2010: Summer of Pakistan September 20, 2010

Cricket survives Butt attack

Lord’s wasn’t full but it was resplendent

Lord’s wasn’t full but it was resplendent. A healthy crowd enjoyed a perfect late summer’s evening, by the end of which you might have been excused for forgetting that international cricket was on the brink of calamity. Sensible heads in the ECB ensured that the fourth one-day international between England and Pakistan took place despite a unilateral attack by Pakistan’s bumbling chairman, Mr Ijaz Butt.

Nerves were fraught following a night of anger in the England camp and bewilderment in Pakistan’s. The tension even spilled over into a pre-match clash between Jonathan Trott and Wahab Riaz, and it was still etched on the furrowed brow of Andrew Strauss at the post-match press conference and the perspiring forehead of Pakistan’s coach Waqar Younis.

Waqar, it seems, has become Pakistan’s one-man crisis management team. I’m not sure these delicate media situations come naturally to him but he has done admirably enough in fending off hostile questions, at least attempting to focus on cricket instead of fanning the flames of controversy. He described England as a great venue to tour and relations between the teams as superb. Although the latter statement might have been stretching the bounds of credulity, Waqar has always had affection for cricket in England despite the controversies.

He believes his squad composed of the young and the recalled deserves praise for its spirited performances in the one-day series, especially in light of the storm swirling around them and friendly fire striking amidships.

This series, however, is unlikely to be remembered for its cricket unless in relation to allegations of fixing of some variety. The 22 players made a noble attempt to reconnect supporters with the fascination of a hard-fought contest—and the crowd responded. The surreal mood of the morning was replaced by an uncharacteristic buzz of excitement at Lord's as England chased victory under lights.

For what it’s worth Pakistan have begun to excel again at defending a competitive total. With Shoaib Akhtar leading the line and Umar Gul smashing stumps, the last two internationals have been a throwback to the way Pakistan used to go about their business more than a decade ago. Even Razzaq’s blitzkrieg in the last two overs was an echo of past adventures.

There was also fight here from Shahid Afridi’s boys, a determination to show the world what they can do. How long it lasts is anybody’s guess but Pakistan have the momentum going into the final match of the series. England, meanwhile, were shell shocked, first by Butt’s unbecoming accusations and then by the passion of Pakistan’s fightback.

Yet all the players, English and Pakistani, must take credit for playing out an enthralling contest in probably the most controversial environment in the history of one-day internationals. By the finish there was renewed hope that the spirit of cricket lives on. The fumblings of the ICC and the damage caused by Pakistan’s cricket chairman might yet be contained. Pakistan’s players celebrated victory as if they had won back their souls from the devil.

The evening at Lord’s was a reminder that the fascination of cricket lies in the battle between national heroes and the interplay of that intense contest with the emotions of an enthusiastic crowd. These magic ingredients will live on when the mistakes of the ICC and the stupidity of Mr Butt are consigned to the landfill of history. Match-fixing allegations in their various guises may be harder to shake. After all, they began on English fields in cricket’s earliest days.

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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here