January 29, 2012

A victory fashioned by the unsung

Two young batsmen and an overshadowed bowler did it for Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. Now the administrators must ensure this winning team is left undisturbed

It is surprising how even seasoned observers of the game keep underestimating the potential of the fourth innings for psycho-drama. A stentorian voice announces that a target of 145 could not possibly trouble the world's best side. Another concurs, noting that 145 would be a routine ask in a T20; the chasing team would hardly bat an eyelid. There are some rebuttals but they are muted. You can't compare the two, someone mutters under his breath, explaining that in Tests there are neither field restrictions nor a limit on the number of overs per bowler. But most of all there is the unique psychology.

As compellingly demonstrated by Pakistan's victory in Abu Dhabi, going down the order in a fourth-innings chase is like plumbing the depths of the ocean. Pressure mounts exponentially, and it gets dark very soon. Low-to-medium targets are the hardest, because they tempt you like a mirage, until you fall, thirsty and desperate, grabbing at nothing.

If you want precedents, you could go all the way back to The Oval in 1882, when England failed to chase 85. Granted that was another era, with a different culture and playing conditions, but it happens to be the match that gave birth to the Ashes, and so casts a very long shadow. Since then there have been 13 other occasions when England have failed to chase a target of under 200.

Pakistan's name now shows up three times as the opponent on this list. In 1954 they prevented England from chasing 168 at The Oval. That, too, may have been another era, but it stands out in Pakistan's cricket annals as their most important victory. The second was in November 2005, in Multan, during England's last tour to Pakistan, when England were set 198 and dismissed 22 short.

There are certain similarities between that match and now, although there is also a vital difference. That England side too was basking in fresh Ashes glory, and comprised a star-studded touring party, with names like Flintoff, Pietersen, Strauss, Bell, Collingwood, and Harmison. Yet Pakistan's 2-0 win never drew much international traction. Now England are top dog, which in a sense imprisons them. Now all contests and all playing conditions assume equal significance, be it the manicured turf of a teeming English ground under heavy cloud cover, or an outpost in the desert, whose empty stands are baking under the sun. When you are the frontrunner, it doesn't matter how or where you get knocked off your perch.

Misbah is the CEO, and Mohsin is the supportive and watchful chairman, standing steadfastly behind him. What they are doing together is not merely working, it is working wonders

Pakistan's gains from this victory are plenty. Most heartening is that the win was not fashioned by the usual suspects but by unsung honest triers who have mostly been labouring in the shadows. The match turned in the second innings, when Asad Shafiq joined Azhar Ali after Pakistan had lost four wickets without yet having erased England's lead. The stuffing had been knocked out of Pakistan's batting line-up, with both openers as well as Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, the two middle-order mainstays, gone. Shafiq and Azhar rode their luck, as you have to in these situations, but they stuck it out. Their partnership of 88 proved the key difference, being modestly in excess of England's eventual margin of defeat.

The bowling hero, too, was unexpected. With left-arm orthodox spin ruling this match, Monty Panesar and Abdur Rehman usurped the arena that general consensus had already ceded to Graeme Swann and Saeed Ajmal. Panesar and Rehman's six-fors in the second innings were both almost equally crucial.

The distinction was that Rehman's batsmen had given him enough runs to bowl at. Rehman made his international debut over half a decade ago, but has played only 14 Tests and 21 ODIs. Abu Dhabi is his first five-wicket haul, and only his second Man-of-the-Match award. He has been an undervalued player, never really seen as a match-winner, but those deliveries that kicked and spat out from the rough are going to change that.

Pakistan now find themselves in the rare position of being within striking distance of a clean sweep. Having come so far so quickly, and from rock bottom, carries an overpowering significance. Criticisms of Misbah's slow and steady approach should now be history, as should be any attempt to remove Mohsin Khan as the head coach, if the PCB has any sense. This series win has allowed us to better understand both men and their contributions. Misbah is the CEO, and Mohsin is the supportive and watchful chairman, standing steadfastly behind him. What they are doing together is not merely working, it is working wonders.

From here on, the challenge for Pakistan's cricket establishment is to create propitious circumstances that can help sustain such dramatic ascendancy. Far too often myopic administrators in Pakistan have unnecessarily fiddled with winning formulas, to the national side's unfortunate detriment. This Pakistan outfit is carving out a path in the sky. All that the PCB bosses need to do right now is to get out of the way. You really couldn't ask for a better deal.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 1, 2012, 5:33 GMT

    Winning two tests against england or winning test series against bangladesh or srulanka doesnt mean doesnt mean there is no room for changes in the team. Pakistani batsmen has not performed at all. we are winning just cuz of our bowlers. NEED LOADS OF CHANGES IN THE BATTING LINE UP.Should get rid of plauers like taufiq yunus asad n even misbah. bring more youngsters !

