The 2016 cricket tour by Pakistan of England was eagerly awaited and enthusiastically followed by cricket fans not only in Pakistan and England, but by lovers of the game around the world.
In order to stamp out and erase the stains and scars left from the 2010 infamous (and ill fated) tour PCB, the tour management and the players had prepared themselves well in order to prove their mettle and erase the horrid memories and write a fresh chapter and a positive one in the annals of cricket relations between England and Pakistan. They were out to project a soft and favourable image of Pakistan cricket.
Fitness was given top priority and in pursuance of this a “Boot Camp” under the supervision of the skilled and experienced army trainers was held in Kakul (where the Pakistan Military is based) near Abbotabad. There could be no better training for fitness of youngsters. The trainers, as usual, did an excellent job and the cricketers responded with a keen and enthusiastic attitude and resolve. Most of the 30 odd players selected for this camp passed the stringent standards of this camp and some including the senior citizens Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, and youngsters like Shan Masood and Fawad Alam passed with flying colours. But it was not performance at this camp that in the end assured a berth in the Pakistan squad for the tours of England and Ireland.
There was also the skills camp which followed this “Boot Camp.” In the end Inzamam ul Haq the Chief of the Selection Panel which included Wasim Haider, Wajahatullah Wasti and Tauseef Ahmad were able to put together teams for the Tests and the white ball shorter format cricket contests. It will be irrelevant to comment on the selection now that the tour is coming to an end but it was felt at that time that the south paw all rounder Fawad Alam, the left arm pace bowler Junaid Khan, the now fit right arm seamer Umar Gul, and maybe a couple of youngsters could rightfully feel wronged.
It must be borne in mind that selection is a thankless job; there are only 11 who form the playing team and 16 who comprise a contingent. It was also unfortunate that the talented opener Ahmad Shahzad (how useful he would have been) and the middle order batsman Umar Akmal were not considered on disciplinary grounds. This was a good sign in that for the first time the PCB top brass did not compromise on discipline. However, after the Tests there are signs that the PCB will be taking back both these talented though wayward batsmen.
The successor for Waqar Younis who quit the Head Coach’s post (having already landed a commentary contract in IPL) was appointed on availability rather than capability. After a few “candidates” including Stuart Law, Dean Jones and Tom Moody had turned down advances made by the PCB Chairman (who always seemed in a hurry to announce the name even before anyone had signed on the dotted lines) and Aqib Javed had been let down, the South African/Australian Mickey Arthur was given the coveted post.
Arthur joined the selected band a few days before they took off. Once again because of lack of home work the NCA was deprived of the services of Mushtaq Ahmed and he was appointed the 2 IC to Arthur. Zimbabwean Grant Flower remained the batting coach and Steve Rixon the former Aussie gloveman came in as the fielding coach. The elder statesman, affable and highly experienced Intikhab Alam continued as the Manager while the industrious and efficient Shahid Aslam was Assistant Manager. The security manager, analyst, physio and other staff remained the same.
The media team comprised four stalwarts (with the Chairman overseeing the entire operations at least for the first half of the tour). Those included were the young and energetic Syed Oun Zaidi who looked after the Social Media and the local PR consultant Johnathan Colette who were there for the entire tour. For the first two Tests the Media Manager’s job was handled by the veteran journalist Akbar Agha; the genial and popular Director Media Amjad Husain Bhatti took over for Edgbaston and the Oval (partly) while the go getter Raza Kitchlew joined at the Oval when Amjad flew off to Ireland to supervise matters there. Raza continued till the end of the tour.
This novel experiment was never really tested as there were no real thorny issues cropping up. This was owing to the impeccable, honourable and dignified behaviour of the entire team both off and on the field. There were no juicy bits of “scandalous” happenings; no players giving interviews to all and sundry; nothing for the news hungry tabloids; and on the field the ICC referee was never inconvenienced. Well played Team Pakistan.
In comparison England did pick up some fines and warnings through the misdeeds on the field of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Alex Hales. All in all a very clean series played in the true sportsman spirit under some very tough circumstances and conditions. Congratulations to both team managements and players. They set an excellent example and this was a true representation of the age old adage that cricket is a gentlemen’s game.
On the field it was a keenly contested and hard fought series. Mercifully for Pakistan the weather remained mild and hardly intervened throughout the Test series. On most of the Test playing days there were large crowds and at times sell out crowds and full houses. This underlined the point that Pakistan are a very popular and crowd pulling side. They deserve more frequent visits to England rather than after a gap of five or six years.
The county clubs who own the Test venues – Middlesex, Lancashire, Warwickshire and Surrey – all reported making good money from the Pakistan matches. As the series results in the end proved the series of Pakistan v England should be a five test rubber. There was a also a case built for the advocates of four day 90/100 overs a day Tests as all but one ended within four days.
