Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Lahore, 5th day December 3, 2005

'Giant' Inzamam key to landmark victory

Woolmer on Inzamam: 'The one most important thing I have learned as a cricket coach is that the captain has to lead from the front' © AFP
For Bob Woolmer, a Test series win couldn't have come soon enough. Although Pakistan had displayed discernible improvement over the 18 months he had overseen, they had only three drawn series and one Australian thumping to show for it. Book-ending a year in which Pakistan have gamely fought in India and the Caribbean and improved steadily, Woolmer admitted the 2-0 win over England could be a landmark one.

"It's a huge milestone for us in the way that we play Test cricket," Woolmer said. "We needed to play Test cricket better and the boys have sat down and worked really hard at that. Basic things like playing the ball straight, leaving balls, just giving them that Test match orientation. That's a big thing for us. It's also a big milestone especially because we played as well as we have to beat England who have just won the Ashes."

Pakistan, like their year, improved progressively through the series - an aspect of their approach that particularly pleased Woolmer. He had stressed before series began that Pakistan would have to start well, something they had failed to do in the last year. They lost the first four days at Multan, but conjured a victory at the very last. Since then, Woolmer said, Pakistan "got better in two Test matches. In Multan we did hang on, we stuck in and fashioned a victory out of somewhere where England could have done better. But these last two performances have been genuinely good ones and we improved through the series.

"They are certainly more attuned to doing the right thing in Tests now. Cricket is a game in which you must never be complacent. It is one of those sports where you can easily fall into a trap and think you're the best thing. I like to keep very level about these situations. We can enjoy the moment and say it was a very good performance by a very good team. But we have to sit down and work out where to go from here. It's upwards and not downwards."

Although Pakistan's draws in India and the West Indies were commendable in their own right, the return of a fit and committed Shoaib Akhtar provided them with added bite. He took 17 wickets here and many were pivotal. And despite an often uneasy relationship with Shoaib, Woolmer acknowledged his efforts. "Shoaib is an asset, when he's here in the team and playing. We've said that before. He had some issues to resolve when he arrived and he has resolved them. Now he's producing the goods. This is exactly what Pakistan and Shoaib Akhtar need and it's wonderful to see. I am very pleased for him."

Woolmer also highlighted the role of Danish Kaneria. In tandem with Shoaib, Kaneria played crucial roles in both wins, strengthening their claims to being this century's version of Imran and Qadir. Although he went wicketless at Faisalabad, Kaneria ended up with 11 wickets for the series. On the last days of Multan and Lahore, he took four; in both Tests, he took two wickets in an over to trigger England collapses. In addition to what he has achieved since October last year - 71 wickets in 13 Tests - Woolmer, unsurprisingly, had no hesitation in calling him one of the best young bowlers in the world today.

Woolmer on Shoaib: 'He had some issues to resolve when he arrived and he has resolved them. Now he's producing the goods' © AFP

"Kaneria is definitely going to be, if he's not already up there amongst the better bowlers in the world today, a very fine bowler. He is young and still learning his trade but in situations like this he is a very dangerous bowler."

Above all, though, Woolmer credited Inzamam-ul-Haq, both for his batting and his leadership. "Inzamam has been a giant literally in this series. The one most important thing I have learned as a cricket coach is that the captain has to lead from the front. The coach acts a right-hand man. The way Inzamam has led the team with his batting has been phenomenal. He's also made very astute bowling changes; sometimes they work and sometimes they don't and here they have worked really well. He is a very wise head and he is growing as a captain as well now. He is very important to Pakistan at the moment."

With India due to tour from January, an ODI series against England still to come and eventually a World Cup in 2007, Woolmer already has one eye firmly on the future. "We have to start planning and looking to our future in terms of the World Cup. The next few ODI series will be about getting the strategies right and getting the team thinking about doing that. Maybe we will give people different roles in the team and see if they can handle that. I need to discuss that with Inzamam and it sounds a long way away but it isn't.

"In terms of the team, we have to be very careful in how we keep the players fit and keep them motivated. We also have to build up a squad of players. We won't be experimenting but instead looking to formulate a squad of players to train and work hard and get comfortable with their roles."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo