During the nervous build up to the first test at Lord’s, a friend commented that the selected team which was expected to play for Pakistan, was probably our weakest team to visit England this century.
We are after all seventh ranked side in the world, are woefully short on experience in batting (our perennial problem), looked unidimensional in bowling with no genuine quicks and very very green spinner. Even the temperament of our new skipper at test level was being questioned.
My mind raced back to 2001. It was another May Test match. And Pakistan had been chosen as the first (and relatively weaker of the two teams) to visit England that year. The Ashes were to happen later in the year and ECB wanted their team to be in a good shape for that all important event.
Pakistan, on paper was anything but weak. We had the formidable W’s playing together. All rich with experience and being masters of their dark arts of reverse swing for years. They had both lost some of their pace, but the skipper Waqar Younis had the formidable raging bull Shoaib Akhter at his disposal to put the fear of God in the hearts of opposition. Saqlain Mushtaq as the spinner (mystery and conventional) gave the much needed variety to the bowling attack and this attack was supported by the more than capable all rounder duo of Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood. Batting, the traditional weakness in Pakistan armour, was formed around the mighty Inzimam, silk wristed Mohammad Yousuf, explosive opener Saeed Anwar, the ever dependable and hard working Younis Khan and one of our most accomplished wicketkeepers of modern times, Rashid Lateef who himself, was not a dummy with the bat. Surely, this team could give a fight to any team that the English could put together?
With these details in the back of my mind, I had bought tickets to watch the game on the fourth day of the Lord’s test which was a Sunday, hoping that I would see my team score a historic win.
The first day was washed out. On the next day, to our joy, after having won the toss, Pakistan elected to field first. Surely we could skittle the English team out for a paltry a hundred and something? Just look at the bowling resources at the disposal of Waqar Younis as listed above! Surely the wicket after the torrential downpour of Thursday would have gathered enough moisture to give some extra zip to the three world class seamers.
Alas ! it was a massive disappointment. England put their heads down and grafted to a very respectable score of 254/4 by the close of play on day 2. Next day, England got all out for 391 and then started our batting.
We lost Saleem Elahi, one of our openers for a duck and Saeed Anwar followed him back to the pavilion shortly. Inzi and Abdul Razzaq gave some respectability to the score but by the close of play, both had been dismissed. We were four down for a hundred and something. Still needing 75 odd to avoid the follow on.
That was the situation on the morning of fourth day, when I went to the ground with a hope to see us avoid defeat. Younis and Yousuf were at the crease and I had hoped that we would see them bat for at least up to that important landmark of 193 runs.
As I entered the ground, the game had already started. By the time I settled in my seat, Mohammad Yousuf got out. Oh dear! Rest of the innings folded pretty soon and we got asked to follow on.
It was lunch by then and we now started hoping that we shall bat for the next two sessions and see off the day. Monday, the last day was forecasted to have rain and so, we had a good chance to save the game.
What followed next was however another miserable collapse! We lost all the second innings wickets in double quick time and by the close of play, we had capitulated by an innings and nine runs. Pakistan team that had turned up that day was NOT the one that is to be feared. It was the OTHER Pakistan team. The one to be ridiculed.
Fast forward to 2018. Pakistan after the era of Waseem and Waqar and Inzi and Yousuf had gone through a rollercoaster ride that had seen the rock bottom of spot fixing (unfolded during another Lord’s test) and then the meteoric rise to the dizzying heights of being the number one test ranked team in the world, under the watchful command of Misbah ul Haq. With the retirement of Mis-You, that glittering era, which had had its peak with the press ups celebrations at Lord’s and a remarkable series levelling win at the Oval had ended. We were again at a rebuilding stage with the team make up as summarised in the opening para of this article.
I was going to watch the third day’s game and for that, had bought tickets for the upper tier of Compton stand. This stand is right under the media centre capsule and allows a decent view of the action in the middle. As luck would have it, I got a call from a dear friend who was visiting from Pakistan. One of his friends, a member of the MCC had offered him two tickets in the member’s stand. My friend, asked me if I would care to join him. CARE TO JOIN HIM? I mean how could I even think of NOT joining him! I booked annual leave and confirmed that I would be delighted to accompany him.
