Series Review

England v Pakistan, 2006

Steven Fay

Test matches (4): England 3, Pakistan 0
One-day internationals (5): England 2, Pakistan 2
Twenty20 international (1): England 0, Pakistan 1

Pakistan's Test series in England will be remembered best for the way it ended, as the combustible elements always present when these teams meet finally caught fire. The course of it was unpredictable and sometimes controversial too - but also memorable in a purely cricketing sense.

For followers of form, the wrong team won. The most dominant batsmen were on the losing side, and there were remarkable performances from cricketers who would not have been playing had their betters not been injured. England's spinner (Monty Panesar) was more threatening than Pakistan's (Danish Kaneria), and an experienced and respected Test captain (Inzamamul- Haq) was out-thought by his opponents' fourth choice as leader (Andrew Strauss). It was topsy-turvy cricket. But the performance for which the series will be longest remembered was not by a player but by an umpire.

Darrell Hair was certainly an experienced umpire, but by no means universally respected. The Asian countries' hostility dated back more than a decade, to when he had called Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan for throwing in Australia. This hardened into a belief that Hair was biased against all the Asian teams. During England's tour of Pakistan in late 2005, Hair's manner was thought overbearing, and some of his decisions dubious.

The reservations went beyond Asia. In 2004, MCC chose him as a consultant on the Laws of Cricket, and in this role he appeared more committed to the strict application of the law than its spirit. Most relevantly, the Pakistan captain, Inzamam, was certainly not a fan. He was unhappy about three decisions made by Hair and his West Indian colleague, Billy Doctrove, on the first morning of the Headingley Test, which could have changed the complexion of the game. When the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Shaharyar Khan, landed in London in mid-August, he had already decided to complain officially to the ICC at the end of the tour, and to ask that Hair be kept out of Tests involving Pakistan.

The crisis erupted on the Sunday at The Oval. Hair judged that Pakistan had tampered with the ball during England's second innings, and enforced the relevant law. (See chronology, page 604.) At first, the Pakistanis seemed too stunned to respond. But when they went back into the dressing-room at teatime, the implications sank in, and they refused to emerge. The umpires (Hair and Doctrove again) declared that they had forfeited the match.

But this was the beginning, not the end. Here was a fascinating clash between differing interpretations of laws and manners, which engaged an audience far greater than the normal following for cricket - as the Ashes had done, for different reasons, a year earlier.

The affair exposed deep flaws in the authority of the ICC. Its referee, Mike Procter, appeared impotent, as did the chief executive, Malcolm Speed, as the boards negotiated to try to get the game restarted, an outcome everyone seemed to want except the umpires. But once that proved impossible, and the series ended with an undeserved England win amid chaos and disbelief, the balance of power changed.

Hair became universally accepted as the lead actor, with Doctrove forgotten. And the ICC moved rapidly to isolate him and allay any possible fear of an Asian breakaway. Within days, Speed flew to London to publish damaging private correspondence with officials. There was a five-week delay before the inevitable disciplinary proceedings against Inzamam, which allowed the one-day series to go ahead calmly and the issue to vanish from the headlines. Eventually, Inzamam was cleared of ball-tampering and lightly punished for refusing to play. Events were moving inexorably against Hair: on November 4, two and a half months after the crowd had walked away, baffled, from The Oval, he was effectively sacked as an international umpire. The threat to world cricket receded - until the next time a Test team claims to have been cheated. When they do, they have a precedent to refer to.

The storm broke from an apparently blue sky. The tour had been going well from every point of view except that of Pakistan's purely cricketing ambitions. They had started the Test series a confident team, having just usurped second place from England in the ICC's Test rankings. During a rewarding season in the subcontinent, they had won four of their eight Tests and lost none, beating England and India at home and Sri Lanka away.

Inzamam was working harmoniously with the coach, Bob Woolmer, and the espousal of Islam by most of the team seemed to have imposed a discipline new to Pakistan cricket. England, on the other hand, had endured a terrible hangover after winning the Ashes. Several of their best players were injured. As captain, Andrew Strauss stood in for Andrew Flintoff, the stand-in for Michael Vaughan (Marcus Trescothick, formerly Vaughan's deputy, had ceased to be a contender after his mysterious departure from the Indian tour). The First Test at Lord's took place only ten months after the jubilation of the Ashes, but it felt almost like a test of England's next generation.

Most of the injuries were to do with wear and tear - perhaps evidence that Test cricketers are playing more high-tension, stress-inducing international cricket than is good for them, because Pakistan were no less afflicted. Two fast bowlers and recent match-winners, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, dropped out; Akhtar was nursing an ankle injury, while Asif and all-rounder Shoaib Malik both went home with elbow problems.