  • syed naveed on February 1, 2012, 4:06 GMT

    well, i think at present the Pak cricket board should leave the players all alone, and should not get involved in any way(like planning to change the coach or any other thing),to disturb the tempo of our winning team .if the side is winning series one after the other then it is better to sit and watch them performing,rather than disturbing them .as the team is winning then it is better to give coach mohsin credit for it also and do not change him, as how you can fail some one who is getting exellent results.also there is no guarantee that the next coah will do further better and will get 100 % results. i dont thing the foreign coach will work for more than six months.real test of our players will be on fast pitches, will they than be able to play with 3 spinners on those grounds?,definitely they will have to bring more fast bowlers in to the side and will then change the balance of the side.have to see what happens than with the results ?????????????????

  • muhammad on January 31, 2012, 19:49 GMT

    Wahab Riaz is far better bowler than Junaid Khan ,he must be given chance in 3rd test . Umer Gul is a leader of our pace attack but he must be given rest in 3rd test to save his energy for One day and T 20 and give chance to Wahab Riaz and Azaz Cheema ifor Umer Gul and Junaid Khan as Pakistan has already won the series .

  • cric on January 31, 2012, 17:04 GMT

    Moshin could well remain the head coach only to serve as a morale booster but Pak seriously needs a good batting coach under moshin...

  • Dummy4 on January 31, 2012, 11:43 GMT

    Azhar Ali and Asad Shafi,, who played a crucial role in building up a reasonable total in Pakistan's second innings in Abu Dhabi,are just two of the highly talented batsmen in the Pakistani cricket circuit .The others like Ahamed Shehzad,Fawad Alam,Nasir Jamshed,Usman Salahudeen and others who are very promising capable batsmen need to be put on fast mode and given an intensive coaching to promote their rapid progress to represent Pakistan.

  • shahid on January 31, 2012, 7:49 GMT

    Soil should be taken from all test playing countaries and mixed together to prepare Austroturf like pitches industrially and same pitch should be used all over the world. There will be no more excuses from players. You dont see these type of excuses in any other sport bar cricket.

  • Jawad on January 31, 2012, 7:08 GMT

    I see some people are not agreeing with the article but to me the important thing is that the combination is working and as rightly pointed out by the author, this combination should be allowed to carry on without any hinderances.

  • Dummy4 on January 31, 2012, 2:31 GMT

    I am totally glad that Pakistan continued their winning track and beat England. However, other than Cook and Trott, all other English batsmen are having a bad patch. We should also not forget that England is missing a couple of very good players due to injury. Also, what Panesar, an ordinary left armer, did to Pakistan's batting, is quite disturbing. Eventually, the real test would be for Pakistan to beat any two of the following four teams in their home venues: Australia, South Africa, England or India. Personally, I would love to see Pakistan beat Australia and India in their respective countries.

  • P on January 30, 2012, 22:36 GMT

    We are happy that Pakistan's team without big names players have done so well against England and also against SriLanka.But frankly speaking i don't agree with some of the statements made by Mohsin Khan like ''Now we are looking towards number one position''.No doubt this Pakistani team has been performing wll in last 6 months or so and it appears to be a balance team too but honestly speaking there is lot of room fro improvement.We should not forget that last 3 to 4 test serious Pakistani team have played were in Subcontinent either spinning or flat pitches which favours our spinners and batsmen too.And except England we have win against weaker sides like Sri Lnaka and Bangldesh.Real task for our team will be when they will go to Australia, England and South Africa.I don't think AburRehman will be as effective there as he is on sub continent pitches.Batsmen like Toufeeq Umer and Azhar Ali have basic flaws in their techniques specially against fast bowling on seeming and bouncy pitches

  • Bohurupi on January 30, 2012, 19:13 GMT

    Does Mohsin Khan has any previous coaching experience for any high profile team? I wonder if he is acting more like a moral booster in the team rather than a well calculated coach? Does he actually studies every single player and every single move they make to decide on the course and strategy of the team? His demeanor doesn't look like so or may be I'm wrong!

  • No featured comments at the moment.