Pakistan might be at No.7 in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Team Rankings, but less than two years ago, they were right on top of the perch, at No.1, flying high after drawing a four-Test series in England 2-2.
According to ICC, the top ranking changed a few times in that period. At the start of 2016, India became No.1 when South Africa lost to England at home. Soon after, Australia were No.1 after winning in New Zealand, but after their loss in Sri Lanka, India climbed back to the top. The drawn series in England might not have been enough for Pakistan to become No.1, but India, already up 2-0 in the Caribbean, needed to win the final Test in Trinidad, which ended in a draw after rain.
“There is no greater feeling than to achieve the No. 1 ranking in the most traditional and purest format of the sport. This is what cricketers play for and want to achieve in their careers. It is a reward for something we had planned as a group a few years ago and have worked extremely hard to achieve it,” said Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain at the time.
Pakistan’s achievement, though short-lived, was more significant as it came without any Test cricket in their actual home country.
“Our long-term objective and strategy is to remain competitive, continue to challenge the top sides with good cricket,” Misbah had said at the time. With Pakistan back in England for a two-Test series, here’s a look at how they have gone in Test cricket since becoming No.1.
October 2016: Beat the Windies 2-1 (home – UAE)
The series in England got over on 14 August, and Pakistan’s next Test assignment was against the Windies at ‘home’ in October-November. Misbah and Younis Khan were still very much around, but after Pakistan went 2-0 up, Kraigg Brathwaite played the match of his life – 142* and 60* – to give the Windies victory in the final Test. The series still went to Pakistan, but with India beating New Zealand 3-0 at home just before the start of the Pakistan v Windies series, the top spot went away from Pakistan.
November 2016: Lost to New Zealand 2-0 (away)
Pakistan then travelled to New Zealand, always a tough country to tour for subcontinental teams. Scores of 133 and 171 meant the first Test, in Christchurch, was lost by eight wickets, and then the next Test in Hamilton was conceded by 138 runs after another mediocre batting show.
December 2016-January 2017: Lost to Australia 3-0 (away)
Across the Tasman Sea to Australia then, and the slide continued for Pakistan. It started with the day/night Test in Brisbane, where Pakistan started slowly but then put up an incredible show chasing 490 for victory. Azhar Ali (71) and Younis (65) did their bit at the top, but the star was Asad Shafiq, who batted over six-and-a-half hours to score 137. With the lower order coming good too, Pakistan did have a shot at pulling off what would have been an unlikely chase at the start, but they fell 39 runs short. That, however, wasn’t going to be the trend for the series, as Australia won the next two Tests without too much fuss – by an innings and 18 runs in Melbourne and by 220 runs in Sydney.
April-May 2017: Beat the Windies 2-1 (away)
Against the Windies again, this time in the Caribbean in what would be the last time out in Pakistan’s whites for Misbah and Younis. They managed to exit on a high, as Pakistan won the first Test by seven wickets in Kingston, then lost the second by 106 runs in Bridgetown – Shannon Gabriel the star this time with nine wickets for the match – but won the last one in Roseau by 101 runs to take the series.
Misbah got a half-century in the first innings and Younis scored an important 35* to set up a declaration in the second, but it was Azhar Ali’s century in the first hit and five-fors by Mohammad Abbas (first innings) and Yasir Shah (second innings) that did the job for Pakistan.
Coming as it did after Pakistan’s fantastic ICC Champions Trophy 2017 victory, it was a heady time for Pakistan cricket, but in the Test rankings, they were only around the middle by then.
September-October 2017: Lost to Sri Lanka 2-0 (home – UAE)
Pakistan had slipped a long way in the rankings then, but with the Sri Lanka Tests to be played in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a turnaround was on the cards, even with Sarfraz Ahmed taking charge of a team with a batting order low on experience. But Rangana Herath hadn’t got the memo – his 11 wickets in the first Test made it 1-0 to Sri Lanka with a 21-run win in the first Test. Dimuth Karunaratne’s 196 and eight wickets in the match for Dilruwan Perera then made it 2-0 with a 68-run win in the second.
May 2018: Beat Ireland 1-0 (away)
Then came a long gap in the format, till the Test match in Ireland – a historic first for the host country. Pakistan were on top to start with, but Kevin O’Brien’s 118 set the visitors a 160-run chase, which looked bigger once they slid to 14/3. But Imam-ul-Haq, one of the many newcomers to the Pakistan side, and Babar Azam did the job for them with half-centuries, taking their side to a five-wicket win.