England 1 Pakistan 1

The Pakistanis in England, 2001

Kamran Abbasi

It is always hasty to write off a Pakistan tour as a non-event - however short. In the end, this 11th visit to England, excluding World Cups, turned out to be one of their more memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. The 1999 World Cup had delivered a new breed of Asian cricket fan: young, assertive, and passionate in support of a faraway land. But whereas those fans complemented the vigour of their heroes, the class of 2001 wrenched the limelight from the cricketers, against a background of racial violence spreading through England's northern cities.

Between sharing a Test series in New Zealand and arriving in England, Pakistan had managed to change their captain, coach and manager; the touring party was announced barely 72 hours before the flight to London. Moin Khan, captain and wicket-keeper when England won their series in Pakistan several months earlier, was excluded on fitness grounds, even though he was playing domestic cricket. Wasim Akram needed a casting vote from the chairman of Pakistan's cricket board to secure his place, and then had to accept the captaincy of Waqar Younis, his one-time friend and long-term adversary. Just as intriguingly, whistleblower-in-chief and former captain Rashid Latif was back as sole wicket-keeper, playing alongside five of the men - among them the new captain - who had been fined by Justice Qayyum's match-fixing inquiry.

The tourists were a curious blend of youth and experience, either under-cooked or over-seasoned. Shoaib Akhtar and the new pace-bowling sensation, Mohammad Sami, who had a match-winning five-wicket haul against New Zealand on his Test debut, backed Wasim and Waqar, and it was hoped that all-rounders Abdur Razzaq, only 21, and Azhar Mahmood would feature prominently in English conditions. Inzamam-ul-Haq's broad shoulders carried the batting, along with the silkier touch of Saeed Anwar and Yousuf Youhana. But if Pakistan held an advantage, it was not in their fast-bowling champions or their enigmatic batsmen. It lay in the spinning wrists of Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed.

With doubts still voiced about his action, Shoaib was fortunate to make the squad at all. However, he had convinced the ICC (with help from the University of Western Australia) that the kink in his action was unavoidable because of hyper-extensible joints. This did not breach the spirit of the law, argued Shoaib's defence, even though it might breach the letter of the law. Perhaps the ICC was too confused to make a fuss.

As often in the past, the Pakistan squad was ripe for discord, but the management launched an extraordinary campaign when the team arrived in England, claiming that their disagreements were history and should be forgotten. Indeed, Pakistan spent more time playing down rumours of internal bickering than focusing on the First Test, which should have begun on May 17, the coldest Test match day in the history of English cricket. But it was rain and not the temperature, a chilly 7 ° C (45 ° F), that prevented any play.

England, meanwhile, were riding a wave of optimism, created by the force of successive victories over Zimbabwe, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Nasser Hussain starred in television advertisements and Darren "Dazzler" Gough launched his rather premature autobiography to widespread acclaim. England's players could do no wrong, it seemed; when Lord's in May followed the script to perfection, the odds narrowed further on Australia being humbled again after their Indian hiccup.

Pakistan were brushed aside as Andrew Caddick rediscovered his liking for English conditions and Gough just dazzled, securing his first five-wicket Test haul at Lord's. Rashid Latif, in the process of stylishly resurrecting his international career, became Gough's 200th Test victim. Graham Thorpe neutered Pakistan's bowlers as he had in the winter. But if the visitors were ill prepared, the crisis was partly of their own making. In the previous county game, they foolishly allowed Kent to bat first and lost an ideal practice opportunity. The First Test arrived too soon, with most of the batsmen woefully out of touch. So, too, was Shoaib, who had missed the first few days of the tour because of a stomach complaint. Still clearly unfit, he somehow managed to be selected ahead of Saqlain - and he dealt the decisive blow of the series when a lightning-fast, rising delivery broke Hussain's right thumb, putting him out of the match and the series.

Before he left Lord's, the England captain expressed dismay at the number of young Asian Britons baying for Pakistan. He was right to ask for support from all sections of the community, but his comments were ill judged as northern towns struggled to defuse racial tension sparked by provocative posturing from the National Front and the British National Party. Nor did the organisers of the Old Trafford Test agree with Hussain's analysis. Fearing empty stands and coffers, they marketed it as a home game for Pakistan, and their policy worked. Fans wearing and bearing green and white dominated the ground on all five days as Old Trafford's stewards ensured that the threatened racial violence did not occur.

In Hussain's absence, Alec Stewart again added the captaincy to his other duties of batsman and wicket-keeper, and, after England lost their tenth toss in 11 Tests, Pakistan batted first, fresh from a day out on the rollercoasters and donkeys of Blackpool's pleasure beach. Enjoying the country is an important part of touring, but to choose the day before a Test smacked of carelessness. Luckily, the pitch played as if it had been flown in from Lahore, and Pakistan rattled up 403 runs in the first innings, 370 of them on the first day. Inzamam bludgeoned 199 runs in the match, including a first-innings hundred and his 5,000th Test run.

