Pakistan Cricket Team has always been unpredictable. One can expect the team to hit their highest and lowest in back-to-back games. But for the first time there has been consistency shown by the team, mainly thanks to the amazing performances of Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman and Muhammad Rizwan.
Pakistani team used to struggle in South Africa always, as the Proteas dominated them in all the format. Apart from one series victory in 2013, Pakistan lost all the ODI and Test series in South Africa. In fact, they used to dominate Pakistan even when they visited here. But for the the first time, we saw dominance of Pakistani team in South Africa.
Some experts think the results could have been different, if South Africa had played with their full strength team. Many of their players had left the national side to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL) which also started a debate, that players should give priority to International cricket. But the team management believes it is the perfect time to play in India, with T20 World Cup in India, only few months away.
South Africa started the ODI series with their full strength side, but even in that match, Pakistan dominated them. Babar Azam scored century in the first match as visitors chased down a target of 274 runs. It appeared at one stage that Pakistan were going to win the game easily, but after the dismissal of Babar Azam, there was a sudden collapse, but Muhammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf made sure that Pakistan crossed the finishing line, off the last ball.
In the second match, home team bounced back strongly and posted a huge total of 341 runs on the board. It was not a surprise, as the match was played at Wanderers stadium, where the historic match between Australia and South Africa was played in 2006. Australia had crossed 400 runs for the first time in that match, but astonishingly, South Africa chased that.
Pakistan were struggling to chase, which could have been their highest successful chase, but then Fakhar Zaman played one of the best ODI innings. Fakhar Zaman broke Ricky Ponting and Herschelle Gibbs’s record of highest individual score at the ground. Both of them had played those innings in the historic match of 2006, but Fakhar knock was surely better than theirs, as he fought alone and scored 193 runs. The second highest score of the innings was 31, but he stayed there till the last over and was on the verge of first player to score 2 double centuries outside home, but got run out in a controversial manner, as wicket-keeper Quinton De Kock distracted him by pointing towards the other end.
The IPL-players left after the second match, which made Pakistan’s job much easier. Fakhar Zaman scored another century in the third match whereas Babar Azam played a classical innings of 94 runs off 82 balls to help Pakistani register 320 runs. The skipper could have scored a century, as he needed a last ball six, but was unfortunately caught near boundary.
Babar’s heroics were still enough to get him the Number 1 ODI ranking for the first time. Indian captain Virat Kohli was dethroned after a reign of more than 4 years. Babar also helped his team win the ODI series for the second time in South Africa.
Muhammad Rizwan, the top performer of Pakistan in T20s in 2021, joined Babar Azam as the opener in the T20 series and helped Pakistan chase their highest target in the first T20. Bowlers struggled once again, like they always do in South Africa due to shorter boundaries and batting pitches, but top order made sure that winning run was kept going.
In the second match, Sharjeel Khan was brought in, as Fakhar Zaman missed match due to allergic reaction on his leg. Change in the winning combination affected the team, as there was a batting collapse. Everyone except Babar Azam failed, who played a slow innings to score a fifty off 49 balls, which was his slowest in T20 career. Babar Azam was criticized by many for that batting display.
The Pakistani captain responded in the strongest way possible in the next match. South Africa had posted a total of 203 on the board, which was only the second time in the history that a team scored more than 200 runs against Pakistani bowling line-up. For obvious reasons Pakistan had never chased a total of 200 runs successfully. And many would not have expected them to do it in the third match as well.
Babar Azam and Muhammad Rizwan broke many records, as they had a partnership of 197 runs in response. That was the highest ever partnership for Pakistan in T20s and highest partnership for any team in second innings. Babar Azam went on to become highest scorer for Pakistan in an individual innings whereas Rizwan became top scorer of T20 Internationals in 2021. The batsmen made history in style, as Pakistan chased the record total for the loss of only 1 wicket and with 2 overs to spare.
In the last T20, the bowlers bounced back strong and bowled out South Africa for just 144 runs. Faheem Ashraf and Hassan Ali took 3 wickets each whereas Haris Rauf, who had been out of form throughout the series, also picked up 2 key wickets.
Muhammad Rizwan, who had been in great form whole year, failed to score any run in the fourth match, making his scores, 74 not, 0, 73 not out and 0 in the series. Even with 2 ducks, he averaged 73.5 in the series.
This time it was Fakhar Zaman, who accompanied the skipper and had a match winning partnership with Babar Azam. The left-hander reached his half century off just 27 balls. This was his first fifty in almost 3 years, which was badly needed for Pakistan, considering this is T20 World Cup year.
Babar Azam finished the series with scores of 14, 50, 122 and 24, a total of 210 runs, which gives him a good chance to regain his No. 1 T20 ranking. Babar Azam is also in prime position to become fastest batsman to score 2000 runs in T20 Internationals as he has 1940 runs in 49 innings. Currently Virat Kohli is fastest to achieve that in 56 innings. So Babar Azam needs only 60 runs from 6 innings to break the record.
After easily winning the series, Pakistan will travel to Zimbabwe to play 3 T20s and 2 Test matches. We can expect Babar and Rizwan to break few records in that series too. These wins against weak sides may not give Pakistan the quality of cricket, but it would give the players the thing they needed the most, and that is momentum and confidence.