Burying the ghosts of an inconsistent past

And in a glorious, fleeting instance it happened.  A long time before Umar Gul positioned himself underneath the Anderson skier, a victory had already been won. Captaincy disputes, player resignations, suspicious batting collapses and jailed fast bowlers were relegated to nothing more than distant, forgotten memories.The Pakistani fan’s broken faith it seemed, had finally been healed. With every ball Misbah made us believe. And believe we did.

Unlike famous Pakistani wins of the past though, a certain logic accompanied the belief. It is easy to place trust in Misbah. As a captain, he has struck the happy medium between aggression and risk-aversion. Previous captains would have chosen to open the bowling with Junaid Khan in an effort to rough up the ball before the spinners came on. Misbah instead opened with Hafeez. Previous captains would have been tempted to persist with Hafeez after he had just picked up a wicket. Misbah instead replaced him with Rehman. Previous captains would have put a man on the boundary for Andrew Strauss’s powerful cut shot. Misbah instead chose to block him off from inside the 30 yard circle. Previous captains would have even brought on the ever-eager Umar Gul straight after tea, in an effort to blast out the tail. It was with his spinners however, that Misbah kept the faith. Every time a wicket fell, Misbah smiled confidently, with the air of a man who could see a master plan unfolding before him. And unfold it did.

The moment of victory...

 

Slowly, over the period of the first 20 odd overs, Misbah choked the life out of the English batting lineup. On the rare occasions that they pierced the strangling ring of close-in fielders, men stationed on the boundary would defend the boundaries, almost mocking England’s desperate efforts to break free. A pitiful four boundaries were struck in the entire fourth innings. And all this while Misbah attacked England with four men around the bat. It was a strategy executed with absolute, clinical precision.

It took however, considerable skill and control from Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal to implement Misbah’s master plan. Ajmal was,well Ajmal. Shedding away the over hyped ‘teesra’ and resorting to his usual doze of doosras, off spinners and faster ones, he applied a relentless squeeze on England. Mentally scarred after their failures against him in the first test match, the Englishmen quickly gave up hopes of scoring runs off him. They chose instead to attack Ajmal’s unsung partner from the other end, Abdur Rehman.  It was, but a fatal mistake. Finding sharp spin from the bowler’s footmarks, Rehman delivered his own lethal concoction of off-spinners and arm balls. In a quite mesmerizing spell of 10 overs Rehman breached the defenses of five of England’s best batsmen. In a weird way, it was a throwback to a style of bowling patented by the great W’s, one in which they attacked the stumps and took Pakistan’s erratic fielders out of the equation by getting batsmen out bowled and LBW.

Come the 30th over of the innings, it was obvious that the English had given up.The final 6 wickets fell in a flurry, signaling the abject surrender of a team that could no longer withstand the relentless onslaught of the Pakistan bowlers.  Glorious, memorable moments of victory followed.

As a Pakistani cricket fan, it is simply a relief that cricket headlines around the world are once again using the words ‘stunning’, ‘glorious’ and ‘stable’ to describe Pakistan cricket. For a painful few years, ‘spot’ and ‘fixing’ have remained the two words most synonymous with Pakistan cricket. Certain sections of the media have even gone as far as professing a desire to see Pakistan cricket ‘given a break’ from mainstream international cricket while it sorts out its internal problems. Through stubbornness, tenacity and a sense of purpose however, Pakistani cricket has found its way again. It has been a marvelous story of how the unlikeliest of men, Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohsin Khan have come together to lift Pakistan cricket from the ruins of the spot-fixing scandal back to its rightful place amongst the top teams of international cricket. Mohommad Hafeez, Abdur Rehman, Saeed Ajmal and Taufeeq Umar, four men who have long suffered due to the inconsistency of Pakistan’s previous cricketing regimes have all joined Misbah at the forefront of this renaissance.

Misbah and Mohsin - the unlikeliest of them saviors

The success of the steady, calculated brand of cricket pursued by the current Pakistan side raises uncomfortable questions about why prior Pakistani managements have routinely pursued a flair-filled brand of cricket that has only brought it inconsistent results. For now it seems, Pakistan cricket has decided to do without the glitz and glamor of its teams from the 80s and 90s. For better or worse, a new face to Pakistan cricket has emerged; one of toughness, shrewdness and practicality. Its success suggests that perhaps it is time to bury the ghosts of the inconsistent, controversial and sometimes suspicious past of Pakistan cricket and usher in the era of Misbah’s tigers.

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About Assad Hasanain
Follow me on twitter @LeftArmAround

4 Responses to Burying the ghosts of an inconsistent past

  1. Mustafa says:

    Excellently written and rounded up. All praise for Misbah and the team.. Let us see if they can keep it up..

