“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”
The Pakistan cricket team seems to be eternally stuck in Micheal Hoff’s spiral, with weak batsmen and strong bowlers maintaining a strange form of equilibrium over the years. The bowlers have come to accept that they will have to carry the team, becoming almost accustomed to shouldering the burden of the side’s batting failures. But perhaps never has the chasm between the batsmen and bowlers been as wide as it has been in 2018.
Fitting then, that the year ends with a defeat brought about by the kind of batting that would make schoolchildren hang their heads in shame, let alone Test cricketers of the highest calibre.
What now for the bowlers though? What do you say to athletes who have to train day in and day out while all the time knowing that their efforts are almost certain to yield only frustration and disappointment? What do you say to men who must run in and bowl their collective hearts out and yet, through no fault of their own, go home defeated? What do you say to kings who are doomed to rub shoulders with only beggars and fools?
Spare a thought then for Muhammad Abbas, the best bowler of 2018 not only in Pakistan but the entire world. A sorcerer blessed with the kind of magic that the world had thought lost ever since Glenn McGrath and Mohammad Asif left international cricket.
Spare a thought then for Yasir Shah, the fastest bowler to 200 Test wickets. Capable of defeating any opponent on his day, yet often defeated by the incapability of his own teammates.
Spare a thought too for Muhammad Amir, the prodigal son. A bowler capable of transcending the realms of mere mortals and elevate cricket into a land where even the very limitations of physics seem to be at the mercy of his whims.
Spare a thought for Hasan Ali, always the unlikely saviour. A pacer consumed by an insatiable hunger for wickets and with more tricks up his sleeve than David Copperfield himself.
Spare a thought for Shaheen Shah Afridi, all of 18 years old. Already accustomed to personal success and collective failure.
Spare a thought for them all, for they must carry around with them the dead weight that is Pakistan’s batting.
Spare a thought for them all, because what is easily the best bowling unit in the world right now does not deserve to be seventh in the Test rankings.
On the face of it, no job in cricket is more difficult than that of being a Pakistan Test bowler in the modern era.
Most of their living is earned in the unforgiving heat of the UAE desert on dead pitches and deader stadiums. The idea of ‘scoreboard pressure’ seems almost alien to them, so few and far in between are the times that the batsmen put up big scores. When they look around them with the ball in hand, they see without doubt the worst fielding unit in Test cricket and almost certainly the worst wicketkeeper at this level.
Often, they are asked to defend totals that they have no right defending. Even when they do dismiss the other team out cheaply, there is always the chance that the batsmen will somehow contrive to mess up even the most favourable of situations.
It is a job in which the perils are many and the rewards few.
In terms of bowling, 2018 has been Pakistan’s best year since 1993. Yet the side has won only four matches all year, one of which was against Ireland. The pace trio of Amir, Hasan and Abbas have all had the best year of their careers. Yasir’s 2018 is the second-best of his life, missing out to his stellar 2015 by an average of just 0.85.
These strong men have created some good times, but those good times have created some weak men. The senior trio of Azhar Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq have failed their teammates over and over again this year. This is Azhar and Sarfraz’s worst calendar year ever since they established themselves as regulars in the side five years ago. Asad bucks that trend by having his second worst year but only because he was so outlandishly poor in 2017.
Ever since Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan departed from the international stage, the bowlers have been fighting a losing battle against the mediocrity of their own teammates. Spare a thought then for all that genius, hard-work and talent; it is all for naught.