series win over Australia and world record 17 T20I victories were obviously the highlights of the year. But we could have also won the series against New Zealand and the Centurion Test, and it hurts to end up on the losing side.
“This is a side in transition and has shown considerable improvement in the past 12 months. I am convinced that the best from this outstanding young group of players is yet to come.”
In 2018, Pakistan played nine Tests, winning four and losing four, while they won eight of the 18 ODIs, with the series decider against New Zealand being washed-out after they had set the Kiwis a 280-run victory target. In the shortest format, Pakistan won a world record 17 out of 19 matches, including victories in the Zimbabwe tri-series and series wins over Australia and the New Zealand both at the Black Caps home and the UAE.
In the ICC rankings, Pakistan remained in seventh position in the Test table but gained four points to rise to 92 points, while they moved up one place to fifth in the ODI rankings. In the T20I table, Pakistan seized the top spot from New Zealand and finished in number one position on 138 points after collecting 14 points during the year.
“This was the first calendar year in which Pakistan was playing without stalwarts like Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in the Test match format ” said Sarfraz.
“They have been an integral part of the dressing room for many years and without their presence, it was sort of a strange feeling. I know many players have missed them and we as a team have certainly missed their experience and knowledge.
“It’s neither easy to replace such talent nor does it happen overnight. We have to go through the process and I think the middle-order has done a good job against tough oppositions and in not very easy conditions. This has been a massive learning year for our middle-order and I am sure they’ll learn from their mistakes and get better in matches to come.”
Arthur praised the efforts of the entire team, saying: “I say with a lot of satisfaction that the boys have worked extremely hard. It has been a backbreaking year of cricket for the boys, but they have tried to make optimum use of the opportunities and given their best every time they stepped onto the field.
“The area which has pleased me the most has been the side’s fielding, which has also been noticed and appreciated by the pundits and experts. We have taken some excellent catches and inflicted stunning run-outs, apart from saving many runs. This is a testament of the players’ commitment and hard work, as fielding is very much an individual thing and one has to push oneself to excel in this department.
“Of course, mistakes have been made and those have cost us badly, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the boys have tried their best and worked hard. They have shown the world that they have the talent and grit, and now it’s time they start translating that flair into positive results.
“There have been good days and not so good days, but we have stayed together as a group and have aimed to continue to work harder and better. I am confident that good results are waiting for us down the road.”
Sarfraz said the year has seen the emergence of some outstanding talent, which the world has recognised and acknowledged.
“Mohammad Abbas is one such player. Abbas caught everyone by surprise with the way he bowled in the UAE. The world has already billed him as the future No.1 bowler and we are so fortunate to have someone like him in the side, someone we can always rely on any surface and in any match situation.
“Yasir Shah is another talented player and probably the best wrist-spinner in the world today. In 2018, he only got better and better, and I am confident he has plenty of more match-winning performances in him. And how can one forget Babar Azam, one of the most elegant and graceful batsmen in the world, one who is blossoming into an international star?
“Among others to have established their credentials in 2018 include Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Imad Wasim, Faheem Ashraf and Shan Masood, who showed his potential and played a good knock in the second innings at Centurion.
“I think the onus is more on seniors like Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Amir, Shoaib Malik and myself to lead the way, take more responsibility and ensure this multi-talented young group continues to flourish and scales new heights.
“I have no doubts that the future of Pakistan cricket is promising and in safe and capable hands. We just need to look after this talent and back and support them so that they can continue to thrive.”
With 616 Test runs at 56, Babar Azam was Pakistan’s leading run-getter in the 2018 calendar year. He was followed by Haris Sohail (550 runs at 39.2), Asad Shafiq (536 runs at 33.5) and Azhar Ali (517 at 39.89). Amongst the bowlers, Abbas and Yasir took 38 wickets apiece in seven and six Tests respectively, while Hasan bagged 22 wickets in six Tests.
Fakhar was the top run-getter for Pakistan in ODIs with 875 runs at an average of 67.30. He was followed by Imam (672 runs at 61) and Babar (509 runs in 36.35). Shadab Khan was the leading wicket-taker with 23 in 17 matches, followed by Hasan (19 in 15 matches) and Faheem Ashraf (16 in 13 matches).
In the shortest format of the game, Fakhar top scored with 576 runs at 33.88 in 17 matches, while Babar scored 563 runs at 62.55 in 12 matches. Shoaib Malik was third with 369 runs in 16 T20Is at 41, while Sarfraz contributed 354 runs in 19 T20Is at 32.18. Amongst the bowlers, Shadab, with 28 wickets in 19 matches, was the world’s second most successful bowler, followed by Faheem and Hasan (15 wickets apiece), Amir (14 wickets in nine matches) and Shaheen (11 wickets in seven matches).
Pakistan cricketers were also involved in some record-breaking feats in 2018.
In Zimbabwe, Fakhar became the first Pakistan batsman to score 200 in ODIs and broke the two decades old national record of Saeed Anwar, and Yasir became the quickest in Test history to 200 Test wickets, breaking the 82-year-old record of Clarrie Grimmett. Yasir also leveled Imran Khan's national record of 14 wickets in a Test.
In the shortest format, Babar became the fastest to 1,000 runs, breaking Virat Kohli's record. He is also the number-one batsman in the ICC’s T20I Rankings.
The year gone by was also a great one for fast bowling. The likes of Abbas, Amir, Hasan, Shaheen et al, took 91 wickets between them at 23.00. In terms of bowling averages, it was the best year for Pakistan's pacers since 1994 when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were at their peak.
Looking ahead to international cricket in 2019, Sarfaraz said the first half of the year would be a tough and challenging one for his side.
“First things first. We have an ongoing series against South Africa in which we want to do well. As such, the focus of the players and player support personnel is on the upcoming matches. Then, we have an ODI series against Australia followed by the tour of England for ODIs and the World Cup.
“Our objective in 2019 will be to win as many matches as possible. Positive and strong results will only take us closer to our targets. We have the talent and potential, all we need to do is to continue to believe in ourselves, back and support each other, train hard and cash in on the opportunities that come our way.”