    One ques. why is Pak ranked still on 6th and 5th spot in test and OSI rankings respectively?

  2. Because the Test and ODI ratings are probably based on a cumulative system where they take into consideration performances for the last 2-3 years, the total test matches played and the quality of sides played.

  3. minhaj says:

    This is the first of your articles that I don’t like. I think you also got carried away in the celebrations of the victory.

    Well, its been quite some time that he is asking Hafeez to come first up. Even in the first innings he only gave 2 overs to Junaid Khan before calling Hafeez. I don’t think it was a surprise. Even Nasir Hussain and Aamir Sohail said it in the mid-break, if u watched sky sports. Its only because Hafeez new ball bowling to left handers has been phenomenal. Its almost become his job to get the wicket of the opening left hander. And if the next batsman is a right hander, he always changes Hafeez.

    Umar Gul and fast bowlers are an attacking option (I mean they leak runs) and Misbah will never go for that in these situations. Misbah as usual was playing for his safety first approach, unfortunately for England they were doing the same.

    England openers on the other hand just got too cautious. Only because it was a huge occasion for them too. Winning in Asia, u know that. Illness of Trott didn’t help either. They sent Bell instead of him (he has a good 1down record), but already was too confused about how to play Ajmal. Same was the case with KP against left arm rehman. This made others in the dressing room realize that they should probably attack. Morgan and Broad tried it very early without even seeing the spin coming out of rough. Strauss form we all know. The biggest wicket that we actually got was of Trotts. Prior was playing fine but he was running out of partners. So thought of experimenting a bit in the end.

    Look, I am not criticizing Misbah. I know he has a defensive approach and I think at this moment, this is the only approach we can take. But I am criticizing Pakistani fans about how easily they get carried away. They get so angry when this approach doesn’t work (Sri Lanka at the same venue and wc semi-final) and when it works, they are behaving as if it was never there. I mean, we were anyways favorites coming into the match. and they (specially Broad and Monty, with cook & Trott in the first innings) actually outplayed us to reach that 145 required situation. We narrowly pulled it out, but that doesn’t mean our weaknesses are removed.

    Taufeeq and Younis showed the same problem, they were known to. Asad and Azhar always defensive. Asad although has the most runs in the match, but he allowed England to come back in the match in both innings. He is such a fine player but with very little confidence. Adnan Akmal played the rashest shot of the match when he got out. He was looking from the non-striker end that Broad is teasing out side the off stump but thought he can blast it away. Got 2 or more miss hits but still persisted with the Akmal family non-sense. That shot actually gave them the match. and what about our fast bowlers. I never liked Gul as is you and Junaid Khan was disappointing. (I don’t think this is a match to judge him though)

    I just hope that Misbah and Mohsin and other wise heads (Younis and Hafeez) keep these things in mind before coming to the next test match. and I know Misbah and Mohsin are good in this. They should also try Wahab and Umar Akamal instead of Gul and Younis to increase bench strength.

    • Well firstly I am glad you have been reading all my articles.Before the Sri Lanka series, I was not really a supporter of Misbah or his approach towards captaincy. But much has changed as I have come to appreciate how smart he is with his way of thinking. With regards to Misbah’s defensiveness, I think you are confusing his approach towards batting with his approach towards captaincy. I hated him for his batting in Mohali because he failed to adapt to the situation when there was everything to play for. Against Sri Lanka it was just common sense, Pakistan was in the lead and there really wasn’t a lot to gain by being over-aggressive with an inexperienced side. So while I agree that Misbah can be defensive, he at least chooses the right time to do so. This test match was a situation in which there was everything to gain and Misbah chose the right balance between attack and defense. The decision to open with a spinner has not been taken in the 60 years of international cricket that Pakistan has played before Misbah. So absolutely, he gets the credit for that. Maybe this test match wasn’t the first time he did it, but that does not make it any less an attacking move. Secondly,on this wicket Umar Gul was not the attacking option(I don’t consider him an attacking option in any case, I think he’s an immensely over-rated bowler). I think Pakistan’s attacking options were Ajmal, Rehman and Hafeez and Misbah recognized that by giving them men around the bat in attacking positions.

      Most importantly, handling a volatile Pakistan team in such a high pressure situation is no easy situation. Read Imran Khan on how difficult it was for him to manage his fielders in the 87 game in Bangalore. Misbah gets immense credit for how he motivated his players and got the best out of them. These good performances are no mere coincedence;these guys Hafeez, Rehman, Taufeeq,Ajmal have all played under several captains but have never performed at the level at which they are right now.

      I agree that this Pakistan team has a number of areas to work on (especially the sometimes over-cautious approach in the batting department), but lets give credit where it’s due. This was a huge, huge win and I have no doubts that the team will gain immensely from it.

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