Pakistan is present in England with the largest travelling squad in the history of cricket, including ten fast bowlers, four spinners, four opening batsmen, nine middle-order batsmen and two wicket-keepers.
The minute someone mentions Pakistan cricket, I think of one word: unpredictable.
They have won so many matches from the brink of defeat and lost from positions no team should ever lose from.
Here are my top five Test innings by Pakistan batsmen from the past decade.
5. Misbah Ul-Haq – 114 versus England – London, England, 2016
Pakistan were in a bit of strife at 3-77 and they needed a captain’s knock from Misbah Ul-Haq to get them out of trouble. The Pakistani skipper was very watchful against the duo of Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes before starting to accelerate the scoring.
He would form a 57-run stand with Younis Khan (33) before a whopping 148-run partnership with Asad Shafiq (73) for the fifth wicket. Misbah scored his 100th run off his 154th ball and boy did he celebrate in fashion. After saluting the dressing room, he proceeded to do ten push-ups. His innings would come to an end as Stuart Broad got one to nip back in sharply.
It had been six years since Pakistan left Lord’s in disgrace after the spot-fixing scandal. Misbah Ul-Haq wasn’t even in the Test side then, yet he was tasked with leading the Pakistan side a few months later. In his first Test innings in England, the 42-year-old skipper had his name on the Lord’s honour board. Pakistan would win by 75 runs as he led Pakistan to one of their greatest wins six years on from their biggest scandal.
4. Azhar Ali – 205 versus Australia – Melbourne, Australia, 2016
This is one of the best knocks I have seen by a Pakistani batsman in Australia. On a cloudy Boxing Day in Melbourne (no surprises), Pakistan opener Azhar Ali showed his class. With the MCG deck having pace and bounce, Ali was very cautious and watchful against Mitch Starc, Jackson Bird and Josh Hazlewood.
He played every shot against the Aussie pacers, except for the cover drive. Some of the straight drives he played were just brilliant to watch. He formed two big stands with Asad Shafiq (50) and bowler Sohail Khan (65) on his way to his double century. Pakistan would declare at 9-441 and Azhar remained 205 not out.
Azhar Ali is a class player and on a pitch that would trouble most subcontinental batsmen, he remained calm and composed. What was so impressive was that he made the Aussie attack bowl to his strength because of his patience to leave balls outside off.
A player of Azhar’s calibre surprisingly goes under the radar, but he has been my favourite Pakistan batsman to watch in Test cricket. Pakistan would lose on Day 5 by an innings due to some atrocious bowling and second-innings batting.
3. Asad Shafiq – 137 versus Australia – Brisbane, Australia, 2016
Pakistan were chasing 490 at the Gabba and they were playing more for pride than to win the game. Asad Shafiq walked in at number six with Pakistan 4-165 and sliding towards defeat. Despite Shafiq batting very solidly and watchfully, the loss of Younis Khan and Sarfaraz Ahmed saw Pakistan reach 6-224.
Shafiq realised that runs would put Australia on the back foot and he did just that. He started playing shots all around the ground as he rallied the Pakistan tail to bat with him. Shafiq formed partnerships of 92, 66 and 71 with Mohammad Amir (48), Wahab Riaz (30) and Yasir Shah (33).
With those partnerships with the tail, Pakistan were just 41 runs away from victory. But Mitch Starc bowled an absolute snorter where Shafiq popped it straight to the hands of David Warner at gully. Yasir Shah was run out in the same over as Australia won a thriller by 39 runs.
What was so impressive about Shafiq’s innings is that he never shielded the lower order. He had so much confidence in them and that is what had Australia a bit surprised. He played his shots and scored one of the best hundreds seen at the Gabba by a visiting batsman. Pakistan had nearly pulled off the impossible and Shafiq played a crucial role in that.
4. Younis Khan – 171 versus Sri Lanka – Pallekele, Sri Lanka, 2015
Chasing 382 in the third Test and the series squared at one-all, Pakistan were in deep trouble at 2-15. The Sri Lankan seamers were running riot and were leading their country towards a series victory. Younis Khan came in at four and needed to play a quality knock to pull off the chase of 377. And boy did the veteran do it in style.
Alongside Shan Masood, the pair put on 244 for the third wicket before the opener was dismissed for a well made 125. Skipper Misbah Ul-Haq came in and hung around with his partner as Khan finished the match 171 not out as Pakistan chased down 377 with seven wickets in hand.
What was great about Khan’s innings is how comfortable he was in this run chase against both pace and spin. With no Rangana Herath, Khan took advantage of off-spinner Tharindu Kaushal’s inexperience, sweeping him behind 45 and square leg continuously while he played some lovely shots all around the wicket against the Sri Lankan seamers. Sri Lanka’s attack had no answers to Khan and the Pakistan veteran led Pakistan to a series win.
5. Younis Khan – 218 versus England – London, England, 2016
Another classic from one of the finest Test cricketers to come out of Pakistan. Pakistan were down 2-1 in the series against England and went to the Oval needing to win to draw the series and go up to number one on the ICC Test rankings.
In reply to England’s 328, Pakistan were 3-127 when Khan walked out to bat. England’s bowlers had no answers to him. When their seamers bowled short, he played some flawless cut and pull shots. England’s seamers pitched it up, but to no avail – Khan confidently playing it straight, driving through the covers and flicking it past midwicket to the boundary.
But England’s spinner Moeen Ali felt the full brunt of the Pakistani veteran. He was absolutely clueless as to what to bowl to him. Khan mercilessly swept and reverse swept him. But his best shot against Ali was dancing down the wicket and smashing him down the ground and over midwicket for four sixes – his fourth six taking him to his sixth double century. Khan was finally trapped LBW to a Jimmy Anderson yorker for 218 as he walked back to the pavilion to a standing ovation from both sets of fans.
Khan had scored 122 runs in six innings in England that series before that innings. Khan credits Mohammad Azharuddin for this innings as the former Indian batsman called Khan and gave him some advice before that knock.
Khan’s knock was a brilliant one under immense pressure as Pakistan won by ten wickets and went up to number one in the ICC Test rankings. Younis Khan would finish off his last Tests in Australia, Sri Lanka and England with a Test hundred – 34 Test hundreds in his career means he was a truly a phenomenal player.