One day they lose to the bottom team in the rankings, the next they beat the top side in the world.
This is the Pakistan cricket team, often regarded as their own worst enemy.
Widely castigated for a lack of unity and consistency after suffering an embarrassing defeat against minnows Zimbabwe in Harare a month ago, they were given little chance against top-ranked Test team South Africa in Abu Dhabi.
All the more so because South Africa had drawn a two-match series in the United Arab Emirates three years ago, blunting Pakistani’s spinners led by Saeed Ajmal.
Former greats and fans were calling for the sackings of Pakistan’s Australian coach Dav Whatmore and captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
However, Misbah’s men turned the tables on South Africa on Thursday.
They dominated the first Test, winning it by seven wickets, to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series and proving they are the most colorful and unpredictable team in the world.
Pakistan bowled out South Africa for 249 in the first innings, with debutant Zulfiqar Babar and giant paceman Mohammad Irfan taking three wickets apiece.
Pakistan’s new opening pair then blunted South Africa’s four-pronged pace attack, putting together a 135-run stand.
Khurram Manzoor went on to make 146 and debutant Shan Masood scored 75. Misbah chipped in with a ton to continue anchoring the team’s fragile batting.
Ajmal then came into his own, taking 4-74 to rock South Africa for 232 before Pakistan survived early wobbles to score the 40 runs required for a much-needed win.
Misbah hailed the victory as “something special.”
“This was something special — winning a Test against South Africa, especially after what had happened in Zimbabwe,” Misbah said.
He reckoned conditions in United Arab Emirates — Pakistan’s fortress since being forced to play there following attacks on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009 — had a big impact.
“I know what people were saying, but we had the belief to beat South Africa in these conditions which suit us and have become our home,” Misbah said after the win.
It was only Pakistan’s fourth victory over the Proteas and gives them a good chance to add to their only series win over South Africa 10 years ago.
The second and final Test starts in Dubai on Wednesday.
Misbah admitted Pakistan struggled in South Africa — where they were routed 3-0 earlier this year — and then in Zimbabwe where they squared a two-match series 1-1.
“When we went to South Africa we were blanked 3-0 and now South Africa is the No. 1 team. We lost in Zimbabwe because they benefitted from the conditions,” he said.
“I think that the conditions have a big role in the results of Tests,” Misbah said.
“Ajmal has a good record here,” he said of the bowler who took 24 wickets in demolishing England last year.
Misbah said he was confident his side could keep up the progress they have made.
“South Africa have a world class team, we must remember that we are really playing the top side in the world, so simply focus on the next game and do the best preparations if we want to win the series,” the Pakistan captain said.