Earlier this summer, as England were apparently unable to beat Sri Lanka as easily as they would’ve liked, I described their opponents as “cockroach-like”. It was intended as a compliment, for their ability to hang on by the skins of their teeth. In retrospect, it was a mistake and was altered immediately. The fact is, I – and England, and the public – underestimated the side who were considered nothing more than an hors d’oeuvres before the Pakistan pie (sorry, couldn’t resist).
And look at them now. The one-day team is in disarray; Fletcher’s blaming injuries (quite fairly so, I might add); our Ashes plans are in meltdown (burnout might be a more appropriate adjective to use come November, though); half the squad are missing injured (career-endingly so and “he’ll be back next week” in equal measure, if the ECB are to be trusted). And now Pakistan are in town.
Their apparent weak-spot at the top of the order showed little sign of fragility today, too. Imran Farhat and Salman Butt, the two openers, put on 145 for the first wicket on the second day of their three-day warm-up match against Leicestershire. When the first Test gets underway (July 13), behind those two sit a frightening array of batting talent: Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal.
So forget the Ashes. Forget anything else. Wistful longing for a repeat of Edgbaston 2005 will get you nowhere. This Pakistan side are a tremendous force, superbly coached and (dare I say it?) captained with enthusiastic vigour by the bearded mountain himself. I’m tempted to say England are in trouble – but that’d be stating the bleeding obvious.