Pakistan tour of England, 2006 September 13, 2006

Otherwise pandemonium

Pakistan outright lost the Test series against England this summer and though they drew the one-day international series, never has a draw been more a loss than this

Curtain call: Pakistan's opening acts were woeful all summer © Getty Images

What's that saying, that defeat is a bastard, or at least an orphan, while victory has no end of fatherhood claims? Pakistan outright lost the Test series against England this summer and though they drew the one-day international series, never has a draw been more a loss than this: no disrespect to England, but with their recent ODI record and a baby-face team, 2-2 is Pakistan's defeat. For Pakistan's performances this summer, a few, familiar fathers can at least be slapped with paternity suits.

Being particularly cruel, it could be argued that their opening combinations this summer provided just that to the opposition: an opening. Cruel but true, as two fifties from five different players, four different combinations and a highest stand of 35 in four Tests amply demonstrates. Pakistan's behemoth middle order handled the pressure of early losses like giants mostly, but they won't do so on every occasion. Neither should they be expected to. The problem of openers is nearly as old as Pakistan itself and it doesn't look like it is going anywhere in a hurry.

There were also enough harum-scarum collapses (three in four innings during the third and fourth Tests) to suggest that Pakistan's other traditional batting malaise, of mucking up in alien climes, conditions and under pressure, has not disappeared. The winter's plunder, on pitches dead enough to invite accusations of batting necrophilia, shouldn't mask the fact that the implosions at Old Trafford and Headingley were simply additions to an ingloriously long tapestry of batting failures on demanding pitches, particularly in Australia and England.

A similar tapestry can be stitched around their fielding ineptitude. Never has a Pakistan side stood out for its fielding; history doesn't record an ace slipper, a prowling panther in the covers or a razor-sharp close-in fielder. But few Pakistan teams can have been as collectively laborious over their ground fielding and slipshod with their catching as this one. The first day at Lord's, inclusive of five dropped chances, set the pattern and by tour's end Pakistan were tragicomic in the field.

Though it is often said that the wicketkeeper sets the tenor of the fielding side, it would be grossly unfair to blame Pakistan's fielding horror shows purely on Kamran Akmal's terrible summer. Akmal's blip was critical to Pakistan's fortunes but because it was his first real shocker after a magnificent year he should, like batsmen, be given the benefit of doubt.

Thank God for the two Y's © Getty Images

Some cheer is to be found though, foremost in the batting of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. Allow me a brief, apologetic conceit; I had written scathingly of Yousuf after a particularly wafty failure against England last year, critcising his frailty in pressure situations. Though it is unlikely that he read it and more unlikely still that he gave a hoot, on almost every occasion since, his batting has shoveled those very words back into my mouth. If, that is, his innate elegance would ever countenance as brute a motion as shoveling. He has batted under pressure, often enormous pressure, many times since and not only responded, but done so beautifully and with frightening volume. For now, I stand corrected.

Younis has been as monumental and as a virtual opener himself, absolutely priceless. It's foolish to write off Inzamam-ul-Haq after one poor series (especially after his ODI form) and just a little sad to suspect the beginning of his end, but the form of the two Y's provides ample solace and comfort.

With their bowling, Pakistan could at least plead extenuating circumstances. Such was Mohammad Asif's form and that of Shoaib Akhtar's when they finally returned that it was perfectly reasonable to wonder how different the Test results might have been with either or both of them available. In their absence, one career, Mohammad Sami's, was halted for now, though another, Umar Gul's, was given a new lease of life.

Until Asif arrived and at times even with him, Gul was Pakistan's best Test bowler. Nippy enough and adept with both new and old ball, Gul's endearing, often awkward but wholly pure commitment is cause for genuine happiness. Serious back injuries have finished many of his kind, which makes his return of 18 wickets less than a year after full recovery doubly worthy.

No laughing matter: Pakistan had more than injuries and the cold to contend with © Getty Images

Ultimately, for the more dramatic among us, this summer gave us, in 8/20, cricket's own 9/11. In some ways that one day, one two-hour period in fact, overshadowed a 79-day tour, one of the longest in Pakistan's recent history. But for the 56 days before it and the 22 days after it, the more sober will remember this as Pakistan's most disappointing tour to England for eons, a nasty hark back to the swinging 60s and 70s when they went to England mostly for the dubious pleasures of freezing and getting whipped. Injuries are no excuse for England played without four key men of their Ashes XI.

Go one further in fact and call it their most disappointing tour anywhere in recent time, especially given the strides they had taken (Australia 2004-05 doesn't count because nobody expected anything other than a whitewash).

But above all, this summer emphatically reinforced some eternal Pakistani failings and if any real positive can be gleaned, it is from the hope, more a desperate plea actually, that something might finally be done about them.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo