The Pakistan cricket team can be said to have been in exile for the last six years. Ever since the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore, the UAE has been their home base. The numerous perils of not playing at home aren’t understood by many — it isn’t just the players’ psychological woes or that they must play on bland tracks in empty grounds, but also, as Wasim Akram and Misbah-ul-Haq once put it, that the lack of international cricket has threatened the rise of a new cricketing generation. In this context, Pakistan’s rise to the top spot in the ICC Test rankings is a spectacular achievement.
It would have been easier to understand if Pakistan had imploded in the Test series in England. Aging leaders, an inexperienced bowling attack that also included Mohammad Amir, who was awaiting rehabilitation, and a batting attack that wasn’t respected outside Asia, were some of the problems. Instead, the team has sparkled in English conditions. They surprised by starting with a win at Lord’s and seemingly returned to mediocrity in a crushing defeat at Old Trafford. The Pakistan team of recent vintage wouldn’t have risen from that sucker punch. But Misbah’s men came back through discipline and sweat to earn respect from the cricketing fraternity.
It was left to Misbah, the man who led the team’s revival, to put the achievement in perspective. “Sometimes people think it’s really easy for us playing in the UAE. I can only see my mother once a year. I see my sister once a year. Some of my friends, I could not see for three or four years because of these commitments. We are out of the country all the time, playing every game away from Pakistan is really difficult… There is no greater feeling than to achieve the number-one ranking in the most traditional and purest format of the sport. This is what cricketers play for…” From exile to exhilaration, it’s been quite a ride.