Saad Shafqat August 25, 2010

A tribute to Pakistan's resilience

Going into the final Test at Lord's, Pakistan find themselves in a position they have never been in before

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