x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pakistan's Test victory in Zimbabwe hardly matters

Perseverance paid off for Pakistan but, Osman Samiuddin says the manner of the win and a lack of focus in the team composition leaves many questions unanswered.

Unusually again forPakistan, it was the spinners who delivered against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.
Unusually again forPakistan, it was the spinners who delivered against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.

If ever a win was a no-win, it was this. Victory was both the minimum and maximum expectation in the one-off Test and so only if Pakistan had not won, would there have been anything even mildly stirring about the game.

Even the knowledge that the seven-wicket win meant Pakistan had won two Tests in a row for the first time since 2005 does little. Instead it is merely a reminder of how bad they have been.

And for nearly four days, they did not look like winning. Unwelcoming hosts at first, Zimbabwe then became needlessly and overbearingly indulgent.

Eight wickets fell for 69 on the fourth afternoon, and no plausible physical reason can be summoned.

Pakistan were merely persevering, Zimbabwe entirely spooked (although it still should not take away from an encouraging return to Test cricket).

And that really is the tale.

Mohammad Hafeez's third Test hundred was probably his least significant, which is something given his first two came against Bangladesh and a 2006 West Indian attack. Misbah-ul-Haq and Younus Khan scored runs, but why wouldn't they against this attack, on this surface?

Azhar Ali, meanwhile, furthered his reputation as a maker of "daddy" fifties.

Azhar has now made nine 50s in 13 Tests, but no hundreds and an average 50-plus score of nearly 77. Very soon, if not already, his inability to cash in when well set will begin to weigh him down.

At least fresher conclusions can be drawn from the bowling, though none overtly heartening, and reliant again mostly on spin, which never seems natural for Pakistan. Aizaz Cheema and Junaid Khan looked energetic and committed.

Should they start against Sri Lanka or England, they will need to be much more. Sohail Khan is unlikely to be there at all, not even to provide the comic relief in the field he did here.

Pakistan actually lost something important before the Test even began: the opportunity to make sure their first-choice fast bowling pair were in working order ahead of a big winter.

Now, when Pakistan take on Sri Lanka in the opening Test at Abu Dhabi from October 18, Umar Gul, always rusty when returning from a break, will not have played anything more substantial than Twenty20 cricket since May. At least Wahab Riaz has been playing four-day cricket, though it is still not been made clear why a player needed to be rested after just seven Tests.

Maybe Pakistan are hoping it will not matter. If the pitches in last year's series against South Africa in the UAE are anything to go by then their spinners (they have 57 of the 98 wickets taken by their bowlers this year) will matter more.