Woolmer thought Malik's absence was crucial. Naved-ul-Hasan failed a fitness test and, to add further insult to all the injuries, Younis Khan was unfit for Lord's. It was hard to say which side was the more disadvantaged. What mattered most was the quality of the replacements. One lesson of this series was that successful Test elevens require a squad of 15 or 16 Test players, with spare batsmen and seam bowlers who are integral to the team. In the Lord's Test, Ian Bell took Flintoff 's place at No. 6, and Alastair Cook was in Vaughan's position at No. 3. Both made hundreds in England's first innings of 528 for nine declared, though by insuring against defeat they excused Strauss from the adventurous play which might have brought a result. Cook and Monty Panesar, in their first home Test season, were beneficiaries of a bolder selection policy which suggested a shift in the balance of power from the coach, Duncan Fletcher, towards the chairman of selectors, David Graveney. Panesar, in particular, was not enough of an all-rounder to satisfy the coach's requirements for a modern cricketer, although Fletcher did change his tune, if not his mind, as the series went on. All the selectors thought Cook, still only 21, should be encouraged to get on with his Test career, and so he did, with 403 runs at 57.

Selecting Bell in Flintoff 's place altered the balance of the England team, which had four front-line bowlers instead of five. They got away with it at Lord's, though Liam Plunkett joined the list of wounded with a back strain. His place was taken by Sajid Mahmood, like Panesar a 24-year-old of Asian descent, who took eight wickets to the doughty Matthew Hoggard's ten, and at a lower average. Panesar helped Steve Harmison bowl England to victory in the Second Test at Old Trafford, and Mahmood in the Third at Headingley. Only at The Oval did Pakistan outbowl the four-man attack. All England's shadow Test-men were worth their places, and the team - or squad - looked stronger and more confident as a result.

This was not true of Pakistan. Instead of Akhtar and Asif, the opening bowlers were Mohammad Sami and Umar Gul. Sami, with his low trajectory, conceded runs at 4.25 an over and took only eight wickets at 58. Gul, who swung the ball late, was the team's leading wicket-taker, with 18 at 34. But the extent of Pakistan's loss became abundantly clear when Asif finally played at The Oval and had three of England's top five caught behind or lbw in a puny first-innings 173. Nor was their spinner any help. At the start of the series, Woolmer hoped Danish Kaneria's googly would prove intolerably bemusing, but he never created any nervous tension in England's top order; his 13 wickets cost 50 each, compared to Panesar's 17 at 30.

Cook was reputed to be vulnerable against spin, but Kaneria got him just once. (Cook was Gul's bunny - four times in seven innings.) In the first three Tests, England's first innings were 528, 461 and 515, providing the platform from which they won the series.

But the best cricket of the summer was played by Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan. Yousuf, heavily bearded, played with concentration, power and elegance, an advertisement for the potency of prayer. Having converted from Christianity to become a devout Muslim, he took his average under his new name to 81, compared to 47 as Yousuf Youhana. Younis was imperious, though prone to error, as when he unaccountably ran out Yousuf in the second innings at Headingley, dashing Pakistan's chances of saving the game. After the Lord's Test, Inzamam had made nine consecutive scores of 50-plus against England, but he was out cheaply at Old Trafford and his form became uncertain.

Outside this iron triangle, Pakistan's batting was seriously dysfunctional. In six innings over the first three Tests, the highest opening stand was 34 and the average 18; the batsmen appeared wilfully reluctant to adjust to exaggerated swing and seam. The return of Mohammad Hafeez to partner Imran Farhat at The Oval, where both narrowly missed centuries, showed how significant the opening pair could be. Had Hafeez opened with Shoaib Malik, the story might have changed (though when he did, in the one-day games, it did not).

Faisal Iqbal much preferred to face spin, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq misfired, but the greatest disappointment was Kamran Akmal, who had averaged 58 over eight Tests in 2005-06. Along with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Akmal was one of a new breed of explosive subcontinental batsmen-keepers, but he found English conditions incomprehensible, and averaged a meagre 16. A poor performance by the keeper infects the whole fielding side, and Akmal's keeping was persistently poor. He turned in on himself, and his colleagues could not rouse this most unhappy tourist from his depression.

It was a bad summer too for England's original keeper. Geraint Jones had often been the weak link in the Ashes-winning team. In two Tests against Pakistan, while his glovework improved, poor batting hinted at a crisis of confidence. Since Fletcher's unwavering support for his Ashes team appeared to have secured Jones's place for the whole series, it was startling when he was replaced by Chris Read. Read was lucky with the bat at Headingley, but he did what was required of a No. 7, averaging 42 in three innings, and keeping with greater style and security than Jones.

