Pakistan a throwback to the pre-T20 age

06 August 2016
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As unfashionable as Pokemon Go, Pakistan's Test team underlines value of patience and caution in T20 era

About the Writer:

Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.

As Pakistan ground out a 103-run lead over England on the third day of this third Test, it was possible to imagine you were watching cricket from another era.

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At a time when the influence of Twenty20 has permeated almost every aspect – and format - of cricket, this Pakistan side are a throwback to a time which predates the Internet, Twitter, Pokemon Go and whatever else now passes for entertainment in the 21st century.

This, quite plainly, is a Test team time forgot – and their steady approach might just see them crowned the best in the world by the end of this northern summer. Win this series and, with Australia struggling in Sri Lanka, the No.1 spot will be theirs.

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Misbah-ul-Haq is a throwback himself, the 42-year-old defying the ravages of time and setting the standard for the rest of his players when it comes to approaching the challenge of batting in English conditions.

Pakistan 'crawled' along at 2.96 runs per over during their first innings at Edgbaston. But they got the job done, making 400 and putting England under real pressure.

Their disciplined approach should be no surprise given only three members of this team actually play international T20 cricket.

Of that trio only opener Mohammad Hafeez bats in the top six and his first-innings dismissal here for a duck – a suicidal slash to point in the first over – was a reckless T20 shot if ever there was one.

The other two players who played in the recent ICC World T20 in India are wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed and fast bowler Mohammad Amir.

Everyone else has either never played a T20 international or has been out of the team for several years.

Misbah, for example, last played the shortest form of the game for his country in 2012. Younis Khan? Six years ago. Yasir Shah and Sohail Khan? Both last played a T20I in 2011.

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The fact that Pakistani players are also banned from the Indian Premier League means they are missing out on the highest-profile T20 league in the world.

And it is that lack of exposure to top-level Twenty20 cricket that shows at times like this.

The likes of Joe Root, Virat Kohli, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are the ultimate modern batsmen, able to switch between formats at will and also able to bring their Test batting up to another level thanks to the innovative shots they have mastered in short-form cricket.

However, this Pakistan team can be seen as almost uniquely Test specialists. It showed on day two when Sami Aslam, who has never played a Twenty20 game for his country, scored a chanceless 82 in four-and-a-half hours in what was only his third Test.

The 20-year-old showed the requisite patience, caution and watchfulness required to counter the moving ball in England.

Another batsman who has never played a T20 international, No.3 Azhar Ali, showed the same qualities to compile his 10th Test century on the same day. It was an innings carefully constructed over more than six hours.

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It's exactly what Australia might have benefitted from last year when they faced challenging conditions during the Ashes at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. Instead of trying to play the moving ball sensibly, they self-destructed. 

It was, of course, the great Australia sides led by Steve Waugh in the late 1990s and early 2000s who really started the hurry up in run-rates thanks to the bold approach to batting led by the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden.

Twenty20, though, has taken the speed of Test matches to another level and is now why the International Cricket Council have mooted the concept of four-day Tests.

Pakistan might yet go on and lose this match in Birmingham, especially with England wiping out the first-innings deficit with such ease in the final session on day three. Indeed, critics could argue the tourists' run rate worked against them as they attempted to build a more substantial advantage.

Yet perhaps the tourists deserve better than that after the painstaking groundwork they laid over 136 overs of their first innings.

Meg Lanning Steve Smith

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