August 25, 2010

Saad Shafqat

A tribute to Pakistan's resilience

Saad Shafqat
Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir enjoy their training session, Trent Bridge, July 28, 2010
Salman Butt's leadership of a young side holds promise for the future  © AFP
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Going into the final Test at Lord's, Pakistan find themselves in a position they have never been in before. On only four previous occasions have they bounced back to win a Test match after being 2-0 down. These were all unexpected victories, and most fans will be able to recall them without much mental effort. It happened in West Indies in 1958 (where the deficit was actually 3-0), in Australia in 1981 and 1995, and at home against Sri Lanka in 2000. Neither of these can be considered a genuine comeback, however, because in each case the series was already lost and the contest had been reduced to a dead rubber.

Now ask yourself, how many times has Pakistan bounced back to win a ‘live’ Test after being 2-0 down? The answer is never - until last week at the Oval. Coming from behind is surely the greatest achievement in any battle, including sporting ones. Of all the things that made Oval 2010 special for Pakistan - rise of new blood, return of a legend, emergence of a healthy captain-coach combination, and psychological exorcism of a forfeit - it is this statistic that is perhaps the most special, and it conveys the scale of the accomplishment.

It isn’t that Pakistan haven’t bounced back before. No less than sixteen times have they recovered to win a Test after being 1-0 down. But keeping a series alive after being 2 Tests down is at a different level altogether. You find yourself flat on the mat, shoulders pinned down and your breath squeezed out. Even raising your head from that position is a huge effort, let alone getting back on your feet and delivering a knock out.

More impressive still are the non-cricketing factors that were surmounted, foremost of which is the negativism that has taken hold of Pakistan’s cricket-following public. Coming on the heels of hard times in Pakistan’s economy, society, and politics – not to mention the worst floods in anyone’s memory – this is no ordinary negativism but a fevered and deafening chorus of naysayers to which even the most diehard optimists have fallen prey. To be sure, the sense of doom and gloom is not unwarranted – Pakistan’s spineless batting performances and preposterous posturing from the PCB have certainly been a very trying combination for the fans – but it does underscore the deep confidence deficit that the team overcame.

Will this newfound momentum count for something at Lord’s? There are some encouraging indications that it will. Mohammad Yousuf’s presence has served as a potent batting tincture that is finally providing the bowlers with some decent scores to bowl at. Meanwhile the bowling is skilled enough to overpower any opposition so long as there are runs on the board. If the catching also comes off as it did at the Oval, then Pakistan could well tie the series after being 2-0 down – a feat that has not been performed in Test cricket in over 50 years.

England are armed with arguably the best side in the world, supported by a stable administrative infrastructure, an astute coach, a retinue of assistants and analysts, and a tradition of method and application. Pakistan's assets are less tangible – raw talent, the innocence of youth, and an internal rhythm whose psychology and chemistry defy logic. They must also draw inspiration from Pakistani heroes known for English exploits in decades past. Fazal Mahmood, Zaheer Abbas, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad are names they have grown up with. Then there is Waqar Younis sitting as coach in the dressing room, and Wasim Akram sitting inside their heads as a publicly embraced idol.

Perhaps most important of all is Pakistan’s stealth weapon – the sane and stable captaincy of Salman Butt, and his productive equation with Waqar. Butt has now captained his team to two wins from four Tests, playing against top opposition away from home. He is obviously doing something right. If the intelligent and articulate manner in which he conducts himself during the post-match conference is any indication, he is headed for a long and fruitful tenure. This would normally be great news for the fans, but in Pakistan it evokes fears that the PCB bosses, with their reverse-Midas touch of turning gold to dust, will get to him before long. One can only hope and pray it will not be so.

If all this is new territory for Pakistan, it is also a highly unexpected spot for England. Confirmation of England’s discomfort came from coach Andy Flower, who gave a testy response to Salman Butt’s endorsement of Australia as Ashes favorites. Throughout the summer, England have viewed Pakistan as merely a savory appetizer before the grand feast of the Ashes is tackled Down Under. Now the appetizer has released an acrid taste at the Oval and is threatening to get stuck in the throat at Lord’s.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by Jalab Pushaab on (September 21, 2010, 15:56 GMT)

"the sane and stable captaincy of Salman Butt"

I wont say anything as you're articles are sincere.

Posted by Toescrusher on (August 28, 2010, 16:15 GMT)

Pakistan tour of England, 4th Test: England v Pakistan at Lord's, Aug 26-30, 2010

England 446 Pakistan 74 & 2/0 (0.5 ov)

A tribute to Pakistan's resilience?

