Cricket: National side won fans’ hearts in 2021

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A year that commenced with a demoralising innings defeat at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch finished on a high with a 3-0 T20I series win over two-time former T20 world champions West Indies in Karachi.

Between the two series in a 12-month period, Pakistan won three Test series and drew one, and also reached the semi-final of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup where the penultimate over swung the match in Australia’s favour who went on to win their maiden T20 world title in Dubai.

Overall, in the 2021 calendar year, Pakistan won seven of their nine Tests, lost four of the six ODIs and ended up on the winning side in 20 off the 29 T20Is. In the preceding calendar year, which was marred by Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan had won one out of five Tests, two out of three ODIs and seven off the 11 T20Is.

The matches that left everlasting memories in the minds of the fans came in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup where Pakistan defeated India by 10 wickets as well as New Zealand and Afghanistan by five wickets apiece. These wins were followed by 45 runs and 72 runs victories over Namibia and Scotland, respectively.

The performances rejuvenated the fans as the entire nation got behind the boys in greens, by cheering and backing them throughout the competition.

In the match against India on 24 October at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, India, opting to bat first, were decimated by Shaheen Shah Afridi who finished with figures of three for 31 as the traditional rivals finished at 151 for seven. Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan were in their brilliant best, scoring 68 not out and 79 not out as Pakistan achieved victory with more than two overs to spare.

This victory followed a five-wicket win over New Zealand that saw Haris Rauf grabbing four for 22 and Mohammad Rizwan (33), Shoaib Malik (26 not out) and Asif Ali (27) making valuable contributions.

The match against Afghanistan, Pakistan’s third in six days, will always be remembered for Asif Ali’s four sixes in the penultimate over that earned the 2009 champions a five-wicket win. Babar Azam was the other notable scorer in a 148-run chase, scoring 51.

The interim set-up of Saqlain Mushtaq (head coach), Matthew Hayden (batting consultant) and Vernon Philander (bowling coach) contributed in the complete turnaround of the Pakistan side, which looked for relax, composed, determined and resilient. Of course, Babar Azam also had a lion’s share in the success of the side has he showed great leadership and lead by example and with performance.

Victory over Bangladesh in the second Test at Sher-e-Bangla was by no means less entertaining, thrilling and exciting as Pakistan romped to victory by an innings and eight runs in the final session of the match in which only 63.2 overs were bowled in the first two days and third day’s play was washed out.

Pakistan’s 95 runs victory over South Africa in Rawalpindi was equally sweet. Not only Hasan Ali took a 10-for in his comeback series after a career-threatening back injury, Mohammad Rizwan stroked an unbeaten 115 in the second innings to lift Pakistan from a precarious 143 for seven in the second innings to 298 all-out that set the visitors a 370-run target.

While there were heart-warming wins, there were, at least, a couple of heartbreaks as well.

Pakistan narrowly lost the Jamaica Test against the West Indies by one-wicket in August that ultimately denied Pakistan a second successive series victory in the Caribbean.

Then, on 11 November in Dubai, the ghost of 2010 T20 World Cup came back to haunt Pakistan when Matthew Wade struck Shaheen Shah Afridi for three successive sixes in the penultimate over to earn a five-wicket victory for Australia, who had needed 37 off the last three overs and 22 from the final 12 deliveries.

From a player perspective in the ODIs, Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman deserved to end up on the winning sides for their breathtaking innings, but that wasn’t to be. Babar’s 139-ball 158 against England in Birmingham went in vain as England triumphed by three wickets to win the series 3-0, while Fakhar Zaman’s 193 from 155 balls with 18 fours and 10 sixes failed to help Pakistan cross the line at Centurion where South Africa won by 17 runs. Pakistan won the series 2-1.

In Test cricket, Abid Ali finished as the pick of Pakistan batters with 695 runs in nine Tests. He was followed by Fawad Alam (571), Azhar Ali (549), Mohammad Rizwan (455) and Babar Azam (416 runs). Amongst the bowlers, Shaheen Shah Afridi took 47 wickets, followed by Hasan Ali (41), Nauman Ali (19), Sajid Khan (18) and Faheem Ashraf (10).

