Pakistan have long been regarded as a talented yet inconsistent side, but through a combination of sheer hard work, application and a little help from some inclement Caribbean weather, the South Asian side sit atop the Test rankings for a first time.
Misbah-ul-Haq’s men thrashed hosts England at the Oval, the venue of one of the country’s darkest moments in cricket, earlier this month to earn a 2-2 draw in the four-Test series and prove to many that they can compete on any surface.
Last Wednesday, Sri Lanka completed a 3-0 whitewash of table-topping Australia to allow India to go top of the ICC rankings and when four straight days of rain denied the Indians a 3-0 series win in the West Indies, Pakistan were elevated to the top of the pile without bowling a ball.
“This is what cricketers play for and want to achieve in their careers. It is a reward for something we had planned as a group a few years ago and have worked extremely hard to achieve it,” Misbah told reporters of the rise to the top.
Unable to play at home since a 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore and shorn of bowling prospect Mohammad Amir in the wake of a damaging spot-fixing scandal at the Oval in 2010, Pakistan have ploughed a lonely furrow in cricket’s wilderness.
Undaunted by the isolation, Amir has returned after serving a five-year ban and immediately added fire to a formidable pace attack that, supplemented by the guile of imposing leg-spinner Yasir Shah, can run through any batting order.
Led by the evergreen Misbah and his able aging cohort Younus Khan, their vital experience has enabled a younger generation of batsmen to shine as Pakistan have capitalised on the dust bowl pitches in their UAE surrogate home to see off all-comers.
In the last two years, Pakistan have beaten Australia and England at home, drawn with New Zealand, and earned impressive away series wins in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh before the 2-2 draw against the English gave the world notice of their class.
“For us, the number one ranking is not a destination but part of a journey,” Misbah added.
“Our long-term objective and strategy is to remain competitive, continue to challenge the top sides with good cricket and once again become the most followed side like the Pakistan teams of yesteryear.”
While climbing to the top has been a long and arduous journey, the real challenge for Pakistan is staying there and Test series in New Zealand and Australia at the end of the year will be the biggest indicator of just how far they have come.