Despite going through so much, Pakistan’s homeless cricket team is still better than it has ever been

The No 1 ranking is not a destination, but part of a journey. The long term objective is to remain competitive, challenge top spots with good cricket and once again become the most followed side like the Pakistan teams of yesteryears

Pakistan’s homeless cricket team have come a long way to reach on top of the Test rankings. It’s not a simple achievement even if it is only for a day. Cricket has seen several bad days, but Pakistan cricket has seen the worst. Several incidents within the span of eight years made Pakistan cricket homeless.

It all began when a bomb exploded in 2002 outside the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi, where the New Zealand cricket team was staying. The New Zealand cricket squad immediately returned home. Six years later a group of young men of Pakistani origin terrorised Mumbai. Although that attack had nothing to do with cricket, but cricketing relations between India and Pakistan became the collateral damage.

Nothing, however , comes close to the horrific catastrophe of March 3, 2009 which led to Pakistan being stripped of their 2011 World Cup hosting rights. Sri Lankans who were touring Pakistan, had actually stepped in for India who had declined to tour following the Mumbai 2008 attacks. The Sri Lankan team was making their way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on the third morning of the second Test. As the Sri Lankan team’s coach crossed Liberty Square, 12 armed gunmen fired at the coach. A minivan following the bus holding the match officials was also fired upon. Pakistan's security forces fired back and in the ensuing gun battle, six policemen and two bystanders were killed along with the driver of the minivan carrying the match officials. Seven members of the Sri Lankan team, the assistant coach, and the reserve umpire were injured. It was the worst attack on an international sports team since the Munich Olympics in 1972.

The world watched in disbelief as the Sri Lankan cricket team were airlifted from Gaddafi Stadium in Pakistan Air Force’s helicopters. They were put on the next available flight to Colombo. Sri Lanka went home and took international cricket with them. Although the Sri Lankan team and ICC officials were the victims at the time, the Pakistan team has been the victims ever since. This great cricket nation became the cricket's first homeless team

Former Pakistani Captain Younis Khan said he would have withdrawn from international cricket immediately had he been caught in the kind of terror attacks carried out on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. You read about these unfortunate incidents in the papers or catch it on TV, but when it happens so close to you, it is difficult to fully comprehend. He had appealed to cricket's administrators to save the game in Pakistan, or risk pushing future generations into the grasp of terrorists. He feared that an extended boycott by touring teams could lead to a dramatic decline in interest and participation in cricket among the nation's youth. That could invite corrupting influences to fill the void that might otherwise have been occupied by sport. Maybe in the future we will be alone as a cricketing nation and that would be very deplorable, especially for the youngsters. For six years, no cricket team agreed to tour, and they were forced to run their home matches in neutral territory.

Misbah-ul-Haq became captain in the wake of two calamities. The foremost was the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009, which immediately condemned Pakistan to international isolation.

The second calamity took place the following year when the Pakistan team toured England. Three of its players, the captain Salman Butt himself, Mohammad Asif and brilliant young opening bowler Mohammad Amir were entrapped by the News of the World. The team was disgraced and the three players involved were subsequently sent to jail. That was when Misbah-ul-Haq took over. He was not an obvious choice as skipper. He held a mixed Test record, and was not even selected for the 2010 Tour, nor the one before in 2006. However, he proved an inspired choice. He had just the right qualities to lead his team at its moment of supreme crisis. He anchored the batting time and time again and gave his team a mental and moral example. He has been magnificently supported by Younis Khan, now Pakistan’s highest scoring Test batsman.

Misbah-ul-Haq’s Test performance has been massively enhanced by the duties of captaincy. Before 2010 he had scored 1,008 runs in 33 Tests at an average of 33.60. Since becoming Captain, he has scored a further 3,344 runs in 42 Tests, at an average of 56.68. He has won matches with an inexperienced attack since the loss of his former matchwinner, the spinner Saeed Ajmal, with a suspect action. When he led Pakistan to a 2 - 0 triumph over England last winter in the UAE, none of his bowlers had taken 100 Test wickets. Misbah, now 42, became the oldest Test captain since the mighty Warwick Armstrong of Australia in 1921.

On 22nd August Misbah-ul-Haq’s Pakistan team rose to No. 1 in the ICC's Test rankings for the first time. They took the top position from India. The week before was the second time in less than a year that Pakistan had moved to No. 2 in the rankings. They had featured at No. 2 for the first time in November 2015. Pakistan have at times dropped as low as seventh, last doing so in February 2010, but since Misbah-ul-Haq took over the captaincy at the end of that year, they have climbed steadily.

For us, the No 1 ranking is not a destination, but part of a journey. Our long term objective and strategy is to remain competitive, continue to challenge the top spots with good cricket and once again become the most followed side like the Pakistan teams of yesteryears. If we can achieve these on a consistent basis, then I am sure there will more laurels like this down the line, said Misbah.

 The rage of Pakistan fans has flashed a billion times since the attack on Sri Lankan cricket team. Their land, their leader betrayed them. And even then they are better than they have ever been. They are now the best in the world.

Syed Hussain

Syed Hussain is a traveller, philanthropist , freelance writer based in the UK. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter 

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