In the six ODIs, No.1 ranked Babar Azam topped the batting chart with 405 runs, followed by Fakhar Zaman (365), Imam-ul-Haq (189) and Mohammad Rizwan (134). Haris Rauf was the most successful bowler with 13 wickets, while Shaheen Shah Afridi bagged eight wickets.

No.3-ranked Mohammad Rizwan stole the T20I batting honours by amassing 1,326 runs in 29 matches with one century and 12 half-centuries, including a 52-ball 67 against Australia in Dubai after spending 30 hours in a hospital due to a chest infection prior to the match. Babar Azam, who finished as the second-ranked batter, contributed 939 runs whereas Fakhar Zaman contributed 415 runs. Haris Rauf established his credentials as a successful white-ball bowler by finishing at the top with Hasan Ali on 25 wickets, while Shaheen Shah Afridi was once again amongst wickets with 23. Shadab Khan took 20 wickets.

These numbers could have been more impressive had the three ODIs and five T20Is against New Zealand, two T20Is against England in September/October and three ODIs against the West Indies gone ahead as planned. However, New Zealand abandoned the tour on the day of the series opener citing security concerns and England followed suit. Both the boards later agreed to tour Pakistan in 2022 along with the West Indies, who had to return home following a Covid-19 outbreak in their ranks that left them depleted and under-strength for the ICC World Cup Super League ODIs.

With Australia already scheduled to tour Pakistan for three Tests, three ODIs and one T20I in March/April 2022, Pakistan braces for one of the busiest and heaviest home international cricket calendar year with as many as eight Tests, 11 ODIs and 13 T20Is lined-up. Separately, Pakistan will tour Sri Lanka for Tests, ODI and the ACC T20 Cup, before they participate in October’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia.

Contrary to the men’s side, the national women’s side had a forgettable calendar year, winning only three of their 13 ODIs and one of their six T20Is. However, more importantly, they qualified for the ICC Women’s World Cup New Zealand 2022 as well as the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022.

At the pathways level, Pakistan Shaheens welcomed 2021 with two consecutive victories against New Zealand A then toured Sri Lanka in October/November. In both the four-day matches, Sri Lanka A held their nerves to hold them to draws, while in the only completed 50-over match, Shaheens won by six wickets. Pakistan U19 then played in the ACC U19 Asia Cup in which they defeated Afghanistan, India and UAE in group matches but lost to Sri Lanka in the semi-final.

In a year when a number of international sport events continued to be affected by Covid-19, HBL Pakistan Super League 6 was no different. After 14 matches in February/March in Karachi, the remaining 20 matches had to be played in Abu Dhabi in June where Multan Sultans clinched their maiden title when they defeated Peshawar Zalmi by 47 runs.

Apart from the HBL PSL 6, the PCB organised nine other domestic tournaments in which 267 matches were played across Pakistan.

Away from on-field action, Pakistan achieved two major successes when they were awarded hosting rights of the ACC 50-over Asia Cup in 2023 as well as the ICC Champions Trophy 2025. Pakistan last staged an ACC event in 2008, while the last ICC event was in 1996, which they co-hosted with India and Sri Lanka. The awarding of the two events was a testament of Pakistan security agencies successes as the world eventually recognised security is no more an issue.

Legendary Abdul Qadir and Fazal Mahmood were inducted into the PCB Hall of Fame where they will join Hanif Mohammad, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Zaheer Abbas, who were the initial inductees by virtue of being part of the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame.

There was also a change of guard in the second half of 2021 when Ehsan Mani completed his three-year term and was succeeded by former Pakistan captain Ramiz Raja. After Chief Executive Wasim Khan also decided to step down from his role in September, the PCB, through a robust recruitment process, appointed experienced finance and sports administrator Faisal Hasnain as the new Chief Executive.

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