That was a good 24 hours for Pakistan cricket. Try and say those words out loud, to a friend, at a dinner party, even to yourself in an empty room. Notice the inflection in your voice as you reach the end of that sentence? It’s surprisingly difficult to voice that sentiment without the muscle memory in your vocal chords preparing for the caveat which always qualifies such a sentence, an unfortunate extended phenotype spawned by painstaking years of real-world experience.
“That was a good day, but what is it the English are saying about our suspiciously sudden reverse swing? That was a good day, but why do I suddenly have to pay attention to the Supreme Court and someone called Justice Qayyum? That was a good day but heavens, why can’t we find the wicket-keeper in his hotel room? That was a good day, but oh my, weren’t those two no-balls really rather huge?”
Calm your vocal chords, though, and say it again like you mean it, because days like these are what supporters suffer with their team for. Not for year-end financial reports, and certainly not for long-term plans. Have a look at what’s going on at the PCB and see if you feel optimistic about any plan that’ll survive beyond the next political or administrative upheaval. A moribund patient doesn’t eat cabbages and lettuce and wait for the six-pack that’ll come a year later. They take the sugar hit when it presents itself, and in the last 24 hours, Pakistan got theirs.
Few beyond the tragics in Pakistan will pretend they were paying much attention to the Emerging Men’s Asia Cup until they checked the score halfway through the Pakistan innings on Sunday, and saw the dominance they were exercising over the Indian bowlers in Colombo. Having been turned over comprehensively by that same side earlier in the week, there was little interest and fewer expectations. But as the Ashes in Manchester reached its sodden, wet denouement, Pakistan’s young team were on fire putting India’s bowlers to the sword before running through their batters, a 128-run win seeing them gallop away with the trophy.
Yes, Pakistan had sent a much more seasoned side to the tournament than India, but when you want that dopamine hit, you ignore that downer of a friend pointing this out. The senior Pakistan team, also in Colombo on the eve of the second Test against Sri Lanka, appeared to have no such analytical qualms as they revelled in the A side’s glory. Despite an early start on Monday, they were up well past their bedtimes to serenade Mohammad Haris and his team as he walked in with the trophy, Shaheen embracing him in a bear hug.
There’s never a bad time for cake in Pakistan cricket, and one was magically conjured up, a rather modest looking chocolate fudge pie. What mattered more, though, was the message scribbled on the icing, one directed as much at the senior team as their recently triumphant junior counterparts. “The Pakistan Way,” it simply said, a catch-all term the coaching and management staff hope will translate into a brand of cricket that entertains as well as exceeds.
A former Pakistan player who made his debut in the 90s spoke of the stark divide that existed between the younger and more experienced players, and the terrifying authority they exercised over already intimidated newcomers. On his debut, he sat down in one of the comfy chairs in the pavilion a senior player had marked as his own. When the player noticed what this young upstart had the audacity to do, he barked at him “Who do you think you are?” in front of the whole team, before turfing him out of the chair.
No such divide existed here as Babar Azam, Shaheen Afridi and the Pakistan side sat down on the marble steps of the Cinnamon Grand with the A side, laughing, joking, feeding each other cake. As you looked from emerging player to senior player, it became impossible to tell which was which. No one was more equal than the other.
Morning in Colombo, and now it is the senior side’s turn. Babar loses the toss – some things never change, after all – and Sri Lanka insert themselves in on a flat, demon-free wicket. But it doesn’t matter how flat a wicket is if you’re going to take on a fielding side that has metamorphosised, almost overnight, into a world-class outfit.
The openers take on Shan Masood with a quick single. Unwise, because Masood can do a bit of everything. He bats, he sometimes bowls, he often comes out for quality interviews. And he really, really fields well. He picks the ball up, and, in the same motion, knocks down the stumps with a direct hit. It’s almost as supple and languid as his cover drive, and here, it’s equally effective.
Naseem Shah takes over. Naseem is young enough to be part of the A side that just won that trophy yesterday; he is two years younger, in fact, than the average age of that squad. He’s now up against Angelo Mathews and Dimuth Karunaratne, two of the best players of a generation that blossomed while Naseem was trying to convince his parents to let him pursue cricket. But he’s well on top of Mathews, who keeps getting beaten by one that seams and nips away. He’s lucky enough to miss it twice, but the third time’s a charm for the Pakistan bowler. Weren’t there supposed to be no demons in this pitch?
He can soon discuss that point with Karunaratne in the dressing room, because Naseem has sent perhaps the world’s best opener packing, too. He’s thrown one up fuller, lighting Karunaratne’s eyes up. This’ll be an easy put-away, as the Sri Lankan opener has made a career out of surviving good deliveries to put ones like these away. He leans into an expansive drive, but there’s that’s seam movement again. A feather of an inside edge, a collision of leather and timber, the jiggle of a pair of disturbed bails. Pakistan are flying.
Sri Lanka mount a hopelessly late attempt to cage that bird, to dull the excitement with a gritty fifth-wicket partnership, just like they did in Galle. It works, to a point, and Pakistan’s edge is being dulled, the game neutralised. Only until Naseem returns, and this time with a different strategy. He might have swing and seam, but he also possesses bounce and pace. A short delivery rears up slightly, and Dinesh Chandimal, out of patience, hands Imam-ul-Haq a straightforward catch.
It might as well be seen as an act of surrender for what follows. Pakistan are sharing the joy around, and they let Abrar Ahmed take over now. The wickets that fall aren’t spectacular in the same way Naseem’s are, but there is a clinical efficiency about Pakistan wrapping up the lower order, a frustrating Achilles heel in the past.
Babar, often accused of captaincy by autopilot, has taken control, manipulating both the field and the bowling changes with impressive, calculating guile. Dhananjaya de Silva picks out a man stationed exactly for the pull shot that sees him hole out to Saud Shakeel. Prabath Jayasuriya takes on Masood again; he presumably missed the early part of the innings. And to round off, Ramesh Mendis holes out to Shakeel in a similar way to de Silva.
There’s still a session to go, and Pakistan aren’t done keeping their foot on the pedal. They shake off an early Imam dismissal. Abdullah Shafique and Masood, starved for runs, go about accumulating them at breathtaking speed, hitting the seamers out of the attack before clobbering Mendis and Jayasuriya over the top. Masood was particularly aggrieved last week when on the harsh end of a Hawk Eye call he thought should have gone the other way. Today, he’s caught dead in front, but the umpire can’t see it, and Sri Lanka somehow fail to review.
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s a backhanded compliment that’s hung around Masood for much of his career, but today, he shows he can be both. It is him, in particular, who gives the spinners no hiding place, plundering them for 30 runs off 28 balls as Pakistan bring up a 103-ball hundred, the fastest first-innings hundred for them since records began. Masood, turns out, can do more than just a bit of batting. His half-century, a first in 17 innings, comes in just 44 balls. Shafique, too, combines luck and quality, surviving a dropped catch and an lbw shout as he brings up his first half-century in 12 innings.
There is nothing that isn’t working for Pakistan, and by the time the sun sets, they’re within touching distance of Sri Lanka’s score. They will move into the lead early tomorrow, and, on the evidence of this, gallop over the hills and far out of sight.
That, at least, is what The Pakistan Way would have you believe. No one quite knows what it is, and it’s a term that may always lack a clear definition. But over the past 24 hours, there was a glorious little glimmer of what it might yet become
Source: ESPN Cricinfo