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July 13, 2006
Jonty Rhodes's arrival in Pakistan for a short stint as fielding coach attracted, it is fair to say, considerable scepticism. Though it isn't fair, after today, it is unlikely chants of `Jonty zindabad!' will ring around Pakistan. Miracles should not have been expected (and will not be forthcoming). But Rhodes's PR agent would surely have winced as Pakistan shelled five chances, mostly straightforward, barely a month after he came over for two weeks to work with the team.
They weren't especially awful in the field. They were as they generally are; plodding, clumsy, comical, fitfully athletic and mostly reckless. They were as they have been seemingly forever. Is it any surprise that reverse swing came out of Pakistan? Forget bottle tops, nails and tape ball. Reverse swing and the high number of bowleds and lbws was the result purely of an inbred belief in Pakistani bowlers that fielders, essentially, are to be used only to rub and shine.
Looking for reasons is redundant: poor local outfields hamper good fielding (though surely not catching) is oft-used. And having had a distinguished line of singularly poor fielders as captains (think Imran, Wasim, Waqar, Inzamam) and no role models (which player is remembered for his fielding, apart from, at a stretch, Asif Iqbal?) hasn't helped.
Waqar Younis, Pakistan's bowling coach, spoke about lack of practice on this ground, the usual tension that accompanies a Lord's Test and the overcast conditions that form a difficult backdrop. England themselves have had calamitous fielding shows in their last two Lord's Tests. But because - as with a lack of openers - fielding has rarely stopped Pakistan from winning, it never really merits the kind of care it so blatantly needs. So, no need to start now.
Except this time, the pinch of Imran Farhat's horror show at slips and other aberrations might be a little sharper, mainly because of the number of players Pakistan have donated to medical science, thus matching their hosts' hospitality in giving up most of their team for similar purposes. England can rightly rue the absence of half of their first-choice pace attack but they at least played four Tests together last summer (and some before). Pakistan's first-choice pace attack exists only on paper and in the mind of their fans. We'd love to see Shoaib, Rana, Asif and Gul, together, just the once, though we are unlikely to.
So they made do with a new-look attack, both in composition and by haircut. Mohammad Sami returned with a broody new crop but the same old result. Like his hair his confidence looked shorn and you really wonder just how he has gone from what he was (match-winning Test debut, Test and ODI hat-trick, serious pace, lovely floppy hair) to the meek figure he cuts now.
Umar Gul apparently went to the same barber though he had a better time of it than Sami. Kamran Akmal and Farhat, rather than the unflappable Alastair Cook and even more unflappable Paul Collingwood, stood in his way. But with brisk pace, bounce and swing both conventional and reverse through the day, we can look forward - rather than back as with Sami - to his career.
Who knows, had both followed the lead of Abdul Razzaq, who by growing his traditional crop into the beginnings of a fantastic eighties mullet - how many wickets they would have ended up with. Razzaq was not only the most hirsute bowler on display, he was Pakistan's best by some distance. His pace was as nippy as it once used to be and his accuracy was complemented by some clever variation. When he needed to cut and seam he did and when he needed to find reverse swing, he did that too.
Actually we shouldn't look to his hair as the reason for his success. We should also look at the changed role he was in. Over his last nine Tests, Razzaq has gradually rediscovered, if not the zest of his earlier years, then at least the guile and effectiveness. Since the Kolkata Test against India last year, he has taken 27 wickets in eight Tests: hardly world-beating figures but in the eight Tests previous to that he had taken 10 (including five in one innings). He has struck nearly three overs quicker on average in his last eight Tests than he has over his career at a much lower average (33 as opposed to 37).
Vitally, in six of those Tests, Shoaib and often other leading bowlers have been absent, thus encumbering Razzaq with greater responsibility. The burden, bizarrely, has helped him prosper, allowing him to attack batsmen rather than repel them and, eventually, it has brought him success too. It happened again today. His only five-wicket haul in Tests came when he opened the bowling in the absence of Shoaib and Sami.
Like Razzaq, Pakistan have often thrived when missing key players and ultimately, as with the fielding, even the absences should act as no excuse, or indeed an obstacle to success. One of the pleasing aspects about Pakistan's rise over the last two years has been their ability to make light of precisely such injuries. They won in Sri Lanka without Shoaib, Sami or Rana and beat India at Karachi without Inzamam. That ability to counter such losses will undergo yet another stern examination here. At least they are used to it.
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