Last week, while watching Bangladesh complete a nervous chase to record a historic away win over Sri Lanka, I came across an article listing teams that have won their 100th Test.
Pakistan was one of the teams on that list and the match in question was one of the most ridiculous of all time, thanks to an utterly ridiculous/remarkable spell of what might have been reverse swing bowling by Sarfaraz Nawaz. Long before he served as the clear leader in the intensely challenging competition of the craziest Pakistani ex-cricketer, he ripped Australia apart at the MCG with a spell of 7 for 1. And in the haphazard video clips that remain of that event, he also spent some time riling up a scarily rowdy crowd at the ground.
Safe to say, no other country won their 100th Test in such an outrageous manner, and in that sense it feels fitting that out of all the countries in the cricket world, it is Pakistan that pulled this off. But the issue always is that outrageousness in Pakistani cricket forever swings both ways.
One of the considerably more ‘subtle’ of Pakistan cricket’s outrageous lows is that no team has ever won a series away to the West Indies. That might be a small surprise to those fed on the buffet of how Imran’s mighty side never lost a series to arguably the greatest team of all time - the Windies of the ‘80s - but Pakistan didn’t win against them either. Which is fine, but then the great 90s side also lost the only time in that decade they toured the Windies in what was an epically disastrous tour off the field. Since the 2000s, Pakistan have visited thrice and somehow failed to win a series even as the West Indies keep getting weaker.
Consider the rest of the world. Australia have won their last four tours to the Caribbean while India - who picked up their maiden series win this millennium also - and South Africa have won their last three. England, perhaps retaining the scars of the past, has only one series win in the last 57 years, but that came in 2004, so pretty recently.
Now these are the sides that get plenty of Tests on tours and thus have longer to adjust and make their mark. But even when compared to the sides used to the two-test tours, Pakistan’s record is pathetic. New Zealand have won two of their last three series away to the West Indies, while Bangladesh also picked up a series win in 2009! Only Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka share Pakistan’s record, and the Lankans haven’t visited in 10 years, and have had only three tours in their entire history.
Pakistan, who have been touring the islands since 1957, have three draws and four losses in seven series. For a while, most of the younger sides in Test cricket had far worse records, but this century most have managed to change that except Pakistan.
In 2000, the series was as close as it can theoretically get, decided on the final day by one wicket. A rainout and a draw had left the final test with all to play for, and in a pulsating match, the West Indies needed 214 to win the match.
Wasim Akram, in the middle of what was the peak of fixing allegations against him and his generation, tried to find redemption in the field. His 30 overs were a third of the final innings, where he conceded at 1.67 RPO and took 5 wickets. Infamously though, the umpires refused to listen to Pakistan’s appeals, and predictably, the team fluffed simple runout chances to allow the hosts to crawl to the target. In many ways, this was the match more than Centurion 2003 that killed the idea of the 90s side.
In 2005, Bob Woolmer and Inzimam’s still evolving side couldn’t deal with two of the longest suffering Caribbean legends - Brian Lara and Shiv Chanderpaul. Lara hit 130 and 48, Shiv 92 and 153 in the first Test, and Pakistan gave fivers to Fidel Edwards and Chris Gayle in each innings to lose by a massive margin. The batsmen were far better in the second test, where Lara got another ton, but it was the bowlers who ripped out the West Indian chase of a stiff target of 280. Four for Shabbir, five for Kaneria including Lara for a duck. It was the first time in their history that Pakistan were touring for only two Tests, which meant that the improving side couldn’t bounce back. In an era where most sides recorded series wins, Pakistan fluffed their chance.
2011 presented perhaps the best opportunity ever. Even Lara was gone by now, and the Windies cricket had been in freefall after a major fight between the players and the board. Yet once again, Pakistan failed to win the series. In the first match, the batting was woeful on what was a low scoring match in general. Abdur Rehman scored 25% of the team’s first innings total, and Umar Akmal played responsibly (!) in a lineup with seven scores under 6 in the final innings. Rehman and Ajmal then combined with a much stronger batting effort to win the next match and draw the series.
In a few weeks, for at least the third time in succession, Pakistan will have a chance to finally get off the mark in a region where they should have won at least one series several years earlier. Misbah’s team is a much stronger side than either of the previous two to visit here. The captain is also the first ever Pakistani to return to the West Indies as skipper, a fact that in retrospect isn’t as surprising as it first sounded.
But then again, West Indies were the team where Pakisan began its fatal slide last year after going to the no. 1 spot. A succession of collapses left them barely winning one match and losing another, and it started a run of six consecutive losses for the team. Once again, this away series isn’t quite a done deal, even if it should be.