Pakistan back to their winning ways? - Jury's out!

For the first time in 14 years, the Pakistanis didn't emerge winners in a Test series in England. Yet, after their comprehensive loss in the first Test at Lord's, for the Pakistanis it was imperative to salvage some measure of pride and that they did, beating England by a rather convincing margin of 108 runs to level the series at Old Trafford.
A great comeback it surely was, though a resounding win it still left much to be desired. It meant a drawn short rubber when they've all been used to winning a series against the mother country, especially in away encounters since 1987.

That said, there is no denying the fact it was a great performance by Waqar and his charges. They stuck to their guns when all seemed lost as play resumed in the last session with eight England wickets standing. And once they conquered England when all had seemed lost, they simply looked great while celebrating the improbable win.

Inzamam, who walked away with the Man of the Match and Man of the Series awards, was undoubtedly Pakistan's hero, for he'd provided the platform for victory with his hundred in the first innings and a fighting 85 in the second. He, along with in-form Younis Khan, may have reduced the margin of defeat at Lord's too, had both not been victim of some unfortunate umpiring.

Sadly, umpiring continued to mar this Test too, with Youhana and Younis its victims in the second innings followed by a number of English batsmen too, having cause to grumble after their improbable collapse.

Resuming at 196 for two after tea, England batsmen seemed quite palpably relaxed, perhaps even over complacent, thinking their fifth series victory on the trot was as good as secured, the match seemed meandering towards a draw. Was the passive and unimaginative field setting employed by Waqar a ploy to further lull England in thinking Pakistan too, were reconciled to a draw?
That was not to be. The Pakistanis, knowing that England from there on could not possibly win, gave their all, making every nerve and sinew stretch for the final assault. This aggression brought early dividend when Waqar struck, removing the thorn Graham Thorpe, who'd been firmly stuck in their side the past home and this current away series.

From then on, the knitting started to unravel for England, and that too at such rapid pace, before they could so much as react, the game had slipped out of their hands.

For Pakistan, the important questions are: does this victory herald something more than merely redeeming some much-battered pride? Have they turned the corner after the string of recent disappointments? Does this mean they are back to their winning ways?

Sadly, a dispassionate analysis suggests otherwise. Their much-vaunted bowling attack, spearheaded by Wasim and Waqar, is no longer the force it used to be. And nothing could have brought it to sharper relief than this England series. In conditions suited to their kind of bowling, the all-conquering heroes of the '92 and '96 triumphs seemed to be mere shadows of their glorious peak of the early and mid '90s.

Saqlain though, remains a tough customer, but, unlike Muralitharan, he has not really been unable to translate his one-day success rate to test cricket. Wasim and Waqar are not likely to continue for much longer, howsoever much they desire to. Shoaib Akhtar remains injury prone and not willing to change his racy lifestyle to make his body amenable to taking the rigours of fast bowling.

In the circumstances, Pakistan's pace attack remains shorn of potency essential for penetration against front-ranked outfits. So bereft is Pakistan's cupboard that only Abdur Razzaq and to some extent Azhar Mahmood are likely to bolster the pace department. Good all-rounders as they are, they are not match-winners on their own, and not a patch on Wasim and Waqar in their prime.

The spin department also lacks variety, with diminutive leggie Mushtaq Ahmed having no worthy replacement, and no left-arm slow bowler of international quality yet available since the days of Iqbal Qasim, way back in the late '80s.
Batting in the middle order is in much safer hands, Inzamam so obviously the leading light, with Youhana and Younis of world class calibre too. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the upper order. Unfortunately, Saeed Anwar has almost never, in a crunch game, performed to his much-celebrated standing. His lack of courage was amply exposed by Darren Gough in the recent encounters, to the extent that Mudassar Nazar, the former Pakistani opener, was forced to make uncharitable comments, calling his stay on the crease 'degrading'. That seems to be an apt description.

And the issue of the second opener and one-drop batsman remains unresolved, partly due to the capriciousness of the Pakistani selectors. A number of players - Shahid Afridi, Imran Nazir, Saleem Elahi and Mohammad Wasim among them - have been tried but none given a decent run. And between a chicken-hearted Anwar and an unsettled upper order, the middle order has had to bear the brunt, and quite unnecessarily so.

In the circumstances, apart from a rousing performance, like the one at Old Trafford, it would be too much to expect this Pakistan outfit to maintain a winning sequence against world class outfits. This may not be too palatable to diehard Pakistani fans, but sadly, it remains a reality.