I wouldn’t bore you with details of the play on day one. These would still be fresh in your mind. Joe Root’s decision to bat first under overcast London skies is being roundly criticised by all and sundry. That decision did not stand the test of time and England got all out for a rather poor 184. But remember that England back in 2001, under similar conditions and against a far more potent Pakistan attack, had flourished by batting first. Therefore, the decision was not that poor. English batting was at fault with Root leading the blame list because of his careless flash well outside the off stump, throwing his wicket away.
Second day, when I was in the member’s stand was going to be ‘make or break day’ for us. If we could post a healthy first innings total, then England would be put under pressure in their second innings. If we surrendered the advantage and got out cheaply, then England could pose danger to us with even a relatively moderate target of 200 odd.
Watching the game at Lord’s is an experience like no other. The ground with its famed slope is meticulously manicured with square shaped grass patches of lush green. The crowd is wonderfully well mannered, highly educated and civilized. Every good shot and delivery, no matter by whichever team, gets applauded with polite claps. Fifties and centuries get standing ovations and close calls by bowlers get loud ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ by the highly knowledgeable crowd. Crowd in member’s stand is even better behaved with almost all the spectators dressed smartly in jackets and ties, armed with radio sets plugged in ears and carrying picnic baskets. (Member’s stand is located by the pavilion. Pavillion is exclusively for members only. Guests of members get seated in the member’s stand).
In front of this seasoned crowd, our young team started their reply. Batsmen played with a great application and concentration. Almost everybody got a start and built their innings studiously. It felt like a very ‘un-Pakistan’ performance. We were supposed to be the mavericks, weren’t we? Team with batsmen like Inzimam who could pull genuine fast bowlers in front of square with ridiculous ease. Players like Saeed Anwer who could hit sixes with a flick of their wrists at will or like Mohammad Yousuf who could play delightfully smooth cover drives straight out of the Wisden book of cricket shots. But the same batsmen could gift their wickets away with comical run outs or by playing extravagant rash strokes.
What the spectators were however witnessing was a low key but solid build up. Batsmen playing with soft hands, playing their shots late ‘from right under their noses’ and without taking any undue risks outside the off stump.
This was the new Pakistan. The one that was being developed under the hawk like gaze of Micky Arthur. Micky had laid down the strict rules about fitness and discipline. He had been given a daringly young squad by the former test great, Inzimam Ul Haq, who was now the chief selector. With the competent support provided by the PCB, Micky had begun to stamp his authority of this young squad and the results were palpably visible to all who cared to see.
In our innings, there were no stand out performances. The entire team chipped in with regular contributions with the total at a very healthy 360-8 at the close of play. Babar Azam had suffered an injury but that was not before he had scored a delightfully mature innings of 68. On the all important ,‘make or break’ day, Pakistan had grabbed the opportunities on offer with both hands and were now decidedly in the driver’s seat.
On the Third day, when I was back amongst the commoners in the Compton stand, our bowlers continued with the excellent display of clever and disciplined bowling and kept of getting regular wickets. Root tried to play the role of anchor but got dismissed by the accurate Abbas who had earlier got rid of Cook. The dangerous Bairstow got carved in half by an Amir beauty and Stokes gifted his wicket away to Shadab.
The brief defensive resistance offered by the eighth wicket stand between Butler and Bess proved frustrating post tea. There was some danger of things going pear shaped for us, but thankfully, on the fourth day, regular service resumed. The brief target provided by the English team was neatly overhauled by the young Imam and increasingly comfortable Haris. Thus recording a remarkable victory by our ‘weakest team to visit England in this century’, in a little over three days.
All eyes to Leeds now. Let’s see if this young Pakistan team can show another quality hitherto unknown to us. Consistency.
Dr. Sajid Butt is a consultant-radiologist based in London, U.K.