As part of the preparations for this all important series Pakistan had arrived in England a couple of weeks early for the purpose of acclimatization. They , like Henry V before the Battle of Harfleur in 1415, had encamped in Southampton. This served them well as did the “warm up” matches versus Somerset and Sussex and the two day game against Worcestershire under the shadows of the famous Cathedral at New Road.
The statistical details and individual performances and the photographs will be found elsewhere in this publication. Suffice it to say that Pakistan won the first Test at Lords by a sizeable margin of 75 runs; England hit back at Old Trafford with a hefty and massive victory by 330 runs (it could have been an innings defeat had Cook enforced the follow on; but that is another story!); England continued to blaze the trail of victory at Edgbaston by a wide and convincing margin of 141 runs only to be bull dozed once again in London south of the River Thames at the Oval by a commanding margin of 10 wickets. Series drawn 2-2. In the end a fair result for two equally matched adversaries. If only there had been a decider. Maybe next time…..
The batting of both the sides was brittle. England’s batting revolved round Alastair Cook and Joe Root with Alex Hales, James Vince and Gary Ballance all having a question mark in front of them. But they had the advantage of having two/three all rounders in Ben Stokes (when fit), Moeen Ali and Christopher Woakes and a wicketkeeper batsman of quality and class in Johnny Bairstow who all compensated more than adequately if their top order failed.
Pakistan had a pathetic opening pair in most innings and brittle lower middle and tail. The batting depended heavily on the ever green Misbah ul Haq, Asad Shafiq perhaps the most well equipped Pakistani batsman so far as technique is concerned, and Sarfraz Ahmed. Their star performer Younis Khan was woefully out of form in the first three Tests. He did bounce back in style with a double century in the seventh innings Pakistan played at the Oval. Later he let us all into the secret that he owed his return to form to a telephone advice from the former Indian captain and batting star Azharuddin!! I wonder what Arthur and Flower had to say in the matter. I must record here that it was Zaheer Abbas who helped out Azharuddin by suggesting an alteration in his grip when the latter was going through a bad patch while touring Pakistan. This was in Sialkot after which runs flowed freely from Azharuddin’s blade. One good turn does deserve another!!
England and Pakistan pace bowling were almost equal but Pakistan had perhaps the finest leg spinner in the world in Yasir Shah. England’s advantage was that they had a regular quartet of pace bowlers with the off spin of Moeen lending a helping hand. Pakistan depended on 3 pace bowlers and Yasir Shah. In the absence of a genuine all rounder they were always a bowler short.
The bottom line of the balance sheet for the two teams showed that both were not safe enough in the field with faulty butter fingered catching. England dropped at least 15 catches and Pakistan 12. The wicket keepers of both sides did a commendable job behind the stumps.
Top batsmen for Pakistan were Misbah, Azhar, Asad, and in the last innings Younis. Hafeez, Shan and Iftikhar failed to impress. Rizwan gained valuable experience by being with the seniors. Pakistan will be looking to shuffle the batting order. A year or two down the road replacements will have to be found for Misbah and Younis – very difficult boots to step into for anyone. Pakistan are well served in bowling. Yasir took 19 wickets – 15 in London (10 at Lord’s and 5 at the Oval) and only 4 for 546 in the other two tests . Statistically he finished with each wicket costing him about 41 runs while Iftikhar’s bowling average is 1 run per wicket (1 for 1 at the Oval). These statistics never tell the true tale. Do they? Sohail Khan who at one time was on the verge of being dropped came up with 13 wickets and Mohammad Amir who did not run through the opposition at any stage took 12 wickets. But in all fairness it must be noted that he had five catches dropped off him. Wahab Riaz was fiery, fast and furious but must guard against bowling too many no balls and running on to the pitch in his follow through. Rahat was steady, took a few early wickets but is prone to bowling too many short and wide and as such proves expensive. Imran Khan was not even tried.
For England Root and Cook came at the top with Moeen and Bairstow putting in useful and productive scores. Moeen has emerged as Number One choice for the batting all rounder’s spot along with Stokes and Woakes. England will be looking for replacements for Hales, Vince and Ballance for the winter tours. The likely replacements could be Drummond-Bell, Haseeb Hameed and a recall for Ian Bell and with Ben Stokes fit again they will have a good batting line up. Adil Rashid, Zafar Ansari or even veterans like Gareth Batty or Samit Patel could be considered for a spinning role. For England. Woakes emerged with a record breaking 26 wickets surpassing James Anderson and Fred Truman.
It has been an absorbing, exciting, well contested and well played series. Full marks to both team managements and players. Commiserations to England who in spite of hopes and wishes expressed several times of winning the series 3-1 and reaching the top spot in the ICC Test Rankings . Congratulations to Pakistan for the quality of the cricket produced, for the clean and dignified behaviour off and on the field and for reaching the No 2 place in the Test Rankings. The top slot is within reach Go for it gentleman.