The many varied faces of Pakistan

Curious first day between South Africa and Pakistan. I fancy Pakistan against most teams, through sheer force of talent, yet you can never be certain which side will turn up. Will it be the aggressive, gifted team with a hunger for the extraordinary? Or will it be the blind, hapless tourists?

Both sides played against South Africa today. They lost two wickets in the morning but fought hard. They laid a foundation after lunch before counterattacking with verve afterwards, with Younis and Yasir putting on 133. Then, after a 15-minute cup-of-tea, crazy madness ensued and they shot themselves in the head with three near-identical dismissals: two hooks and a pull. Pakistan fell for the bait like a desperate, emaciated salmon. Younis defended the three careless shots, insisting that it demonstrated the side’s aggressive nature. Well that’s all very well if it works, Younis…which it did not. Both he and Yasir ought to have ended the day unbeaten with three figures to their name.

Inzamam might yet produce one of his herculean innings, but which side of his side will turn up tomorrow?

England finally compete

At last. After seven one-day thrashings this summer, England finally evaded another whipping with a far improved performance against Pakistan.

They still lost, though.

But nevermind. Crack open the champagne and celebrate for England managed to take Pakistan close. Andrew Strauss batted with great intent – it was a relief to see him leading from the front, in particular skipping down the pitch to disrupt Mohammad Asif’s length. And ol’ Asif really does hate batsmen doing that! Strauss won that particular battle. A pretty good innings, then, helped by some Pakistani fielding at its most hilarious.

I don’t know if they took their eye off the ball, figuratively speaking (considering their series lead, and England’s general uselessness), or if The Rose Bowl is a particularly difficult ground on which to field…but they were hapless. The stand-out performer, and I use that word sparingly and, in this case cautiously, was Inzamam! His elephantine tumbles sent shockwaves…sorry, couldn’t resist. He was really good, Inzy, and batted quite brilliantly to close the game out at the end.

Good things:

  • Younis Khan’s batting. He is a terrific cricketer, and character
  • Younis smashing a four and immediately marching towards the point fielder, shouting and waving
  • Shahid Afridi’s misfield which made him look like a real wally
  • Andrew Strauss’s batting and intent in the field. His relaxed demeanour and wry smile have gone. Mind you, losing that many one-day games is enough to break even the most fierce Cherie Blair grin
  • Watching Ian Bell get hit in the family jewels, via Strauss’s flat-batted pull shot. Corrrrr.
  • Watching Billy Doctrove nearly get hit in the family jewels, star-jumping out of the way like a ballet dancer on acid

Bad things:

  • Rikki Clarke. A first-ball duck, and a very poor and at times clueless spell of bowling. Young and inexperienced, but this was a very special effort
  • Sajid Mahmood. Clearly a gifted bowler, he desperately needs Flintoff or Harmison at mid-off to advise him. He’s going from wayward to waywarder in each match
  • Pakistan’s fielding. It will cost them the World Cup.

The bandwagon continues at Nottingham. Rock on.

England v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Old Trafford

Another Test, another foray into the land of the unexpected. Interesting times; Younis Khan returns for Pakistan, and Andrew Strauss leads an England side further depleted by injury. I’m very curious about Duncan Fletcher’s decision to omit Jamie Dalrymple which, to me at least, rather suggests he eyes Monty Panesar as a key weapon to dismantle Pakistan’s batting lineup. Either that or Dalrymple called him a rude name behind his back.

Anyway, do hope you’ll all be tuning in and leaving comments and generally making an absolute nuisance of yourselves here.

Chat away!

The Pakistan tour of England, 2006

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.

Pakistan v India, 1st Test, Lahore, day one

Younis Khan is in fine touch on what was a brilliant first day for Pakistan, who ended on 362 for 2. Khan, unbeaten on 147, shared in a 190-run partnership with Mohammad Yousuf (95*) – what a terrific start.

My colleage Sid is at the game and was bulletining it.

I’m reminded of the post I put up on The Surfer yesterday: The hot and dosti tandoori Ashes

Bore draw at Lahore?

Blimey, the third Test is already upon us. How Test cricket moves these days – winter tours are no longer the long-drawn-out affairs they once used to be, or is that just because I’m getting older and wiser?

Michael Vaughan is going to return to opening, where he’s had a lot of success and James Anderson might well get a recall. This tour has come and gone in such a hurry, I’ve hardly had time to digest it – least of all now, and will miss all of tomorrow’s first day. I’ll stick a post up for the night owls able to courageously manage another disturbingly-early start (well, there’s always one!)

Last note; Inzy, spokesman from the department of the Bleeding Obvious. Wonderful batsman though he is, he wouldn’t get much more than 4 out of 10 for his public relations. He makes Duncan Fletcher sound – and look – like Max Clifford:

“Younis is our team’s main batsman and a key player. His loss definitely makes a difference to the side and especially to our batting. But we have players to take over; Asim Kamal is coming in as No. 3. His performances are good for us internationally.”

The talent that lies within

I can’t remember who said it, but it was during Pakistan’s tour of England in 1996 when I heard the following uttered: “Pakistan are the most talented team in the world, and contain the richest abundance of natural talent anywhere in the world.” Something alone those lines, anyway.

It’s one of those sayings which sticks with you (and follows you, although hopefully not in the next few weeks!), and I’ve yet to find someone who can justify it, or qualify it. Yet something tells me it’s probably true, which leads me to ask: how and why aren’t Pakistan regarded as a serious world-beating threat? Why, if they have such rich seams of talent, are they so inconsistent and volatile? Why can’t Inzamam run between the wickets, and why has their fielding always been so crap?

In that 1996 tour, I saw players like Inzy, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis – and the spin twins of Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed (bowling Mushy). Actually, wrong tour Will – Saqlain didn’t play a Test, my mistake. Anyway, it’s understandable that a team can struggle to compete when they lose such greats as Wasim and Waqar (just look at the West Indies. Although their problems run deeper, and I don’t even begin to understand them) but a country that can produce such natural talent ought to succeed more than they have been.

The BBC went some way to explaining the problems a few weeks ago:

Bob Woolmer has at his disposal a wealth of talent: prolific middle-order batsmen Younis Khan, Inzamam and Mohammad Yousuf; a brilliant young leg-spinner in Danish Kaneria; and bowlers of searing pace in Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami.

Shoaib can be devastating – when he’s fit and the mood suits him

But getting all of those fit and mentally tuned in to perform in all three Tests will be Woolmer’s big challenge – quite often one department has fired, only to be let down by the other parts of the team.

Shoaib is a curious one. He has the ability, and bendy arm, to kill most batsmen if he so chooses. But he comes across as lazy, arrogant, unfit and superior to the game. He’ll play if he wants, when he wants.

Even when Wasim and Waqar were squashing batsmen’s toes at will, the question as to “which team will turn up?” hovered over the Pakistan team, and I don’t think it’s lifted to this day. Which side will turn up against England?