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Pakistan rise from the dead in home away from home

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Pakistan rise from the dead in home away from home Empty Pakistan rise from the dead in home away from home

Post by Shelsey93 Sun Feb 12, 2012 7:26 am

This is a draft version of my latest article for www.v2journal.com, posted here for any discussion of the content.

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29th August 2010, Lord’s. Pakistan capsize to a total of under 200 for the fifth time in eight innings in the four match Test series against England and fall to a 3-1 series defeat. It is hard to feel any sympathy for the tourists. Although conditions have been against them they have batted with little application all summer, the fielding has been dreadful and for reasons known only to themselves two of the most experienced batsmen – Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq – have been left out completely and a third – Mohammad Yousuf – only brought back when the series had gone. Meanwhile, Team Manager Yawar Saeed is pictured reading the News of the World to find out that three of his players have been involved in spot-fixing. Two of these, the fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, have offered rare positives for Pakistan all summer in regularly troubling the England top order whilst the third, Salman Butt, has appeared to be a diligent leader. The three players are later banned from international cricket and given jail sentences. All is not rosy at board level either with PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt ridiculously making unfounded claims that England are themselves involved in spot-fixing. To most observers Pakistan cricket is in the mire and unlikely to emerge any time soon. Some pundits even call for the team to be banned until a radical overhaul takes place.

Less than eighteen months ago it would have been inconceivable to imagine the about turn which has taken place since as a possibility. Almost all of the wounds which engulfed cricket in a country where it is so passionately followed have been healed and, rather than having their batting line-up labeled by leading commentators as “worse than Bangladesh”, can look towards to the top of the ladder in all forms of the game having been unbeaten in all series played since the start of 2011. So, how has this come about?

Leadership has been a massive factor. Nine wins in fifteen Tests since Misbah succeeded Butt as captain in October 2010 make him Pakistan’s most successful captain ever in terms of win percentage and the record is even better in the shorter formats. This is not a result of Brearley-like tactical genius or Waugh-like inspirational qualities. However, Misbah is a man who, after more than a decade of intermittent international cricket, has understood the Pakistani system, reacted calmly to the challenges he has faced and not divided the team as so many previous Pakistan skippers have. If Misbah is the Andrew Strauss of the management group then Mohsin Khan is the Andy Flower. Mohsin, a moderately successful Test batsman in the ‘70s and ‘80s, only took over as Interim Coach late last year, but has already made a huge impression. In interview he sounds every bit the paternal figure guiding the side who has been missing since the tragic death of Bob Woolmer at the 2007 World Cup, whilst not being afraid to remind everybody that it was he who backed the talent of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq during a period as Chief Selector after the England debacle. I would hazard that it is no coincidence that these two players and the young seamer Junaid Khan (although he was ineffective in one Test against England) have kicked on since Mohsin took over.

A change has also been apparent in the mental approach of the batsmen. Taufeeq Umar, Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar, Shafiq and even Misbah himself may not be world beaters. But unlike previous Pakistani top orders they have learnt to play within their limits – they are happy to go along at 2.5 runs an over if necessary and wait for the right moment, or delivery, to play the big shots. Frailties are still exposed at times but scores between 250 and 350 are now more frequent than those below 200. Credit must also be given to the selectors here – they have finally seen that a successful team is usually built around a stable unit and selected the same top six for the last eight Test matches the team has played. They have also recognised that Younus Khan is a genuinely world class batsman and treated him in the way he deserves to be treated rather than, as happened after an unsuccessful tour of Australia, taking it upon themselves to ban him ‘for life’ for no apparent reason.

Pakistan have also quickly emerged as having the best spin attack in the world game. Saeed Ajmal had to wait until after his 30th birthday to play international cricket but even English pundits have now anointed him with the crown of being the best spinner in the world game, ahead of Graeme Swann. The doosra may be criticised for its questionable legality – an issue I am not looking to discuss in this article and am not qualified to make a judgment on – but the fact that he is currently the only international bowler to use one suggests that it is a fiendishly difficult delivery to master. He has torn through all those he has been put up against in recent times and has taken 74 wickets in his last eleven Tests. Abdur Rehman, whose return to the side seemed almost accidental, has proved more than an effective accomplice and himself taken 55 wickets in the same period. Meanwhile, Mohammad Hafeez, whose off-spin was previously little more than a part-time option, has shown himself to be a good enough bowler to regularly take the new ball and perhaps get into many international teams as a bowler alone. These three have tormented not only England but also Sri Lanka, renowned as one of the best sides against spin, and have hardly played on dust-bowls in the UAE. These three are joined in the one-day side by maverick talisman Shahid Afridi whose bowling has re-invented itself in the last year or so to become a major force in any limited-overs match he plays in rather than just when he feels like it, as often used to be the case.

Such a battery of spinners was not available during that sorry tour of England. But the seam bowlers were effective, as they had been ever since Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis joined Imran Khan in a side which won the 1992 World Cup and, for a while, threatened West Indian dominance. The fear was that with Asif and Amir unavailable Pakistan would be left with a toothless pace attack. But, against all odds, Pakistan have quickly found a group of quicks able to perform successfully in Asian conditions. Umar Gul has relished his promotion to leader of the attack and looked comfortable in whites for the first time, Aizaz Cheema has emerged from domestic cricket with some success and the left-armers – Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz – have had an immediate impact and gone some way to filling the gap left by the supremely talented Amir. The series against England was a spin dominated one but the signs are promising that the bowling attack will be equally incisive in Australia, South Africa and England.

The story of Pakistan’s return from oblivion is made all the more remarkable by them not having played a single match in their homeland since 2009. Whilst some may argue that conditions in the UAE are similar to those in Pakistan and that they have the supporters on their side, it does mean that the team are always on tour and that they often have to play in empty stadiums, particularly in Test cricket. In many ways it might be the case that playing outside of Pakistan has been to their advantage – in Lahore and Karachi the team are hounded by fans and the local media at every moment but in the deserts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi they are given space to grow as a unit and arguably face less pressure to succeed. Bringing joy to the Pakistani people, whose country is so often blighted by continuing terrorism and political turmoil, must also serve as an inspiration to many of the Pakistan players.

It would be wrong to say that the current set-up is perfect. Pakistan are not the best team in the world yet and some leopards just don’t change their spots – the PCB have been interviewing candidates with a view to replacing Mohsin despite the great job that he has done. They have also seemingly traded a nomination for the Bangladeshi candidate for the ICC presidency with a Bangladeshi tour of Pakistan going ahead, despite the fact that terrorist attacks continue to be reported on a regular basis, and to the outsider the country would appear little safer than when the Sri Lanka team were gunned down on their way to the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. However, the turnaround that has taken place since 2010 is more than remarkable and sees the team enjoying consistency and stability not seen since the days of Imran Khan. Continued success could see them complete the journey from News of the World to top of the world.

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Post by Biltong Sun Feb 12, 2012 7:33 am

Nice article Shelsey, As far as their resurgence, I guess we wiill have to see what happens in the next away tours. Like you say Pakistan are used to UAE conditions now, it might still be a different story away from Asia.
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Post by dummy_half Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:06 pm

Biltong
If you'd seen the shambles that Pakistan were in England a couple of years ago, you'd be amazed that the can play competent cricket anywhere so shortly afterwards.

I presume there have been some significant changes in the administration and selection policies as well as on the field. The really amazing thing though is that they've achieved so much so quickly without unearthing a really superb youngster as the talisman - Younis Khan has always been a quality performer, and Ajmal has finally got an opportunity to show what a fine Test player he is. However the key to the success has been the performances of the 'journeyman' players - the likes of Misbah and Gul have really stepped up their games and look like very solid pros now rather than the slightly flaky, in and out performers of the past few years.

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Post by Biltong Mon Feb 13, 2012 10:16 pm

dummy, I think currently it is a case of new brooms sweep clean. For now everyone seems to be on the same page, let's hope it stays like that.
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Post by dummy_half Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:26 am

biltongbek wrote:dummy, I think currently it is a case of new brooms sweep clean. For now everyone seems to be on the same page, let's hope it stays like that.

Agree totally - Test cricket needs more strong teams (with the decline of the West Indies, NZ and Sri Lanka at Test level, and the failure of Bangladesh and ZImbabwe to develop), and so having a Pakistan team that can at least be competetive away from home and more than that in their notionally home series is a good thing.

I do wonder how much of the improvement is attributable to playing without the pressure that came from above? I seem to recall there was a lot of political interference in team affairs over the last few years.

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