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Pakistan’s performances in Test cricket during 2020 left a lot to be desired as the team failed to live up to expectations.
In a world affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, Pakistan team still retained their unpredictability factor amid the new normal.
Be it the heartbreak in the Manchester Test or the fightback in the last match of the year, against New Zealand, Pakistan team gave its fans, and the cricketing world in general, lots to talk about.
Pakistan’s only win in Test cricket, during the year, came against Bangladesh in February at home, when they outclassed the Tigers by an innings and 44 runs in Rawalpindi. The two teams were scheduled to play another Test, later in April, but that was postponed due to Covid-19.
In England, Pakistan lost the first Test in Manchester, despite being in a winning position, after a stunning partnership between Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler. Pakistan were left to rue the missed opportunity as the next two matches ended in a draw — largely due to rain and frustrating bad light rules.
Pakistan ended the year with a thrilling finish in the Test match against New Zealand. Despite being down and out for majority of the game, Pakistan should great resilience on the final day, courtesy a brilliant 165-run partnership between Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan, to stay alive in the match. Although, Pakistan eventually lost the match but the fight they showed was commendable.
There was obviously tons of debate on Babar Azam’s growing stature as batsman but, despite ending the year as the team’s top run-scorer, the Men in Green’s star batsman would, perhaps, feel that he was unable to stamp his authority away from home.
Babar scored a hundred, 143, against Bangladesh in Rawalpindi but was only able to score two fifties in five innings on the England tour. He was also unable to feature in the first Test against New Zealand due to a thumb fracture.
Naseem Shah hat-trick
Pakistan’s 16-year-old pace sensation Naseem Shah became the youngest cricketer in the history of Test cricket to take a hat-trick after his inspired spell of fast-bowling against Bangladesh on day three of the first Test match between the sides at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium in Rawalpindi.
The fast-bowler removed batsmen Najmul Hossain Shanto, Taijul Islam and Mahmudullah just as the visitors were building towards a fight-back in their second innings after Pakistan posted a formidable total in their first innings.
The 16-year-old broke the record previously held by Bangladesh's leg-spinner Alok Kapali who achieved the feat as a 19-year-old against Pakistan in 2003.
Fawad Alam century in New Zealand
Fawad Alam’s hard work finally paid off after he scored a century in the first Test against New Zealand.
Alam had been discarded by Pakistan in 2009 after three Tests and a best innings of 168, and since his recall this year his highest score was 21 against England in August.
New Zealand had been hot favourites to win the first Test as the final day started with the tourists 71-3 but a 165-run partnership between Fawad Alam and Mohammad Rizwan gave the tourists a chance of a draw, if not an unlikely victory.
There were a few loose shots early in his innings and a nerve-wracking moment when a ball ricocheted off his arm and bounced dangerously close to the stumps. Otherwise, he staunchly held his own through 269 deliveries before bringing up his century with a four off Wagner.
Manchester Test defeat
A magnificent partnership between Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes propelled England to an unlikely three-wicket win over Pakistan in a topsy-turvy first Test at Old Trafford.
Woakes joined Buttler at the crease with England having slumped to 117-5 and seemingly sliding to defeat in their pursuit of a daunting 277 on a bowler-friendly pitch
But between them Buttler and Woakes launched a superb counter-attack to turn the tide of the match towards the hosts with a sixth-wicket stand worth 139 runs.
The result of the series could have been different if Pakistan had not let that Test match slip away.
First innings collapse against New Zealand
After New Zealand had posted a formidable first innings total of 431, Pakistan lost 6 wickets for just 80 runs on the board. Also, the innings went nowhere as the visitors took 60 overs to get to this stage and put themselves in a precarious situation.
The tourists had been facing the prospect of being asked to bat again after captain Mohammad Rizwan was sensationally run out by Mitchell Santner for 71 to end a 107-run partnership with all-rounder Faheem Ashraf, who scored a career-best 91, that left them at 187/7.
Faheem, however, saw them past the follow-on and surpassed his previous highest score of 83 against Ireland before he was dismissed.
Had Pakistan batted more sensibly in the first innings, they would have been in a better position to challenge New Zealand.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan was under a lot of pressure, since he replaced former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, but he has done his reputation no harm whatsoever since his inclusion in the lineup.
The right-handed lower-order batsman was the second highest run-scorer for Pakistan, in 2020, with 302 runs under his belt along with four crucial fifties.
The importance of the runs he score can be gauged by the fact that three out of his four fifties came at a time when Pakistan had lost half their side for less than 130 runs on the board.
He was also rewarded with the temporary captaincy of the Pakistan side, when Babar Azam was ruled out of the first Test against New Zealand due to an injury. Although, one Test is a small sample size for assessing his captaincy credentials but Rizwan seemed at ease despite the additional responsibility and it did not affect his performance.
Pakistan’s batting is usually the weaker link, especially when it comes to Test cricket, which is precisely the reason why Rizwan’s consistent performances lower down the order will help the team’s cause as they now have an additional batsman to rely on.
His defiant fifty, during first innings of the second Test in Southampton, made former captain Nasser Hussain take a dig at the England team as well.
“It wasn’t as if they were bowling to Virat Kohli or Steve Smith, guys who routinely bat well with the lower order. This was Mohammad Rizwan we’re talking about — a Test novice with one half-century before this, trying to make his way in English conditions,” he said.