Posted by Friend on (August 27, 2010, 17:30 GMT)

This article reeks of the subcontinental tendency to make too much out of one (or a few) results. Truth be told, Pakistan cricket has been long-term decline mirroring the increased political turmoil within the nation.

As an Indian, the feeling when an Indo-Pak match is on is not the same anymore. Till the mid-90's, Pakistan had the edge over us. Each chap in your 11 was a potential matchwinner. And what a bowling attack you guys had. Imran Khan and the 2 W's were probably the best pace trio to play at the same time (at some point) for any country. And you had two amazing spinners in Mushtaq and Saqlain, both legends in their own right.

Posted by Jacob on (August 27, 2010, 10:31 GMT)

LOL, one victory and Pakistan are world beaters already! Anyone can bowl in swinging conditions. Even ordinary bowlers look like world beaters in swing friendly english conditions. The tircky part is bowling when the sun is shining down and on a flat pitch. Pakistan bowlers were found wanting in flatter aussie wickets.

Posted by Mian Waheed on (August 27, 2010, 5:50 GMT)

Till such time we dont get rid of Ijaz Butt-Pakistan cricket will never improve.He is the biggest hurdle for that.

Posted by Hassan on (August 26, 2010, 16:16 GMT)

personally think this is just a beginning for bigger things to come.Would absolutely love to see pakistan level the series.Beautifully written article well thought sir..

Posted by Toescrusher on (August 26, 2010, 15:23 GMT)

When Pakistan is able to chase at least 300 runs in the forth inning only then they deserve high recognition. With the present team comprise of players from Punjab a region known for producing bowlers holding key batting positions doesn’t shows even a glimpse of hope that they can ever be able to chase 300 runs in the fourth inning. Salman Butt will keep on talking big since he was told to do so you are in naïve world if you pay more attention to his remarks then it really requires else you are just feeling good; getting out on 70s and 80s suggests that we are not far from club cricketers category. Remembering acidic appetizer given to England and completely forgetting the poisonous appetizer given to Pakistan by England and Australia is a mind set of the fantasy world.

Posted by Iqbal Hassan on (August 26, 2010, 12:27 GMT)

Hey Guys.!!!!!!!!!!!!pls stop dreaming...Pakistan is the weakest team today....even weaker than Bangladesh...Accept or dont accept it...our choice..Dont go by bowling efforts in England..every bowler can be effective in these conditions...Even Umar Amin could take wickets...Shane Watson who is not a specialist bowler could take 2 FIVERS...The areas we need to improve are batting and fielding...unless we improve we can be in the cadre....Dont make heros out of normal performers....Look at Umer Akmal...he is yet to score 1000 runs and averages in low 30's has been made a super star out of nothing.....Hold on guys...!!

Posted by TARIQ on (August 26, 2010, 10:09 GMT)

WELL!ITS TOO EARLY TO PREDICT ANYTHING ABOUT THE WORLDS MOST UNPREDICTIBLE TEAM.NO DOUBT THE TEAM IS IN GOOD SPIRITS BUT THEY WILL HAVE TO KEEP THE SAME MOMENTUM AND OF COURSE THEY NEED TO IMPROVE THEIR BATTING AND FIELDING AS WELL.THEN ONLY THE "GREEN TEAM" IS GOING TO BECOME INVINCIBLE.ALL THE BEST "GO GREEN TEAM GO"

Posted by Taimur Khan on (August 26, 2010, 9:16 GMT)

The series is deliciously poised! If Pakistan win the toss & decide to bat under overcast conditions, we can have another double digit total since the Pakistan top order (bar Yousaf) is in callapso mode. Even if the ball does not swing, they are a par 200 side, if it swings, par 120, if it swings & seams, par 80, if it swings, seams & bounces (as in SA and Adelaide) we'll see a new world record bettering 26 all out of a century ago, provided they don't play Yousaf, Younis or Hameed). But if England bat under clouds & ball seams & swings (Lords) and Waqar has taught the bowlers how to blow the tail (& they've worked our Prior) England could go for under 140. Cook has averaged under 5 bar one knock, Strauss, Morgan, Peterson & Collingwood average less than 15 if all catches were taken by Pakistan this summer, and Trott wastes the productive period after the shine goes & before ball get old (read reverse & doosra). If it clears up for Pak, we could have another lead & another win 4 Pak

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