England responded with resilience, even arrogance, as Thorpe and Michael Vaughan took them to 282 for two; Thorpe matched his highest score in Tests and Vaughan stroked his maiden Test century. Then Thorpe, overconfident, chanced a single to Wasim, who ran him out by a distance. It would be the turning-point of England's summer. They raided their memory bank to conjure a remarkable collapse: eight wickets for 75 runs. Was this a blip or the beginning of a prolonged relapse? The second innings gave the answer. Chasing 285 on the final day, Stewart's troops played for a draw when Hussain's boys would have dared to win. By mid-afternoon, England had blocked themselves out of the game, and an unlikely alignment of fates conspired in Pakistan's favour.

Waqar ran in as if his captaincy and his career depended on the result, his fury such that he crossed the line between banter and intimidation. He also worked hard on the ball, illegally if some camera shots were to be believed, and it began to reverse-swing. Saqlain twirled away, bowling no-ball after no-ball and getting away with it. Umpires David Shepherd and Eddie Nicholls squinted so hard at glove, bat and pad that the popping-crease was forgotten. As England surrendered eight wickets for 60 runs, four of those dismissals were clear no-balls, and were shown again and again by the television networks. Marcus Trescothick's century was in vain; Pakistan romped home, a fitting farewell to Old Trafford for Wasim, and their players prayed in gratitude on the outfield. England rued their lack of ambition - and the no-balls. The debate about umpiring and technology was alive again.

The NatWest one-day series had a familiar pattern to it. Pakistan were too good for England, Australia were too good for both, and the final was a carbon copy of the 1999 World Cup final, with Pakistan all a-quiver on the big day. But the tournament was overshadowed by the behaviour of their fans, whose constant pitch invasions began as over-enthusiasm and ended as defiance. It was clear that the ECB and the ground authorities were woefully unready for the persistence of the running classes. And the security measures, belatedly introduced after a steward was injured at Headingley and Stewart conceded the match, were inadequate and half-heartedly implemented. The British media, relieved to be distracted from England's dismal performances, heightened the tension by labelling Pakistan's fans as thugs and undesirables.

The tourists returned home blaming the media for diverting attention from their success. This was a moot point. Pakistan had last failed to win a series in England in 1982, and Australia thoroughly outplayed them in the one-day competition. The young pace bowlers had been a disappointment: shin problems ruled out Sami before the Manchester Test and Shoaib never seemed fit. Against Australia at Cardiff, Shoaib was recorded at 97.7mph, the fastest recorded since Jeff Thomson, but he left the field after bowling five overs, vomiting blood, and within days he was tactlessly dumped from the tour. In batsmanship, Inzamam was peerless; Saeed Anwar roused himself in the one-day series, but he had other things on his mind. His three-year-old daughter had a major operation during the tour and she died in September.

For England, Gough and Caddick shone at Lord's but dented their growing reputation by bowling bewilderingly short at Old Trafford. Of the back-up Yorkshiremen, first Ryan Sidebottom and then Matthew Hoggard, the latter impressed more, though mostly through honest effort and perseverance rather than control and movement. Craig White's reverse-swing was missed at Old Trafford, as was a quality spinner. Indeed, it was difficult to see how England could challenge Australia with such poor support for their opening bowlers. But Stewart's captaincy was the weakest link when England rolled back the years in the Second Test and revived their house-of-cards act. Hussain's injuries would haunt them throughout the summer, as would those to Thorpe and Vaughan ahead of the Ashes series. Thorpe, especially, was at the peak of his considerable powers until that fateful run-out. England's resolve and confidence were terminally shaken at Old Trafford, and by the end of the NatWest Series the team was in disarray. Australia were circling for the kill. It was not the script that was promised at the start of the summer.

Match reports for

Tour Match: British Universities v Pakistanis at Nottingham, May 4-5, 2001
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Tour Match: Derbyshire v Pakistanis at Derby, May 8-10, 2001
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Tour Match: Kent v Pakistanis at Canterbury, May 12-14, 2001
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1st Test: England v Pakistan at Lord's, May 17-20, 2001
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Tour Match: Leicestershire v Pakistanis at Leicester, May 23, 2001
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Tour Match: Leicestershire v Pakistanis at Leicester, May 24-25, 2001
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2nd Test: England v Pakistan at Manchester, May 31-Jun 4, 2001
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1st Match: England v Pakistan at Birmingham, Jun 7, 2001
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2nd Match: Australia v Pakistan at Cardiff, Jun 9, 2001
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4th Match: England v Pakistan at Lord's, Jun 12, 2001
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6th Match: Australia v Pakistan at Chester-le-Street, Jun 16, 2001
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7th Match: England v Pakistan at Leeds, Jun 17, 2001
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8th Match: Australia v Pakistan at Nottingham, Jun 19, 2001
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Final: Australia v Pakistan at Lord's, Jun 23, 2001
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© John Wisden & Co