• 30 Jun - 06 Jul, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

The Pakistani cricket team has returned home victorious, one can say. They drew the Test series against England on their home soil, and won against Ireland and Scotland on either side of that. They were perilously close to coming home unbeaten throughout the tour to emulate their forerunners of the 1974 tour. But a pathetic display at Headingley laid bare the hopes and exposed the weakness that when the opposition plays well, the Pakistanis have no answers. As it has been said countless times, when they are good, they are very good and when they are bad, they are horrible.

But let us rejoice at the success of the tour. The coming series against India will determine if England were indeed a very good team to beat or was it an aberration that they faced at Lord’s. If they fall flat against the Indians then one can say Pakistan did nothing appreciable considering they have a far better bowling attack than India. Already a virtual B side of Australia have twice in two games made them wobble before they won. But if England are to surmount strongly the challenge that Virat Kohli and his men throw at them, then Pakistan will be seen to have indeed played well, despite the heavy loss by an innings at Headingley.

On either side of that England series Pakistan beat Ireland in the host’s debut Test and Scotland in the two T20Is. Again, the jury is out whether this counts as a benchmark for how good the side is. Against Ireland, Pakistan’s top order was downed in both innings by a bowling side that was ageing. And a batting side where only one player has tasted Tests; that too a solitary one some years back.

There it was Pakistan’s youngsters who bailed them out in both innings. One of them, Faheem Ashraf was making his Test debut and the other Shadab Khan playing only his second Test. These two rescued them from 150-odd for 5 to beyond 300. In the second innings, it was Test debutant Imam ul Haq who scored a stylish 74 in difficult times after Pakistan collapsed to 14-3 who shone through.

At Lord’s in the first Test, Pakistan faced an England side short of confidence after their thrashing by Australia and New Zealand in the winter excursion downunder. On top of that they chose to bat on a surface that clearly offered help to bowlers and were shot out for under 200. Some rash shots helped Pakistan, as well and their captain Joe Root was the biggest offender.

Then their bowlers bowled short of a good length and refused to pitch it up. Four dropped catches didn’t help either. On another day, as happened at Headingley in the second game, these catches were routine for the slip cordon.

The way Pakistan capitulated to balls that were pitched up this time by Anderson and Broad showed that England had lost at Lords more than Pakistan had won. That shouldn’t take anything away from the Pakistani batsmen at Lord’s like Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam and Haris Sohail, nor from the young bowlers like Mohammad Abbas and Hasan Ali who bowled excellently both up and down the hill there.

At Headingley, I feel what really got them was a lot of arrogance and a lot of cheekiness. Sarfraz, when we won the toss, chose to bat when the sun was out and it seemed the right decision. But when it came out that he wanted to bat for the reason that he wanted to show everyone that we can bat first on a dampish pitch against the seam and swing of English bowling, and that we can win batting first also, that for me was unacceptable.

This is not his personal team nor a point of contention. This is the top echelon of international cricket and the toss, and decision, belongs to Pakistan and not the single individual or think tank that voted for it. Had he said that he wanted the blue sky and the expected warmth it brings or that his bowlers are tired after three days of bowling at Lord’s, I could have understood. Everything else is just not acceptable in professional sport where you put common sense ahead of ego.

So yes, Pakistan have had a wonderful tour. They lost only one of five internationals and won the other four. But there are chinks. A look at the averages show that Pakistan’s most seasoned batsmen, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, were not in the top three. Azhar, in fact, came seventh with only one fifty out of a total of 67 runs for an average of 16.75.

The sensation of Malahide, Imam-ul-Haq fared just better with 56 runs at an average of 18.66 with a highest score of 34. Poignantly, two bowler all-rounders were in the top three with Amir topping the averages with 44 and Shadab finishing with 37.33. The leg spinning all-rounder won a bet with his coach in that he would score a fifty in each of the three Tests on tour and he did. Indeed he was one of two batsmen who oozed confidence when batting, putting his seniors to shame. The other Faheem Ashraf though he progressed with the help of several lives, three against Ireland and one at Lord’s.

It was therefore in bowling that Pakistan impressed. Abbas carried on his good work against Ireland with 9 wickets at Lord’s in a display of crafty bowling. His late swing and wicket to wicket bowling from close to the stumps showed shades of Glenn McGrath, the famed Australian opening bowler.

He naturally topped the bowling with 10 wickets at an astounding average of 14.20. Not far behind was Mohammad Amir with 7 at 21.28, though his one moment was on that morning when he removed the tail and lined up Pakistan’s 9-wicket victory. Other than that he had some exquisite deliveries that shattered stumps bit he lacked consistency.

Hasan Ali may not have an equally impressive average of over 30 but he got 6 wickets including 4 on the first day at Lord’s when he and Abbas ruined England and put them on the back foot in the Test.

How the T20 Internationals against Scotland should be weighed is up in the air. Pakistan are currently the best team in that format and Scotland had returned from failing to qualify for the World Cup. Yes, they had a tumultuous victory against England with a stunning 370-plus score, but that was a one off and certainly they came up short. This time though it was experience that came through in the shape of Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz.

As such where the experienced had let them down against Ireland and England, it was the years of maturity that saw them through at Edinburgh. A learning tour no doubt. But the question remains: Have they learned from the lessons that this victory has taught them? •