January 20, 2012

One of Pakistan's greatest victories?

Under Misbah, the batsmen have raised their game to match their bowlers' efforts. If they extend their advantage over England, it might be the start of something big

After Pakistan's imposing victory in Dubai, England's No. 1 Test ranking is not the only thing under threat. There is also the record for the largest number of Test wins by a Pakistan captain - jointly held for the last two decades by Imran Khan and Javed Miandad with 14 apiece - which Misbah-ul-Haq, with his current trajectory appears headed for.

Another vulnerable target is Pakistan's notoriety as the underachieving bad boys of world cricket, which Misbah and his men are all set to overturn. There are also the reservations from last year that Pakistan had not been tested against top-notch opposition, which will be dealt with if Pakistan can capitalise on their first-Test victory and win the series.

Then there is the spot on the pedestal where Saqlain Mushtaq sits as Pakistan's most hallowed offie. It might be too early to say, but Saeed Ajmal is now threatening to elbow his way on there. Ajmal has come to the party quite late, having made his international debut in 2008, and played his first Test the following year, when has was almost 32. For a while he was considered good only for containment, and therefore a limited-overs specialist. As recently as during the build-up to the 2011 World Cup, he was described by Imran Khan as being better at choking runs than making strikes. But Ajmal, whose Test bowling average, strike rate and economy are all better than Saqlain's at the same stage in his career, is fast getting up there with the man he has idolised and yearned to emulate.

This series has been anticipated as a duel between Ajmal and Graeme Swann, but though Swann's career numbers are better than Ajmal's, the latter has drawn first blood, taking 10 for 97 in the opening Test compared with Swann's 4 for 107. Swann is deeply respected in the Pakistan camp, and with good reason, because his Test average and strike rate against Pakistan are better than those against any other country. Swann has an edge over Ajmal in being able to turn the offbreak more, and having better command of flight, while Ajmal's unique asset is the menacing doosra, which Swann can't bowl.

Until the start of this series, there was also a feeling that Swann's psychological arsenal is more potent than Ajmal's, but after the fuss over the teesra it seems their craftiness is perhaps evenly matched. Ajmal approached the Test in Dubai with an array of postures and pronouncements that recalled the way Bobby Fischer prepared for Boris Spassky in 1972. When these two chess legends met to decide the world title, Fischer's eccentricities spooked Spassky well before the first move on the board. England's capitulation in the first innings, from which they never recovered, was similarly abject. Tied in knots, they surrendered to the mere idea of the weapon. Does the teesra really exist? No, it doesn't. But - especially if you're an England batsman - don't take my word for it.

England may have been caught napping, but Pakistan will expect a backlash in the next Test in Abu Dhabi. Going one-up in a three-Test series is a firm advantage, but on one previous occasion - against Sri Lanka at home in 1995-96 - Pakistan lost a three-game rubber after winning the first Test. That, however, was a different era, rife with player politics and rumours of match-fixing.

With the team cleansed of corruption, and a culture of increasing discipline and focus under Misbah, Pakistan may be able to weather the storm England are planning to brew. Successful batting will be the key. The bowlers have been receiving much of the credit for Pakistan's resurgence - and deservedly so - but figures indicate that the real difference has been in the batting. Comparing the 13 Tests under Misbah with the 13 before them shows that Pakistan have conceded almost the same number of runs (7007 versus 6964) and taken wickets with a more or less similar average (29.07 versus 33.16), but the batting average under Misbah has almost doubled, from 24.30 to 41.80. In other words, Pakistan's bowling was strong before, and continues to be strong under Misbah, but now the batsmen are giving their bowlers enough runs to play with. The result is that Pakistan have won seven of the 13 Tests under Misbah, compared with three wins and eight losses in the 13 previous Tests.

The last time England toured Pakistan, they lost 2-0 in Tests and 3-2 in ODIs. It was the series in which Danish Kaneria and Shoaib Akhtar were on song, Mohammad Yousuf scored a match-winning double-hundred, and Inzamam went past Miandad's record of 24 Test centuries. Afterwards England complained of alien and unhelpful conditions that did not suit their style of play.