Unlike Vaughan, Strauss seemed to find captaincy no hindrance to his batting. He scored two hundreds, which guaranteed the draw at Lord's and set up the win at Headingley. He was not especially innovative or imaginative, but being the team's leading run-scorer helped settle his authority. As he grew more confident, he became more adventurous. Strauss lacked the qualities of aggression and mateship that persuaded the selectors to reappoint Flintoff as captain in Australia but did enough to make it clear that, if England had to turn to him again, the team would be in sound hands.

Inzamam suffered by contrast. His authority derived from his languid skill as a batsman and from the religious leadership he offered a team, most of whom (Kaneria was a Hindu) prayed five times a day. He and Woolmer worked well together, but there was little the coach could do when the players were on the field, where Inzamam's calm degenerated into passivity. He was willing to tolerate fielding way below Test standard: no fewer than five catches were dropped on the first day at Lord's. For significant periods, his cricket brain was switched off and the game was allowed to drift; it was noticeable that the team had more energy when Inzamam was off the field and Younis took over.

It did Inzamam honour that the team stayed solidly behind him after the fracas at The Oval. Woolmer believed that they grew in strength through adversity as they began the one-day series. (They also had a stronger team, with the two Shoaibs, Akhtar and Malik, at the heart of it.) Pakistan had the best of a rain-affected game at Cardiff and won the next two, but they seemed to lose their emotional impetus and lost the last two. Thus England, who still looked inept at one-day cricket, gained a barely deserved draw.

At the end of the tour, a Pakistani commentator was able to argue that, if the correct umpiring decisions had been given at Headingley, Pakistan would have won the Test, and that they would have won again at The Oval but for the forfeit. Thus they could have won the series 2-1 instead of losing 3-0. But teams make their luck, and Pakistan deserved little sympathy after they refused to play at The Oval. England, on the other hand, saw their opportunities and grasped them gratefully, as winning teams do.

Match reports for

1st Match: England v Pakistan at Cardiff, Aug 30, 2006
Report | Scorecard

2nd Match: England v Pakistan at Lord's, Sep 2, 2006
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3rd Match: England v Pakistan at Southampton, Sep 5, 2006
Report | Scorecard

4th Match: England v Pakistan at Nottingham, Sep 8, 2006
Report | Scorecard

5th Match: England v Pakistan at Birmingham, Sep 10, 2006
Report | Scorecard

Match reports for

Only T20I: England v Pakistan at Bristol, Aug 28, 2006
Report | Scorecard

Match reports for

1st Test: England v Pakistan at Lord's, Jul 13-17, 2006
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: England v Pakistan at Manchester, Jul 27-29, 2006
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3rd Test: England v Pakistan at Leeds, Aug 4-8, 2006
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4th Test: England v Pakistan at The Oval, Aug 17-21, 2006
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Match reports for

Only ODI: Scotland v Pakistan at Edinburgh, Jun 27, 2006
Scorecard

Tour Match: Leicestershire v Pakistanis at Leicester, Jul 1-3, 2006
Scorecard

Tour Match: England A v Pakistanis at Canterbury, Jul 6-9, 2006
Scorecard

International XI v Pakistanis at The Oval, Jul 10, 2006
Scorecard

1st Test: England v Pakistan at Lord's, Jul 13-17, 2006
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Tour Match: Northamptonshire v Pakistanis at Northampton, Jul 20-22, 2006
Scorecard

2nd Test: England v Pakistan at Manchester, Jul 27-29, 2006
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3rd Test: England v Pakistan at Leeds, Aug 4-8, 2006
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Pakistanis v West Indies A at Shenley, Aug 12, 2006
Scorecard

Tour Match: Pakistanis v West Indies A at Shenley, Aug 13, 2006
Scorecard

4th Test: England v Pakistan at The Oval, Aug 17-21, 2006
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Tour Match: Middlesex v Pakistanis at Uxbridge, Aug 24, 2006
Scorecard

Only T20I: England v Pakistan at Bristol, Aug 28, 2006
Report | Scorecard

1st Match: England v Pakistan at Cardiff, Aug 30, 2006
Report | Scorecard

2nd Match: England v Pakistan at Lord's, Sep 2, 2006
Report | Scorecard

3rd Match: England v Pakistan at Southampton, Sep 5, 2006
Report | Scorecard

4th Match: England v Pakistan at Nottingham, Sep 8, 2006
Report | Scorecard

5th Match: England v Pakistan at Birmingham, Sep 10, 2006
Report | Scorecard

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