Saqlain Mushtaq
Saqlain Mushtaq - His off breaks might have done it at Lord's!
Photo © CricInfo
Saqlain, Saqlain and Saqlain...! His name is cropping up like an SOS signal for the Pakistan team.

The cricket world and the critics appear to have gone into a fit about Saqlain. Screaming, had he been included at Lord's the result of the match would've been different. How, so ask I?

Pakistan conceded 391 in the first innings. This certainly wasn't a mammoth total then, though it later proved to be more than enough. Let's assume Saqlain were in the side, according to the wishes of all and sundry, England would perhaps have made 350 ± 10. And I'm sure, the way they played, Pakistan would still have lost, perhaps with a smaller margin. One can quibble that they might have avoided an innings defeat but most likely lost by 9 or 10 wickets.

Thus, I question, does a 10-wicket defeat hurt less than an innings defeat? We all know a defeat is after all a defeat; surely, if the losing team hasn't put up a fight then a loss by even one wicket is just as disgraceful.

Now who would've made way for Saqlain? In all probability Azhar Mahmood. Looking at the pre-match scene, he was the surprise choice (irrespective of how he fared in the match or what his figures read afterwards). Moreover, this Pakistani all-rounder has never been thought of as a first choice inclusion in a Test side while Abdur Razzaq, his closest rival, is around. Notwithstanding past injuries, Azhar had only appeared in a test match way back in 1999 when Pakistan visited Australia.

So, if Saqlain had been there would he have matched Azhar's miserly figures of 4 for 50 in 26 overs? Highly improbable, when one considers the nature of the pitch at Lord's and the few overs of insipid spin seen. It simply wasn't a spinner's wicket.

If Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib didn't succeed, it does not mean the pitch held nothing for seamers, and instead had 'everything' for spinners. If that were the case the hosts would not have gone out without a regular spinner and Gough and Caddick would have been just as ineffective as the Pakistani pacers.

I am left wondering at my fellow writers' 'bias' in evaluating things. In assessing England's innings, most have focused only on the way Pakistan bowled, ignoring the naked truth that England batted brilliantly. They applied themselves to the task and grafted their innings with a lot of maturity - a fact overlooked by almost every other Pakistani batsman. And, did anyone bother to analyse how Saqlain would have countered such brilliance?

Now let's look at it in another way. Pakistan did bat terribly, true! But their performance was not as poor (sic) as the performance of English bowlers and fielders was superb - again an aspect generally ignored by almost everyone. It's like one's view about a half a pint in a pint mug - some think of it as half-full but others say it's half-empty.

All this boils down to one thing. Apart from Caddick and Gough's thunder and lightening and a few complaints about umpiring generosity (without which, the outcome would only have been delayed), the real reason for Pakistan's humiliation was very fragile batting.

I feel no embarrassment in admitting that Pakistanis played club-level cricket. There was no maturity whatsoever in their shot selection, no visible game plan and almost all of them found it hard to negotiate balls pitched on and outside the off stump. Most ended up offering catches behind the stumps, and the English fielders made absolutely no mistake in grateful acceptance.

Absolutely no enjoyment for Pakistani fans while their English counterparts, must have relished it and, more so, the England fielders loved the early season catching practice. While Saeed Anwar, Inzamam and Yousuf Youhana fell to poor shot selection, perhaps fair evidence of over-confidence, Saleem Elahi, Azhar Mahmood, and Razzaq simply had no clue to cope with Caddick and Gough's precision.

Saqlain Mushtaq
Saqlain Mushtaq - A handy lower order batsman
Photo © AFP
Saqlain fans add he would have proved handy in the lower order but this is a silly argument when one thinks and realizes that to rely on a few late runs after the top had been decimated could have changed the result. Admittedly, his record bears evidence to some good rearguard innings, like his recent maiden century at Christchurch. I'd only say if one has to judge someone on his past record, then what about Inzamam and Saeed's 45 plus averages in test cricket.

Despite all my nationalism, reading the writing on the wall does not allow for a beautiful fantasy: Saqlain batting seven or eight down and hitting centuries in both innings, saving Pakistan!