Azhar Ali and Babar Azam had scored centuries in the first innings and Haris Sohail and Imam-ul-Haq impressed in the second one.
It may have been a warm-up game — played what now seems like eons ago — but Pakistan’s batsmen had given their fans reason for optimism before the Test series against South Africa had started.
Yet there never was any optimism, was there? Deep down, everyone knew things wouldn’t pan out this way. The players would be different. So would the pitches. In our heart of hearts, everyone knew what we were doing; sending our own to be bullied and humiliated, doomed to return with their pants around their ankles.
A few people expressed confidence that the team would do well in South Africa but those who uttered the words found it difficult to convince themselves, let alone others.
The air of inevitability was haunting. This was to be no battle, this was to be a massacre. Not a war but a slaughter. And so they went, dead men walking.
But, like Malcolm in the Middle’s Dewey, we expected nothing and yet were disappointed. Nothing in cricket is as much of a train wreck as Pakistan at their worst.
The batsmen threw away their wickets in almost comical fashion. The pace bowlers bowled slower than they ever did.
The fielders took catches that could have changed the game only for them to be given not out. Wicketkeeper and skipper Sarfraz Ahmed claimed a national record 10 catches in one game while also showcasing why he is one of the worst glovesmen around at this level.
There was very little that made sense. Asad Shafiq scored at a strike-rate of 74.4; bettering his strike-rate across 60 ODIs, let alone Tests. Hasan Ali had the best batting average as well as the best batting-strike rate for Pakistan. Shan Masood had the best bowling average as well as the best bowling strike-rate for Pakistan. Masood also claimed more wickets in the series than Yasir Shah did.
The left-handed opener was Pakistan’s most consistent batsman and yet may not have played had Haris Sohail not gotten injured.
For brief moments there was fight too, but it was always usually a lone warrior fighting a lost cause. Instead, all we were left with were a lot of what if moments. What if those two catches had been given out? What if the batting hadn’t collapsed the way it did in the first two Tests? What if the batsmen hadn’t been that stupid? What if Vernon Philander not gotten injured and Duanne Olivier not even played in the series?
What if. What if. What if. But deep down, we all knew this was inevitable. No match lasted longer than the first session of the fourth day. This was painfully men against boys.
It would be tempting to put this off as Pakistan’s allure; that neither their best nor their worst makes any sense. But this was worse than that. This was not mercurial and unpredictable Pakistan. This was the same old Pakistan. There were the typical struggles against pace and bounce. There was the poor team selection and the even poorer shot selection. There were the dramatic batting collapses. There were the dropped catches. There were the rumours of an unsettled and unhappy dressing room. There was the finger pointing.
Fitting then that a nonsensical run-out brought a familiar yet bizarre series to an end.
The cracks have been there for a very long time now. The house was bound to collapse in front of South Africa’s relentless pace battery. That it would show a little grace in collapsing was all that Pakistani fans were hoping for; it turned out to nothing more than fool’s hope.
The inquest into the series will now begin in earnest. There will be many who may lose their place and even the ‘senior trio’ of Sarfraz, Azhar and Shafiq are assured of their future now. Considering they have all regressed considerably since the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, nor should they be. Instead of stepping into Misbah and Younis’s shoes, the trio have shrunk in their own.
The problems though lie at several doorsteps, starting from the selectors all the way to the players. Pakistan must do something to address them, and they must do something fast.