England are in a different situation now. They are ambitious about a long reign as the world's top-ranked Test side, which forces them to view Asia as the final frontier, not some exotic backwater. This time around, grumbling about the conditions won't wash. Indeed, excuses of any kind will ring hollow, as the reaction to Bob Willis' questioning of Ajmal's bowling action has already shown.

It would perhaps be hyperbole to suggest that this is one of Pakistan's greatest Test victories, but for now that is certainly the way it feels. If it is possible to be stunned with pleasure, that is what Pakistani fans are at the moment.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jawwad on January 23, 2012, 22:36 GMT

    @cric_fan__ - What are you talking about? In last 2 years, Pakistan has beaten England in England (lost series 3-1), Australia in England (Tied 1-1), beat New Zealand in NZ(won 1-0), beat West Indies in WI (Tied 1-1), tied S. A, beat Zimbabwe in Zim, beat Bangladesh in BD. They have won all over except S. A and Australia, last frontiers.

  • Muhammad on January 23, 2012, 19:55 GMT

    @CricIndia2008, You make me laugh. Pakistan has much better record overeas then India. Pak has better record in india then india have in Pak. Also Pak was the only team to challange WI in their pomp and this includes test series played in WI. If we had neutral umpires back in the 80's, those serier results would have been differnt. I do agree that Pak is bad in Aus and SA.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    @ 5wombats ans Si baker ! Full respect Sir! U two r truly the people with gr8 cricketing knowledge and expertise. I very much respect englishmen and their views on pakistan cricket. England is only second to australia in all time test records and are in their rightful place to be credited as No.1. Both of which are tremendous achievements.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2012, 13:53 GMT

    @ cricindia 208! Our overseas performances recently have been better than urs. Urs have been awful( On the verge of two successive whitewashes). Atleast we drawn with aus in eng and beat eng in a test in eng. Look at ur performances against these two teams.And talking more about away performances Pakistan has been playing away and winning for the last 2 years. From 2000-2012 Pakistan has a better overseas record than india. Just take a look at this link! http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?class=1;home_or_away=2;home_or_away=3;spanmin1=01+Jan+2000;spanval1=span;template=results;type=team First get ur facts together and then comment! Cheers! Cricinfo hasn't been publishing my posts. Cricinfo plz publish.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2012, 13:09 GMT

    PAKISTAN the best team in the cricket history WHO HAVE FACED MANY ups and downs in his cricket career since 1952

  • Ahmed on January 23, 2012, 7:30 GMT

    Always love reading you!!

  • Ahmed on January 23, 2012, 7:17 GMT

    Always love reading you!!

  • Rimtu on January 23, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    Another poorly written (on account of factually incorrect statements) article from this writer. I think Mr. Shafqat's articles should be edited for factual accuracies before published in CI. His statement "... but though Swann's career numbers are better than Ajmal's..." is incorrect (one among others). Swann's test average 28.77 with a econ. rate of 2.98 runs per 6 balls. Ajmal's average 27.96 with a econ. rate of 2.63 runs per 6 balls. Swann has edge over Ajman in strike rate, striking once every 57.8 balls compared to Ajman who has struck once every 63.6 balls. But these are fairly comparable stats, and if anything the er advantage of Ajmal is a big one. So, while it cannot be conclusively said that Ajmal's numbers are better than Swann, it can definitely NOT be said that Swann's are better than Ajmal's.

    I am not planning on reading further articles by this writer, until proper editing is done to ensure CI readers do not get a factually inaccurate article to waste time on.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2012, 4:49 GMT

    AvidCricFan Pakistan have already played in NZ last year plz check your records.

  • Martin on January 22, 2012, 17:06 GMT

    @cric_ind_fan on (January 22 2012, 01:53 AM GMT); "Eng team is the most overrated and hyped team, from my point of view they are one level below current Bangladesh team", and yet @cric_ind_fan this most over-rated team thrashed Australia in Australia. That same Aus team is currently thrashing india. And England, this most "over-rated" team whitewashed india 6 months ago. Your rantings of pure jealousy and inadequacy are some of the best I've ever read on cricinfo. I'm surprised you don't choke on your own bile. What a pity you can't take defeat as graciously as we do. Please publish.

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