Is the ‘Golden Age of Pakistani Cricket’ over?

This is a question that I have often asked myself. While there is no simple answer to it but given how our national cricket team has performed over the past few years, I have begun to think along the lines that perhaps it is. I grew up in the 90s during the days of Wasim, Waqar, Anwar, Inzaman, Saqlain, Shoaib etc. to name a few. Even Afridi was a different player back then as far as actual performance is concerned. I remember that there used to be a general feeling of confidence in our bowling lineup and we prided ourselves with the knowledge that no matter how bad our batting lineup performs Wasim bhai and X Y Z will save us. I say X Y Z because Wasim bhai’s bowling partner was a variable. Wasim bhai was constant. I’ve witnessed a gradual decline in Pakistan’s cricketing prowess over time. Whether or not you agree with this is a separate issue, but I feel that this should be evaluated objectively instead of subjectively.

The question arose during one of the recent world cup games against India where Pakistan did a spectacularly amazing job of maintaining India’s perfect record in world cups against us. Many of my Indian friends who were watching the game with me shared a polar opposite view of how their team has progressed over the years. In their case, the golden age of Indian cricket is now here, as we speak. And I don’t disagree with that given how India performs at the international stage these days. It also led me to question that although Pakistan has traditionally boasted a better Win % versus India (we have won more matches), the equation is slowly tilting in India’s favour. It began to nag me and I wanted to see for myself how things have changed. Unfortunately, I am not a very good writer, but I do alright with numbers. And so I decided to analyse Pakistan’s Win % against all teams and to see how this trend has changed over time.

I want to point out here that my analysis sample includes only One Day International matches and includes all matches played up to April 7, 2016.

I calculated Win % as Points/Matches where points are awarded as:

1 for win,

0.5 for tie

0 for loss and 0 for no result.

The following table shows an overall summary of all teams which have Test status arranged in decreasing order of Win %.

Team Span Matches Won Lost Tied NR Points Win %
Australia 1971-2016 870 538 292 9 31 543 62.4%
South Africa 1991-2016 552 340 191 6 15 343 62.1%
Pakistan 1973-2016 857 452 379 8 18 456 53.2%
West Indies 1973-2015 734 373 329 8 24 377 51.4%
India 1974-2016 896 451 399 7 39 455 50.7%
England 1971-2016 664 319 316 7 22 323 48.6%
Sri Lanka 1975-2016 765 362 366 4 33 364 47.6%
New Zealand 1973-2016 703 311 348 6 38 314 44.7%
Bangladesh 1986-2015 312 98 210 0 4 98 31.4%
Zimbabwe 1983-2016 471 122 334 5 10 125 26.4%

We clearly see that Pakistan is amongst the top 3 ODI teams in terms of Win %. This is a little counter-intuitive when we see this in the light of recent performances, but we’ll dig into this later. For now, let’s just find glory in the knowledge that we are only bettered by Australia and South Africa which not only have much better teams but also a better domestic cricket structure.

The following table shows Pakistan’s Win % record against all Test playing nations arranged in decreasing order of overall Win %. It also shows the Win % when batting first as well as batting second. The difference column is positive when Pakistan has won more times batting first and negative when it has won more times batting second against any particular side.

  Overall Batting 1st Batting 2nd Diff
Opposition Matches Result Matches Result Matches Result Result
Zimbabwe 54 91.3% 30 92.9% 24 89.6% 3.3%
Bangladesh 35 88.6% 22 90.9% 13 84.6% 6.3%
Sri Lanka 147 59.1% 76 61.8% 71 56.3% 5.5%
India 127 58.5% 69 59.1% 57 57.9% 1.2%
New Zealand 98 55.7% 55 55.7% 43 55.8% -0.2%
West Indies 127 44.5% 71 40.8% 56 49.1% -8.3%
England 76 39.2% 38 35.1% 38 43.2% -8.1%
Australia 93 35.0% 46 37.2% 47 33.0% 4.2%
South Africa 72 33.8% 37 44.4% 35 22.9% 21.6%
All Teams 857 54.4% 457 55.4% 399 53.1% 2.3%

