The Rawalpindi clash was not exactly the perfect advertisement for the return of Test cricket to the country, but it is one Pakistan will take with both hands as an agonising wait for over a decade finally came to end.
The first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka might have ended in a tame draw ultimately, though it brought with it the promise of normalcy returning to the host nation.
The gloomy skies and overcast conditions which had loomed large for the first four days of the historic Test befittingly made way for bright sunshine on Sunday, as the near 10,000 fans who had made their way to the stadium got their money’s worth.
The ground was filled up to 80 per cent capacity when the morning session got under way on day five, and it had turned into a full house by the afternoon when Abid Ali and Babar Azam were putting on a batting exhibition. This sort of attendance, when a timid draw was inevitable, underlined the immense passion for the game which still exists in a country starved of high quality international cricket for more than 10 years.
After such a prolonged drought of red-ball action, Pakistan fans were going to relish every bit of play possible on the final day of the clash despite the anticlimactic outcome of the Rawalpindi Test.
Granted, the scheduling could have been a little better from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) given the prevalent winter conditions in the northern parts of the county, but their hands were largely tied with not many viable alternatives barring Karachi.
Karachi is the venue for the second and final Test which begins on December 19, and the National Stadium will be packed to the rafters if evidence from Rawalpindi is anything to go by.
The return of Test cricket is not the only positive to take for Pakistan from a curtailed clash which saw Abid Ali write himself into the record books. The opener has now become the first batsman in history to register tons in both the ODI and Test formats, and his promising introduction to red-ball cricket augurs well for Pakistan’s future.
While his innings might not have been of great significance in terms of the result of the Test, it is one which will be cherished for a long time to come by the fans who cheered every single run of his as if it was a World Cup win.
Pakistan have been struggling to find a capable opening batsman in the Test format and the problem was highlighted painfully in their recent tour of Australia, where they were emphatically whitewashed by the hosts. While the right-hander had his fair share of troubles during his maiden Test knock, he displayed the grit and perseverance which has served him well in his previous 105 first-class appearances.
His innings, along with a free-flowing fourth Test ton by batting ace Babar, had the spectators applauding on their feet in the latter half of the day which turned into a celebration of cricket in Rawalpindi.
There really hasn’t been much for Pakistan cricket to celebrate about in the last few months, especially under new head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq. As such, the smiles all around the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium will go a long way in lifting the previous mood of doom and gloom.
Credit goes to Sri Lanka as well with the islanders playing their part in bringing Test cricket back to Pakistan. That they arrived with a full-strength squad after sending a second-sting outfit for the preceding ODI and T20I clashes speaks volumes of the giant strides being made already by Pakistan.
Sri Lanka’s historic visit is bound to open up the floodgates and more international sides will definitely take their cue in undertaking future tours of Pakistan. Talk is already growing of Bangladesh becoming Pakistan’s next Test opponents on home soil in January.
The draw in the first Test is actually a win for Pakistan cricket – and one of their biggest ones at that. In the years to come, it could go down as the watershed moment where it all changed for the better. The right notes have been hit in Rawalpindi, and the music will surely reach a crescendo when the final Test gets under way in Karachi in a few days.
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