They were not in a hole, it was a ravine full of muck. Terrorist attacks, spot-fixing, team politics, retirements, players going to jail – you name it. It took a root-deep shovel to find the firm ground where Pakistan cricket stands today, having swept the No. 1 Test side 3-0 in a home-away-from-home series in the UAE.
A terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankans in Lahore shook the foundations of world cricket in 2009. The repercussions were severe. The ICC slapped a ban on international cricket in Pakistan, but the skeletons didn't stop tumbling out.
The year 2010 was perhaps the worst year for Pakistan cricket. Shahid Afridi relinquished the Test captaincy owing to team politics and bad form in Test cricket. And much to Pakistan's misfortune, Salman Butt was made the leader. The devil of spot-fixing raised its head during the tour of England, leading to dire consequences. For the first time in the game's history, three cricketers – Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – were convicted for charges of conspiracy and cheating, and were eventually jailed in 2011.
Misbah-ul-Haq was named the captain after the disgraceful episode in England. However, that's not where the differences ended. Afridi and coach Waqar Younis made news during the team's West Indies tour in 2011. Dirty linen was then washed in public, with Afridi accusing there are "disgraceful" people in the PCB who could not tolerate outspoken persons like him. In the end, Afridi announced his 'third' retirement from international cricket and Waqar too relinquished the Pakistan coaching job. That Afridi called off his retirement later on is an altogether different story.
But as the end of 2011 approached, things started brightening up despite the jail sentence handed out to the spot-fixing convicts. In hindsight, the judgement by England's crown court set a precedent; and Pakistan, despite reeling under losses due to no international cricket and the World Cup hosting rights snatched, joined hands with the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unity to clear the dirt.
A change of guard in the PCB also helped things. Ijaz Butt's much condemned rein came to an end, banker Zaka Ashraf became PCB chief and the vacant coach's position was filled by chief selector Mohsin.
Amidst all this, Pakistan had found a surrogate home in the UAE. This meant the teams touring Pakistan would now play the 'hosts' in the UAE, which helped the PCB resurrect its balance sheet to some extent.
Good news came from the field of play as well. Misbah – who was now captaining the team for a year – got his boys together with help from selector-cum-coach Mohsin. And the man who received much criticism on being appointed the captain in 2010 put Pakistan on the road to recovery, which seems complete now with the series win against England, the No. 1 Test side.
Misbah has lost only one of the 15 Tests since being appointed captain in 2010 and averages above 80 as captain. But beside his personal form, the veteran must be applauded for his man-management skills, especially when Pakistan was deep in the turmoil.
It takes some doing to win a Test after getting all out for 99 in the first innings. But England couldn't break Pakistan's resolve. They had heroes like Younis Khan and young Azhar Ali, who hit 127 and 157 respectively in the second innings, and offspinner Saeed Ajmal (24 wickets in the series) to continue Pakistan's gritty climb back by winning the third Test against England and completing a clean sweep.
Irrespective of the familiar conditions, Pakistan's margins of victory speak volumes about their determination to get their own back. None of the matches went the distance, with the first one finishing in three days and the last two inside four days. A 10-wicket victory was followed by a 72-run triumph in the second Test. And when all seemed lost after 99 all out in the third, they didn't give up and fought every inch to finally win by 71 runs.
But does victory over the No. 1 team count for much when every team is winning at home and losing miserably when playing away? It happened with India and it is happening with England. Will Pakistan's fate be any different? Whatever be the answer to that, Pakistan are certainly on their way to redemption. And they deserve it!