At the height of the spot fixing scandal which dominated sporting headlines during the Pakistan Cricket team’s tour of England in 2010, one of the many commentators on the debacle labelled Pakistan as “probably the most interesting sports team in the world.” If the double edged compliment needed any vindication then team Pakistan has provided it in the most definitive manner.
Just eighteen months on from the most shameful episode in its sporting history the country’s Cricketers have proved once again why despite their endless digressions, they are still able to transfix their many supporters.
England or “the number one test team” as many in the English media prefer to call them these days were similarly mesmerized. It was a given that Andrew Strauss’ all conquering team would face a major challenge in conditions in which they’ve historically struggled but even they couldn’t have expected what was about to take place.
England’s attempt to master what Steve Waugh famously labelled the final frontier (Indian-Subcontinent playing conditions) in the quest for cricketing immortality has been decimated at the first hurdle. The shell shocked expressions of the English dressing room after the 3-0 series loss spoke volumes of what these potential cricketing Gods had been through in the past three weeks.
The fact that Pakistan became the first team since 1907 to win a test match having been bowled out in the first innings for less than 100 is testament to their hold over their English counterparts since the series commenced.
It was as if bowling England out for 72 in the second test to clinch the series was not satisfying enough that Pakistan decided to toy with their fragile opponents. England’s excessive focus on Ajmal and his doosra’s meant they didn’t see the carnage that the unassuming Abdur Rehman with his orthodox left arm spin was to unleash on them. In the brief periods where the spin twins seemed to lose a little of their potency in stepped the workhorse Umar Gul to get his just rewards. Pakistan’s cricket during the series was relentless as if the team had something to prove.
The likeable Ramiz Raja had urged the Pakistan players before the series to “assume that they are waging a war” when they take on England. If Sun Tzu’s immortal philosophy of “all warfare is based on deception”, is to be taken as the idiom of war then Pakistan paid heed to Raja’s call.
Even before the series began the announcement that Pakistan’s spin wizard Saeed Ajmal had a new mystery delivery, the “theesra” had the desired affect. The mind games worked forcing England onto the back foot in a literal sense and making their downfall inevitable.
In all other conditions England remain a superior team to Pakistan and if the batting had not capitulated so spectacularly England would have won the series. That is not too take anything away from Pakistan who despite the absence of multiple star names have gelled spectacularly as a team. The leadership of the unflappable Misbah-ul-Haq has been the right tonic to eek out a solid work ethic from the men in green something previous Pakistani teams are not known for.
Many had predicted that Pakistan Cricket would take at least a decade to emerge from the shadow of the spot fixing scandal but predicting anything with Pakistan is a futile exercise. The country’s cricket culture has an ingrained sense of surprising even the greatest cynics. The future may still hold more surprises and with the incomparable Shahid Afridi still an integral part of the limited overs set up nothing is for certain.
If Pakistan cricket is forever to be marred by unpredictability then so be it. If however there is some method in all the madness then cricket’s present nomads will be a match for anyone.