Couple of years ago, Shahid Afridi was heavily criticised for saying “there is no talent in Pakistan and we do not have the talent which cricket demands these days.” Afridi perhaps could not convey his thoughts correctly at that time as a year later he clarified what he meant was “we do not have facilities to train and develop younger players.”
The player development in Pakistan has been a subject of debate for many years especially in Test cricket. The tournaments like Pakistan Super League and Pakistan Cup, a domestic 50 overs tournament, have played a vital role in honing skills of players and improving their limited overs game. Pakistan is number one team in the T20 Rankings after having won ten series in a row and in a much better shape in ODIs compared to 2016 when it was staring at a possibility of missing direct qualification for Cricket World Cup 2019. However, the Test team, which touched the summit in ICC Test Rankings, has nosedived to number seven in two years. For the first time in their history, Pakistan also lost 6 consecutive Tests in that period.
The brief success Pakistan has had in Tests in the recent years has mainly been due to the seasoned pros (Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Amir) or the players – such as Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas - who made their debuts in first-class cricket before 2010, the era when the scheduling, format and pitches were helpful for players to develop Test skills. Afridi’s ascertainment regarding development of younger players makes sense if we have a look at some facts mentioned below.
Since 2010, Pakistan have given first-class caps to 625 players. Surprisingly, none of them has gone on to earn a man-of-the-match award in Tests or score a Test century. No fast bowler and only one spin bowler, Bilal Asif against Australia in Dubai, has taken a five-wicket haul.
38 players have made Test debuts for Pakistan this decade and 12 of those are the ones who came into first-class cricket after 2010. There is no problem with these numbers. In fact, 12 is a decent amount of Test cricketers to come in a decade. The problem is the post-2010 players are either playing second fiddle or not producing game-changing performances as players of other countries have.
Pakistan’s post-2010 players are: Ehsan Adil (3 Tests), Sami Aslam (13), Iftikhar Ahmed (1), Babar Azam (15), Mohammad Nawaz (3), Shadab Khan (4), Hasan Ali (4), Faheem Ashraf (3), Imam-ul-Haq (4), Bilal Asif (2), Fakhar Zaman (1) and Mir Hamza (1). None of them has earned a man-of-the-match award in Tests.
No, man-of-the-award is a subjective call and sometimes even players with centuries or five-wicket hauls do not receive it. For example, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan both scored centuries against England in Dubai Test in 2015 but the award was given to Wahab Riaz for his four wickets in the first innings. One could argue Misbah or Younis deserved it more than the bowler.
But here we are not talking about one or two matches. The 12 players mentioned above have played 54 Tests combined. If your players have gone 54 Tests without convincing any jury that they played a match-winning role then this should raise a few eyebrows.
The only player who can lay a claim to have produced a match-winning effort is Fakhar Zaman with his 94 when Pakistan were reeling at 57-5 in the second Test against Australia in Abu Dhabi or maybe Hasan Ali with four wickets on the opening day of Lord’s Test earlier this year. However, in both games Mohammad Abbas had a bigger role to play.
Babar Azam has the highest score of 99 in 15 Tests ©AFP
The most shocking statistic here is that the former under-19 trio of Babar, Sami and Imam have gone 32 Test matches without a single century between them. It might be little harsh on Imam as he’s played only 4 Tests so far but Babar and Sami playing 28 Tests without a three-figure score shows their skills in the domestic cricket were not really honed. Babar came close to getting one in the second Test against Australia in Abu Dhabi but was dismissed on 99. It is only a matter of time before he gets one but whenever he does it will now be due to his experience of Test cricket not first-class cricket.
These players are learning some of the basic skills while being on the job. On the other hand, Haris Sohail, who made Test debut after Babar and Sami, needed only six Tests to score his maiden Test century. It is not a coincidence that Haris is also a pre-2010 player.
Ben Stokes and Kagiso Rabada both came in first-class cricket after 2010 and have earned 5 Test player-of-the-match awards apiece. Even if we are to believe that these two are exceptional talents, every team, except Pakistan and Zimbabwe, will still have at least one player who produced a big performance to win his team a Test match.
20-year-old Sama Curran was the player-of-the-series against India ©AFP
20 years old Sam Curran was player-of-the-series recently against India for scoring 272 runs and taking 11 wickets. Prithvi Shaw, who made the red-ball debut only in 2017, scored a century on Test debut against Windies this month. Karun Nair in his only third Test scored a triple-century against England. Hardik Pandya has been another match-winner. Shai Hope scored twin centuries to win Windies a Test in Leeds. Shane Dowrich did it as well against Sri Lanka in Port of Spain. Mehidy Hasan took 19 wickets in debut series and won a Test against England in Dhaka.
Kusal Mendis won Sri Lanka a Test against Australia in Pallekele with 176 in the second innings when the team was three wickets down and 41 runs behind. Dhananjaya de Silva produced a similar performance in the same series. Mark Craig’s 7 wickets beat Pakistan by an innings in Sharjah. Joe Burns scored a match-winning 170 in Christchurch. Pat Cummins took 6 wickets on Test debut. Aiden Markram, who played U19 World Cup Final against Imam and Sami in 2014, today has four Test centuries.
None of Pakistan’s post-2010 players has a similar performance to show.
It might be one of the smaller reasons but not a major one because if it was then Pakistan would not be the number one T20 team and have not produced good limited overs players like Babar Azam, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman. Pakistan’s limited overs cricket is in a better shape because of better facilities and tournaments available to players at the domestic levels. Test players do not have the same luxury. There is also example of South Africa who, despite not playing international cricket for two decades, made a comeback in 1991 as a strong team because of a better first-class structure.