Pakistan's performers shine in 2014 - One-trick ponies no more
In terms of results, Pakistan had a disastrous 2014. They lost all their ODI series (against Sri Lanka, Australia, and New Zealand), lost the final of the Asia Cup, lost a Test series to Sri Lanka, drew another Test series against Sri Lanka, and drew a Test series against New Zealand.
What a disaster!
Despite that, there was will some silver lining in their performances; none more than their first Test series win over Australia in 20 years!
We will talk about that, and more, in a look at Pakistan cricket over the past one year, which included record run chases, record breaking feats by Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, and some phenomenal performances by the one and only Shahid Afridi and Pakistan's new find, Sarfraz Ahmed.
1. Record Run Chase - Not once but TWICE.
Pakistan were 1-0 down going into the third and final match of the Test series against Sri Lanka at the start of the year; and they were set an improbable target of 302 in 60 overs on the final day of the Test.
With nothing to lose and a Test series at stake, Pakistan went all out and chased down the target in 57.3 overs. It was Pakistan's second highest chase in Test matches, and it was the fastest chase in a Test match ever by any team for a target in excess of 210 runs. Pakistan reached their target at a run rate of 5.25.
Two months later Pakistan faced a similar chase, but this time in an ODI. Bangladesh posted a mammoth 326-3, their highest total ever in ODIs.
Faced with this gigantic chase, it looked unlikely that Pakistan would get there, but they did, and how! Pakistan posted their highest chase ever in ODIs winning the game by 3 wickets and 1 ball to spare.
It is quite fitting that the heroes of those two chases were Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi respectively. Two polar opposite characters, two captains, two stars in their own right, two cricketers that divide an entire fan base like no others, and the two pillars of the Pakistan cricket team.
2. Misbah-ul-Haq sheds his Inhibitions - Not once but TWICE.
Popularly or infamously referred to as "Tuk Tuk" and criticized by a large section of the crowd for his slow approach to batting, Misbah came out, shed his inhibitions, and shut the critics up not once but twice this year.
What was even more ironic that both these innings came in Test matches.
The first one was in the record chase mentioned above. Misbah came to the crease with the score 186-4 in 36.4 overs. 116 runs were still required in 23.2 overs at a run rate of 4.97 on a Day 5 pitch. The last man anyone wants to see at the crease in such a situation is Misbah.
Yet, Pakistan's skipper stood tall and remained unbeaten on 68 off only 72 deliveries ensuring Pakistan's series-leveling victory. Fittingly, he hit the winning runs as well!
If that strike rate of 94.44 in a Test match innings was not enough to quieten Misbah's critics, he went far and beyond with a Test century scored at an astounding strike rate of 177.2!
Misbah, in scoring an unbeaten 101 off 57 deliveries in the second Test against Australia, equalled Sir Viv Richards's record of scoring the fastest 100 in Test matches off 56 deliveries.
Ironic, yet fitting, for the man known as Tuk Tuk!
3. Shahid Afridi the Remarkable Match Winner - Not once but TWICE.
When Shahid Afridi walked out to bat in that record chase against Bangladesh, Pakistan required another 102 runs in 8.4 overs (52 deliveries), with 5 wickets in hand.
If there was ever a man who could successfully chase this, it was Shahid Afridi. And he did! When he departed, Pakistan required only 33 runs off 19 delivers, a mere formality following the scathing and remorseless attack by Afridi who smashed 59 runs off only 25 deliveries with 7 sixes and 4 fours!
That wasn't the only game that Afridi won for Pakistan with his bat this year. In fact, in this game against Bangladesh, Afridi just picked up where he left off after successfully leading Pakistan to victory over India two days ago.
Chasing a target of 246, Pakistan floundered in what should have been an easy chase, and were staring at defeat when they were reduced to 203-6 in 45 overs. Pakistan still required another 43 runs in 5 overs and only the tail left to support Afridi.
Afridi brought Pakistan back into the game and it seemed that he, along with Umar Gul, would guide Pakistan home. But Pakistan being Pakistan lost two wickets in the 49th over and another off the first ball of the final over.
5 balls to go. 10 runs still needed to win. 1 wicket left. Junaid Khan on strike. Afridi stranded at the non-striker's end.
The next 3 deliveries were pure magic.
Junaid Khan took an all important single off the second delivery off the final over, which brought Shahid Afridi on strike.
With 9 needed to win off 4 deliveries, what does Shahid Afridi do?
He smashes the next two deliveries for sixes and takes Pakistan home to a history repeating 1-wicket victory over India.
Oh, what brilliance!
4. Sarfraz Ahmed stars for Pakistan - Not once, not TWICE, but many times over.
Kamran Akmal has 6 Test centuries. Moin Khan has 4. Imtiaz Ahmed has 3.
Those three are the highest run-scorers among Pakistani wicket-keepers in Tests.
Sarfraz Ahmed smashed three Test hundreds this year alone; where he will end up by the time he calls an end to his career is open to debate, but if this year is anything to go by, I will say that Pakistan have discovered a gem, "a game-changer" in Misbah's own words, and Pakistan's best wicket-keeper batsman ever.
Sarfraz played a number of instrumental innings this year for Pakistan. It all started with an aggressive 40 odd in Pakistan's record chase against Sri Lanka, and he followed that up with Test centuries against Sri Lanka, Australia, and New Zealand - all teams he came up against.
He averages 44 with the bat in Tests, which is 14 runs better than the next best for anyone who has kept wickets in at least 10 Tests for Pakistan.
5. Younis Khan makes his bat talk - Not once, not TWICE, but many times over.
Exclusion from the ODI side and a public spat with the PCB where he stated that he will not play any format of the game for Pakistan were bygones as Younis Khan went on a purposeful run spree in Pakistan's 2-match Test series against Australia.
After those two Test matches, Younis Khan became Pakistan's highest Test centurion, the only batsman from Pakistan to score a century against all other 9 Test playing nations, the first batsman in 40 years to score a century in each innings of a Test match against Australia, and the first batsman in 90 years to score three consecutive Test centuries against Australia.
Talk about making one's bat do the talking. Talk about making a statement. Talk about breaking records.
Nobody has done it better than Younis Khan.
6. Pakistan's Test batsmen shine - Not once, not TWICE, but many times over.
To say that Pakistan's Test batsmen had an outstanding year would be an understatement.
Pakistan's Test top 7 - Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, and Sarfraz Ahmed - all averaged above 40 in Test matches this year; with 5 of them averaging above 50.
Three of them scored three Test centuries each, one of them scored four, and King Khan scored six. Many of them had record-breaking years, and many of them had their best years in Test cricket yet.
While Pakistan's performances this year, especially in ODIs, are not much to talk about; yet there still are plenty of performances to smile about and be in awe of.
Here's hoping for more and better in 2015.