There were more positives for Pakistan cricket than there were negatives in 2014. And the positives were bigger if individual performances are counted.
Flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Afridi came of age, finally — having made his debut 18 years ago. He gave match-winning performances as a bowling all-rounder. During most of his career, he had batted well mainly when he was sent in to bat in the early overs. But now he has developed the ability to keep the scoreboard ticking and hit when the situation demands big strikes. His two match-winning innings in Asia Cup and then consistent performance in the recent series against New Zealand prove that he has finally matured as a cricketer and can be relied upon.
We lost Saeed Ajmal towards the end of the year, but found three talented spinners who can prove worthy replacements in the medium to long term. Zulfiqar Babar can serve Pakistan for two to three years, while Yasir Shah and Raza Hasan have many more years to serve the country.
Yasir and Zulfiqar took 27 wickets each from five Tests. They made one remember the days when Pakistan used to win matches on the back of Abdul Qadir’s and Iqbal Qasim’s performances.
Besides, our pacers kept developing injuries but there were talented youngsters to replace them. Seven of our batsmen averaged more than 40 in the Test matches, led by Younis Khan, who averaged more than 71 — he is certainly one of the greatest batsmen Pakistan has produced. He is no less than Javed Miandad, Inzamamul Haq and Mohammad Yousuf.
Six of our batsmen averaged more than 30 in the ODIs, which was not too bad.
Moreover, we finally found players who can fill in the void that will be created by the departure of Younis and Misbah in both Tests and ODIs. Sohaib Maqsood and Haris Sohail are capable of staying long at the wicket and will form a solid middle-order with the likes of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Fawad Alam in the years to come.
But the biggest positive of the year was the emergence of Sarfraz Ahmad as a reliable wicket-keeper batsman. He scored three centuries during the year, which is perhaps a record for Pakistan by a wicket-keeper.
Ahmed Shehzad proved himself a solid opening batsman for Tests by scoring three centuries.
An inexperienced bowling attack consisting of Rahat Ali, Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah demolished the Australians in Tests. Rahat bowled effectively on the placid tracks of the UAE, particularly in the first Test against New Zealand in which he took six wickets and was deservedly given the man of the match award.
Another positive development for Pakistan was the decision of the selectors to keep Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal out of the team. They haven’t been able to perform well for quite some time. Besides, whenever these two are in the team there are reports of disunity.