In order to find whether our performance at the international stage has suffered, I decided to analyse the change in Win % over time. To do that, I divided the history into distinct eras by decade. While I understand that such a division is arbitrary and that a certain set of players would be common to more than one era, I feel that such simplification does reveal important insights and objectively confirms some of our subjective hunches.We can see that Pakistan does best against subcontinental teams (3 out of top 5). The only exception to this is Zimbabwe but well, it’s Zimbabwe. We can also see that we have an extremely poor record against Australia and South Africa. Regarding our legendary ability to screw up run chases, we can clearly see that Pakistan has a Win % of 55.4% when setting a target and 53.1% when chasing one. We see that only against West Indies and England does Pakistan have a better Win % while chasing as compared to setting a target (New Zealand is pretty neck-to-neck). Against all other teams, Pakistan does well batting first. Now this is not a deterministic decision because it is dependent on the flip of a coin. However, it does reveal that Pakistan has failed to address this problem despite having known it since the 90s. We are just not good at chasing and are somehow quite content with this knowledge.

The following table shows Win % against all Test nations by era.

  1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
Opposition Matches Result Matches Result Matches Result Matches Result Matches Result
Zimbabwe         20 87.5% 20 100.0% 14 84.6%
Bangladesh     2 100.0% 5 80.0% 18 100.0% 10 70.0%
Sri Lanka 1 100.0% 23 77.3% 52 61.8% 43 50.0% 28 51.9%
India 3 66.7% 30 67.9% 45 60.5% 40 55.0% 9 33.3%
New Zealand 2 0.0% 17 43.8% 31 75.8% 32 56.3% 16 33.3%
West Indies 3 0.0% 45 28.9% 42 47.6% 24 66.7% 13 57.7%
England 8 37.5% 21 33.3% 14 38.5% 20 57.9% 13 23.1%
Australia 2 50.0% 24 54.5% 25 38.0% 29 25.0% 13 15.4%
South Africa         22 31.8% 30 31.0% 20 40.0%
All Teams 20 40.0% 162 49.4% 261 58.0% 267 57.6% 147 49.3%

 

On an overall basis, we can see that by far Pakistan’s best performances in terms of Win % came during the 1990s and 2000s (58% and 57.6% respectively). We also see that the current decade (49.3%) is the 2nd worst decade since the 1970s (40%), which is a bit discomforting as things were pretty different in the 1970s as far as our ODI prowess is concerned. It was the decade in which ODI cricket was introduced and teams were still trying to adapt to the new style of play.

In order to look at the progression of Win % over time against individual teams, it would be helpful to look at a plot of the above data and so we will look at the following graph.

graphs

 

The black line represents our performance on an overall basis. Looking at the individual countries’ lines, we can see that our Win % has been on a constant decline versus India in every decade since the 1980s (the blue line is hidden behind the grey line between 2000s and 2010s). In fact, if we look at the lines between 2000s and 2010s, we can see that Pakistan has done worse in 2010s versus 2000s against all teams except South Africa and Sri Lanka. The chart also reveals an important insight into our record against New Zealand. The perception that we almost always do well against them does not seem to be well grounded in reality because we see a sharp drop in Win % after the 1990s. Our record against West Indies improved every decade until we reached the 2010s and everything went downhill. The same is true for Bangladesh and Zimbabwe against whom we used to do much better than how we are doing in the 2010s. Our record against Sri Lanka shows an interesting trend though. We seem to have a worsening record against them since the 1970s up to 2000s and it is only in the current decade that the trend seems to improve slightly in our favour. The trend against England is also appalling as we have done spectacularly bad against them in the current era. I will not comment on Australia because there is nothing new to find there.

I don’t know if such an analysis has any use or if it has found something new but one thing is for certain; it does objectively confirm the sinking feeling in our hearts that perhaps the golden age of Pakistan ODI cricket is over.

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Usman Afzal Minhas

Usman Afzal Minhas

The writer holds some degrees, is passionate about cricket, music, chess and statistics. Currently he is working at 'I don't have a job'.