June 7, 2001

In my opinion cricket was the winner!

Salahudin Ahmed (Sallu)

Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu)
Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu)
Photo © CricInfo
The good thing about Pakistan's victory at Old Trafford was that it was achieved with great team spirit, with every one making a conscious effort to chip in. That is something we hadn't seen for a while. And it was evident by the way the Pakistanis picked up the level of their fielding, and applied themselves while batting, particularly the middle and late order. Previously, this application and commitment was missing and that was why Pakistan had failed to give England a run for their money, at home in the last season and at Lord's a short while ago.

At Old Trafford, the Pakistanis had to produce something right out of the top drawer, as their followers, keen and sentimental as they remain to be, were fast losing faith in them. And it was pleasant to see them doing just that. Inzamam was the bulwark around which they built their onslaught, and he lived up to his billing, indeed reconfirming his class in both the innings. It was a touch sad to see him missing his second ton in the game, for he richly deserved it.

The turf was more of a sub-continental nature than the kind one normally associates with English environment. The Pakistanis thrived on that with Younis Khan and Rashid Latif chipping in with knocks more valuable than the sum total of their runs. Once the batsmen had provided the cushion in both the innings, Wasim and Waqar - great bowlers pushed to the wall by their detractors, produced some good spells and provided crucial breakthroughs. And Saqlain, as we all know, is good against quality batsmen but absolutely lethal against tail-enders. With wickets being taken at the other end too, he did not allow the England tail to wag for long, and we saw two collapses that denied England a dream run of five successive series wins.

Stunning as it was, the defeat has made the English press lose its equipoise. In an extremely thrilling encounter, albeit producing an unpalatable result for the hosts, in my opinion cricket was the winner. But the English moaning and whinnying, which has become so characteristic of them whenever they lose, has left a very unsavoury aftertaste. The press has again tried to raise the bogey of ball tampering, which indeed is disgraceful because the most vital breakthrough, that of Graham Thorpe in the second innings by Waqar was achieved with a brand new ball. This fact has conveniently been ignored and so has been the one that Saqlain's off-spin doesn't need a tampered ball to force the issue.

That brings us to wickets due to umpiring errors - the hue and cry over the no-balls which David Shepherd failed to see because he was concentrating so hard on the cluster of fielders around the bat. But then Azhar Mahmood too was a victim, if memory serves me right it was Peter Willey who gave him out off a Caddick no-ball in the first innings at Lord's. It didn't even find a mention anywhere. While the cruel finger that sent Inzamam and Younis packing in the second innings at Lord's did find a mention here and there but really in muted undertones.

Such double standards, both by the print media and by former players commentating on the satellite channels, do not bring England and its cricket any credit. It's high time they acknowledge the fact all umpires whether from England or other countries are human and do make mistakes. Let's argue, for a moment, if an Asian umpire had committed the oversights by David Shepherd, would he not already been branded a cheat, in the pay of bookmakers and turned into a pariah? All one can ask from the media is fair and equitable criticism, to be applied equally to one's own and to officials from elsewhere. The human frailties in a pressure cooker situation should not be cause for tarnishing the gloss of a victory by a foreign team. Shrugging off the loss and laying the blame on umpiring is surely not cricket in the Home of Cricket!

I am saying that Shepherd is human and capable of mistakes. I am trying to expose a certain mindset, which would pass judgments on umpires from certain countries and absolve others of all blame, except passing it off as human error. This is the bent, which would report, for instance, that Nasser Hussain was 'hacked' in Pakistan and Sri Lanka while simply shrugging off two bad decisions in three innings against Younis Khan as something that happens in cricket. That's not cricket.

Then, it's an indictment on the ICC as well, because like any person, those umpires who have become prone to mistakes be deemed unfit and not told to stand in top grade cricket. The ICC too has shown a certain bent of mind in preferring them to the ones from the Asian nations.

What I really want to emphasize is that at the time I started cricket, we were taught that cricket is a game, all about fair play. It is about time the media, especially the powerful English and the Australian ones, understand that by setting different benchmarks for different set of cricketers and officials, they are not playing fair, and that is taking a great deal away from the game they profess to love.

We were also taught that poor decisions in the end evened out. And I believe they did in this series: four going to England, four to Pakistan, which is not to mention the leg before appeals which seemed to be good enough but not upheld against Atherton and Trescothick.

Coming back to cricket, I believe that the Pakistanis, with their morale high, and the squad reinforced with the exuberance of three youngsters - Shahid Afridi, Imran Nazir and Shoaib Malik - who have the capacity to perform to a very high standard, are likely to acquit themselves well in the NatWest triangular. At least, that is the expectation. Let's see how well they do.

Ed: Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu) is a former Test cricketer, and has served as a PCB selector nine times; his last stint (1999-2000) was as chief selector.