The challenge of Test cricket runs on the adaptation of teams and players to alien conditions, and true cricketing mettle is judged by the quality of away performances. For batsmen from the subcontinent, the windy climes of England and New Zealand provide the greatest differential from home conditions, with the conditions aiding liberal lateral movement. In a story of sparse successes away, Pakistan's record in New Zealand stands out, with their win-loss ratio since 2000 (2.00) only second to the domineering Australian side of the 2000s. Before 2016, they had played four series, drawing two and winning two. Even in England, their win-loss ratio (0.50) is bested only by South Africa (2.64) and Australia (2.00).
Pakistan's previous success has been fuelled by strong individual performances, not only from their bowlers, but also their batsmen, not usually considered their strong suit.
The following table presents two kinds of numbers for each of the five series:
Batting average difference: Pakistan's batting average - New Zealand's batting average.
Bowling S/R difference: Pakistan's bowling strike rate - New Zealand's bowling strike rate.
Table 1 shows a comparison of the batting average and bowling strike rate differences, from Pakistan’s point of view, over the five series they have played in New Zealand since 2000.
Table 1: Batting Average and Bowling Strike Rate Differences for Pakistan’s Tours to NZ - 2000 - 2016
These differential measures serve to tell us the magnitude by which the touring side's players have outperformed the home side in their respective traits. Obviously, a high batting average difference and a low (more negative) strike rate difference are better.
The 2-0 loss to New Zealand, coming on the back of a spirited contest in England and a brief flirtation with the No. 1 Test team spot, was a shock and the numbers tell the story of why they failed. Before 2016, Pakistan had a mean batting average difference of 5.03, and a mean bowling S/R difference of -6.25 over four series in New Zealand. Their most recent foray however sees them fall both on the batting and bowling fronts, with huge negative jumps in the figures from 2011.
Pakistan do well based on surges of extreme individual brilliance, countering their propensity for inexplicable collapses.
Let’s take a deeper look now by going through the individual performances by Pakistan players in New Zealand over this time period. Instead of using the usual metrics like averages and strike rates, we will try to account for the away conditions and comparing the touring team's performances to the home team.
For batting, we take each innings, and divide it by the batting average of the home team in that match. This gives a comparative rating to the knock, taking the home team's scores as the 'base'. Similarly, for bowling, we take the strike rate of a single innings for a bowler, and divide it by the strike rate of home team bowlers in that match. Then, we can average these numbers over all the matches played by a particular batsman or bowler to find a sort of 'mean scaled performance'.
Looking at the batting average ratios before 2016, for Asian batsmen in New Zealand, we see six Pakistani batsmen in the top 10, with Younis Khan, Umar Akmal, Mohammad Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq maintaining high mean ratios over substantial numbers of innings. If the 2016 series is included, Younis Khan's mean ratio drops to 1.81, and Misbah has a fall to 1.48.
Table 2: Batting Mean Ratios - Asian Batsmen Before 2016 in NZ
Now, we look at individual batting performances using the same metric: runs divided by the average of the home batsmen in that match. Younis Khan's specials in Auckland in 2001 take up the first and sixth spots, their high ratios aided by Saqlain Mushtaq's 8-wicket haul scuttling the hosts out for 252 and 131. Umar Akmal's debut innings takes one of the four other spots for Pakistan batsmen in the top 15.
The batting ratio also hides within it information about the bowling support provided to the batsman by his own team, since a better bowling attack correlates to lower averages for the opposing team, and thus higher ratios. Thus, it is also somewhat a gauge of the whole team's performance augmented with the individual performance of the batsman. High individual ratios correlate with team wins: Auckland 2001, Wellington 2009 and Hamilton 2011 were won by Pakistan.
Table 3: Best performances compared to the home batsmen - Asian batsmen in NZ from 2000 to 2016
More illuminating is looking at the bowling strike rate ratios of individual performances. Pakistan's forceful bowling results in them taking the top 5 spots, and four more in the next ten performances. This metric also factors in the performance of the team's batsmen, as that affects the strike rate of the opposition bowling.
Thus, positive team results favour low bowling strike rate ratios for individual performances, not only because of the bowling itself, but also due to the batsmen doing their job: Auckland 2001, Wellington 2003 and 2009, and Hamilton 2011 were emphatic victories.
Table 4: Best bowling performances compared to home bowlers - Asian bowlers in NZ from 2000 to 2016
A team that is entertaining for its unpredictability, Pakistan do well based on surges of extreme individual brilliance, countering their propensity for inexplicable collapses. In Auckland in 2001, a hefty victory came on the back of an imperious unbeaten 149 from Younis Khan, coupled with an eight-wicket burst from Mohammad Sami, and eight wickets in spin-unfriendly conditions by Saqlain Mushtaq. Shoaib Akhtar’s 5-48 and Mohammad Yousuf’s 88, both high on their respective rankings by ratios above, constructed another famous triumph at Wellington in 2003. In 2009 at the same ground, they were buoyed to a 141-run win on the basis of fifties from Kamran Akmal and Mohd. Yousuf in a low-scoring contest.
Comparative numbers from 2000 onwards have shown us the contextual value to some of their best performances, showing how their dominance in New Zealand is on the basis of strong bowling supported by some impactful batting from their stalwarts. Glancing at the numbers from the 2016 series and comparing them to the statistics before, we can quantify the underperformance of the current side.
For comparison, look at the batting ratio table for the 2016 series for Pakistan below. The highest two innings come at 2.42 and 2.39 respectively, nowhere close to the top numbers of the other years. The third is a paltry 1.6. Lack of big contributions, in the context of the match, hurt the team performance and that is reflected in the numbers.
Table 5: Pakistan in New Zealand 2016 - Individual Performance Batting Average Ratios
The bowling chart paints a similarly sorry picture. The lowest strike rate ratio is 0.59, removing Azhar Ali's solitary wicket in Christchurch, a far cry from the stellar performances from previous series.
Table 6: Pakistan in New Zealand 2016 - Individual Performance Bowling S/R Ratios
The low batting average ratios and the high bowling S/R ratios tell a story about the joint failure of both trades in Pakistan’s 2016 unit: they collapsed hard at least once in each Test, and their two mainstays: Younis and Misbah, failed to provide team-rousing performances like Mohd. Yousuf’s fifties in Wellington, or Younis’s own Auckland encore from fifteen years ago.
It was also the ineffectiveness of their bowling attack, most strikingly in the second innings of both games, that prevented them from asserting themselves on the series result: no burst of brilliance from Wahab like in 2011, no unexpected assistance from their premier spinner Yasir (a la Kaneria and Saqlain), and no wicket-spree from their first pacer Amir, like Sami and Shoaib before him (although Amir might not be completely to blame).
Although the tables for 2016 are topped by a couple of 90s and four-wicket hauls, in the context of the game, the contribution from the other set of specialists, and the numbers of the opposing side, they fail to provide the impact some of their touring seniors had, and the disappointing scoreline results.