PAK v SA: A VICTORY AFTER 7 YEARS

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The cricket fans in Pakistan finally celebrated the moment they were waiting for so many years as their team defeated a top side in test match at home. The team did not enjoy much success against the Proteas in the past, as this was only the fifth overall test win against them. Other than Ireland and Afghanistan (against whom Pakistan has not played much) they were the opponent against which Pakistan recorded least victories.

This is also only the second win for Pakistan against South Africa at home, the previous being 17 years back in Lahore. The main reason being South Africa not playing much in Pakistan, as this is only their 4th visit. But still Pakistan could not win a match when they visited in 1997 and 2007. The other 3 win came either in South Africa or neutral venue.

The Pakistanis, unfortunately could not see the match in stadium due to Covid restrictions. But still they would be very happy to see the team excel like this. This was something the players also missed, because when the home crowd is cheering for you, it’s a different feeling to win at home ground.  Everything happens in steps, and crowd would be back to witness the matches soon. And there are still so many positives for the team, something they benefitted from due to playing in familiar conditions at home.

Some of the best points for the team has to be a great performance from the debutant Nauman Ali. The spinner became first left-armer Pakistani to claim 5 wickets on debut. He also became the oldest spinner to achieve this feat for Pakistan and fourth oldest overall in the world. It was also very satisfying for Pakistani fans to see him picking wickets, as he could not enjoy much success in first decade of his first class career but was among the highest wicket-takers of Quaid-e-Azam trophy in last three years. Many believed that he was too old to be given a chance and does not have many years left, but his performance in second innings proved that age is just a number for a world class cricketer.

Yasir Shah also supported him very well and picked up 7 wickets in the match. Many were criticizing him as he could not pick many wickets in Australia and New Zealand, but he caused batting collapse for the opponents in both innings but dismissing well settled batsmen.

The leg spinner has 234 wickets in 45 test wickets despite below average performance in 2 years, which shows that he could have broken many records of fastest wickets, if he was preserved for Asian conditions. He was fastest to 200 wickets and could easily have broken Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin’s record of fastest to 250 and 300 wickets. But now he will have to pick 16 wickets in next match to level that record, which looks impossible now. But if he is rested in overseas matches and saved for matches in Asian conditions, he could still break the record of fastest to 300 wickets, as Ashwin did it in 54 matches and Yasir Shah needs to take wickets with an average of 7 scalps per match.

The best thing about the match has to be Fawad Alam scoring a century at his home ground and winning the man of the match award. As he said after the match, it was like a dream come true. And like Nauman Ali, it was once again proved that age is just a number. It was a very tough situation when he came to bat as Pakistan were 27-4 and the day was about to end. The team had lost best batsman Babar Azam and the night watchman. His wicket at that time would have been a disaster, but he showed his experience and class. Nobody else could have shown resilience and character like him on that pitch.

He, once again converted his 50 into a century and became first Pakistani to convert first 3 half centuries into 100. 3 centuries in 3 different countries against different oppositions show that even though a decade of his career is wasted, but he will have much more to offer for the team in future.

Faheem Ashraf and Hassan Ali played as bowling all-rounders and added valuable runs with the bat. Even though the team was 27-4 at one stage, their effort added 350 and gave Pakistan the edge. If they can offer more with the ball, they can surely form a formidable pair, which will be helpful in bouncy conditions of SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) as well.

Last but not the least, it was a winning debut for Babar Azam. Previously, I had shown concern when Babar Azam was going to make his captaincy debut in New Zealand as the loss on captaincy debut would have shattered his confidence. His injury was blessing in disguise, as he did not have to take the burden of defeat.

It was a fresh new start for him and although he could not score a fifty, yet he showed some class in the second innings. Babar played some of his beautiful cover drives and got the confidence that he badly needed. He will surely learn from mistakes as he did not give enough chances to Yasir Shah and Nauman Ali, the two spinners to bowl together. In the past we saw the success of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman as they built the pressure together and it resulted in them picking up wickets. When Babar brought both of them together in last session of the third day, it resulted in South Africa losing three quick wickets.

Babar Azam cannot be blamed for mistakes as it was his first match as captain, but he will learn these things with time. His fielding placement will also need improvement, as he was fielding himself in slips despite dropping two catches. But Imran Butt, who picked a stunner to dismiss Aiden Markram in the first innings, remained out of slips for most of the time. He also picked a vital catch of George Linde in the leg slip later. But things are understood better when you win and he will surely work on it in upcoming matches.

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