On the importance of batsmen having a hunger for runs and a ruthless streak.
Got your attention? OK. Obviously, you should ideally not be running out your captain and best batter every innings. However, as Imam turned his back on his childhood friend as one does to a beggar on the road, you have to marvel at the self-belief and greed for runs. For batting is a selfish pursuit, while the bowler sprints in from 20 yards to deliver a ball, which will 99% of the time be a non-event for him. You have to be crazy to be a bowler and selfish to be a batsman.
Nowadays, the ingrained selfish genes sometimes tend to be problematic for teams to manage as they look to maximize the runs they can produce as a whole. But this is a problem for the modern era; Tests will remain stagnant, and thus will the philosophies that govern them. In Tests, runs scored out of selfishness and runs scored out of the goodness of your heart count the same. At the risk of sounding like the Tweets of Bhogle here: Every run a batter scores in Tests contributes to bettering the team total as a whole.
Statpadding has a negative connotation; it implies that a batsman is taking advantage of conditions in their favor to fill their boots in. However, with that definition, they may have to rename the Highest Test Run-Scorers’ list as the All-Time Great Statpadders’ list. Because to have a streak of ruthlessness and not let the opposition team into the game while they are down and out is where Test matches are won. Pakistan could learn something from that – they spent the better part of two hours chasing leather as two tailenders racked up a hundred runs.
Babar has been quite vocal about how he believes that batting is Pakistan’s strength in Test cricket. This has elicited mocking from certain members of the press as Pakistan collapse for the umpteenth time. But one can not say that Babar is incorrect because to say batting is our strength does not mean to say it is in itself strong; it just so happens to be stronger than the only other component of Pakistan’s Test game – the bowling. And to win a match-up vs. Pakistan’s bowling currently, one just needs to be the slightest bit competent.
Do you ever look at the scorecards of the Test series held in Pakistan during the 2000s and have a little giggle to yourself about the run gluttony on display? Pakistan’s batsmen would dine out on opposition bowlers, and then Pakistan’s bowlers would be presented on a platter to opposition batsmen for them to do the same. Only half of the games were won, but not many were lost. The average first innings score in that era was 415; Pakistan’s average first innings was 434, while the visiting team’s average first innings was 396. This was generally an era of flatter pitches, but even in comparison to other countries, Pakistan was by far and away the best place to bat. After that, what happened, happened, and Pakistan was isolated. When Test cricket has returned to Pakistan, it has found that not much has changed – the average first innings score since 2019 is 391, but the parity has shifted; Pakistan’s average first innings score since 2019 is 377, and it’s 403 for visiting teams.
The trouble with reaching at least 400 to even begin to think about winning a Test is that 400 can not be attained on the back of one batter. To score 400, a team needs multiple individual batters, and then among those individuals, they need someone to go on to score 100-150 runs on their own. It is only through this that scores of 400 and beyond can be attained regularly. Around 95% of 425+ team scores in Test cricket contain an individual century.
It is with this in mind that one would say that Pakistan’s batters need to be more selfish. They need to show why they are the strength of this Test team currently. Because that is how Test matches will be won in Pakistan. In the 2000s, the average first-innings winning score was 471. To reach 471, you need centuries, not pretty 50s. The batsmen put up the runs and then put it in the bowlers’ court to win the matches. With their current bowling attack, Pakistan are not winning many, but the batsmen can ensure they don’t lose them either. It’s a reductive and medieval strategy that would not fly in today’s “win at all costs” court, but reductive and medieval is exactly what Tests are.
If Pakistan want to not lose Test matches on these pitches from a bygone era, they need their batsmen to be ruthless; they need their batsmen to be selfish; they need them to be more like Imam.