February 1, 2012

Pakistan v England 2011-12

The peril of premature laurel-resting

Andrew Hughes
Misbah-ul-Haq hugs Mohsin Khan after Pakistan's series win, Pakistan v England, 2nd Test, Abu Dhabi, 4th day, January 28, 2012
Patient Pakistan is not as entertaining as out-patient Pakistan, but far more satisfying to watch  © AFP


Sunday, 29th January “And so the Andy who was called Strauss led his disciples into the desert. For three days and three nights they wandered but on the fourth day they rested on the back foot and were caught unawares. There was then much wailing and gnashing of teeth and they returned unto their hotel whereupon they did beat their X-Boxes mercilessly.”

The Greeks didn’t give us the whole picture. Nemesis comes after hubris all right, but they missed out stage three: recrimination, which is the worst bit. Sky’s usual suspects looked like appalled teachers confronted with the evidence that last term’s top student had just been caught smoking in the sixth form toilets. Bob was loftily contemptuous, Botham was steaming and Nasser was definitely not amused.

But are they being fair? England are a good team, they just aren’t as good as all that. There’s no disgrace in losing to Pakistan, who played very well. What’s the problem?

The problem is that England’s media cheerleaders have spent the last six months indulging their fevered patriotic imaginations and now that Strauss and chums have slipped up, the pundits are left feeling more than a little cheesy.

Things were already getting silly a year ago, after England beat one of the worst Australian teams ever to don saggy cloth caps. Then they beat India and silliness readings went off the scale. One writer even got away with listing England’s 2011 vintage as one of the best five Test sides of all time without being immediately arrested and detained in a suitable medical facility for his own safety.

We’ve seen it all before. In fact, this English habit of premature laurel-resting was first noted at the Battle of Hastings when five minutes after the start of play, King Harold, observing that the Normans were struggling to break the English shield wall, declared that the battle was over, his army was clearly the best since the Romans and sat down for an impromptu muffin and mead break.

So now that events have demonstrated that England are somewhat less than invincible, the wronged experts must have someone to blame. I’m no psychic, but I suspect attention will first turn to the least English of the Abu Dhabi failures. Mr Trott’s gastro-intestinal tribulations may earn him a sympathetic reprieve and so scapegoat duties will have to be assigned to either Mr Morgan or Mr Pietersen.

But the blame apportioners are missing the point. Test cricket is more interesting when there is an unresolved scrap for No. 1, and right now there are at least four teams involved in the squabble to be top Test dog. Pakistan are one of them and not just because they have a pair of proper spinners. Misbah’s Pakistan is Patient Pakistan and that is the most dangerous kind of Pakistan you can get.

It was Ajmal and Rehman who dismantled England’s house with their spinning wrecking ball, but the hard work was done on day three by Azhar and Asad, who batted like Geoff Boycott’s older, more circumspect cousins, blunted the tourist’s momentum as though their bats were saucepans and Broad and co were onrushing cartoon cats in pursuit of a runaway mouse, and so set up the final day’s spectacle.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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Posted by waterbuffalo on (February 4, 2012, 4:34 GMT)

Bring back the benefit of the doubt for the batsmen, please. No more clipping outside of leg-stump dismissals. I bowled for nine years, opening swing bowler, I never got one that even moved toward leg stump, it had to be plumb, and decidely middle and leg . Even then it would be a minor miracle. Leg stump not out, and I bowled in swing. 16 wickets on a first day is ridiculous. In a few years, everybody will be bowling in swing and off spin. Is that want you want to see? Too many wickets down leg side. Later I swung the ball out but why bother if you get leg stump, marginal decisions?

Posted by Usama on (February 3, 2012, 5:43 GMT)

This problem is contagious amongst the English press it seems be it football or cricket. Hail Theo Walcott as the next Messi after his hat-trick against Croatia only to berate him after any dire performance for Arsenal and hail Eoin Morgan as the next best thing and 'an exciting prospect' only to make him a scapegoat. During the spot-fixing series, there were calls for Cook to be removed from the side for the upcoming Ashes campaign; does anyone remember that? Cook just couldn't play Amir and Asif. So Andy, your article just points to a general problem that I, as an outsider, observe with the English media.

Posted by TD_160 on (February 2, 2012, 6:35 GMT)

Pakistan in a scrap for the no. 1 spot? That's a big call. India is definitely no longer in contention, but I don't think there is any one to replace them. If you follow Geoffrey Boycott's criterion for determining the best team (that they have to perform well in all conditions) then South Africa are probably the best. Apart from those two tours in 2001 and '04, Australia have rarely been competitive in India, while England have been woeful on all tours to the subcontinent over the past decade.

Posted by Ravi on (February 2, 2012, 5:27 GMT)

But all of Andy H's humorous yet impassioned defence of England doesn't answer one fundamental question - how did these guys EVER become #1? Maybe it's a scathing indictment of the rest of world cricket that they did!

Posted by Rob on (February 2, 2012, 4:20 GMT)

King Harold references aplenty at cricinfo. Who got in first, Andy Zaltzman or yourself?

Posted by cric lover on (February 2, 2012, 2:18 GMT)

Good article. England are a very good team, but definitely not in the best five test team in history. Happy for Pakistan!

Posted by Decorum on (February 2, 2012, 0:10 GMT)

"...right now there are at least four teams involved in the squabble to be top Test dog. Pakistan are one of them..." Presumably England's one and obviously New Zealand is in there, but who's the fourth?

Posted by Observer on (February 1, 2012, 23:28 GMT)

Quite a fair and unbiased article.

For contemptuousness, belligerence and arrogance, anyone can go and read Zaltzman.

But patient elegance as provided by articles such as the one above still remains in a lofty class of its own.

Well done!

Posted by Al on (February 1, 2012, 21:25 GMT)

"One writer even got away with listing England’s 2011 vintage as one of the best five Test sides of all time without being immediately arrested and detained in a suitable medical facility for his own safety."

Agree 100%. I read that article with a lot of curiosity and when I reached the bottom, it turned out to be a ploy to drum up an upcoming team (no where near the other 4).

Posted by Saddam on (February 1, 2012, 18:48 GMT)

I believe England will play alot better against Srilanka as well as India in their coming series. Its just that they have encountered Pakistan's "patient side" at the wrong time. Both Pakistani batting and bowling are very controlled and they are harldy throwing it away. England is a free flowing team and they have struggled just because of that.

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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