Pakistan Poised To Deepen England’s Misery
By Orin Davidson
It’s now a full year since England glorified themselves with their Ashes triumph, yet no one can delude themselves into believing they any better off now with all the accolades and rewards, because the answer is a resounding no.
Even at home, England is still struggling to justify their overnight fame.
Of course, no team had defeated the world champions in a Test series since India in 2001 and England had ever right to fall over themselves with joy as they had not done so for 18 years.
The reality though is they’re still an average side which will be revealed once and for all at the end of the current four-Test series against Pakistan.
As far as I am concerned Pakistan is the second best Test team world cricket and even with a rash of injuries, I don’t see them losing to England this time around.
The biggest factor in the just concluded drawn first Test was Pakistan’s abysmal fielding that grassed five catches alone on the first day. It was the difference between them drawing or winning the match.
Given their strong position at the beginning, helped by those catching escapes, England’s first innings total of 528 runs for nine wickets declared should’ve placed them in an impregnable position.
It was the type of strength they held against Sri Lanka which they converted into a victory at Edgbaston in the summer precursor.
Not this time around though, as the opposition is Pakistan, a much stronger side than Sri Lanka, who have more than one match winner than Muttiah Muralitharan alone.
Pakistan recovered fast enough from that disastrous first day, to build a massive first innings that kept them in the game. And at the end of it all, they finished the match stronger by virtue of their spin weapons.
England were brought down to earth by the underrated leg spin of Danish Kaneria and to a lesser extent Shahid Afridi, when left hanging at 296 runs for eight wickets declared in the second innings.
Any type of good bowling would make England vulnerable now. And in Kaneria Pakistan has one of the world’s most dangerous spinners in the contemporary game. The world might not have realized it as yet, or want to admit it, but Kaneria has proven himself in the same category of Shane Warne and Stuart McGill at the present stage of their careers. Muralitharan is in a different class, at a notch above all others.
It is not because of his superior strike rate, which is attributed to him not having a serious rival for wickets in Sri Lanka’s bowling attack. Rather it is his ability to do more tricks with the ball to go with his unerring control.
In addition to Kaneria, Pakistan also has Afridi who has more talent than his team allows him to express especially at Test level. He too is more than just an ordinary leg spinner that can deliver the googly at will, but has not been given that respect in his career so far.
Encouragingly he was given a fair measure of bowling responsibilities at Lords’ which bodes well for the series remainder.
Given his bowling qualities alone, Afridi should be an automatic choice for Pakistan Test teams. When his batting strength is taken into consideration, the Khyber right hander should be a Pakistan trump card and a gem in most other world Test teams.
If the Pakistan board has not yet made a wiser decision since hiring coach Bob Woolmer, coercing Afridi to forget about his attempt to retire from Test cricket, has to take second place.
England has injury problems of their own too. Captain Michael Vaughn, Simon Jones, Ashley Giles and Freddy Flintoff are all missing. But even in their distress they can consider themselves lucky Pakistan is without Shoaib Akhtar, Mohamed Asif, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Shoaib Malik. Those four alone would inflict twice the percentage of damage the missing England four could manage.
Asif is new to the Test scene, yet his ability to swing the ball both ways is an uncanny quality that is primarily responsible for his bewildering strike rate of 37.72.
For some unproven reason, Pakistan’s ability to produce those types of swingers since Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis is becoming legendary. Rana is another with those dangerous skills and I am sure many more are waiting in the wings for their chance.
The bottom line is those bowlers are making Pakistan a proposition most Test teams would rather not encounter.
And England should realize their inability to win that first Test has destroyed their hopes of taking this series.
For the remaining games Pakistan’s firepower will increase several volumes as Akhtar is set to play the last two Tests. The last time the two teams clashed on the featherbed pitches on the sub continent, the Rawalpindi Express was their destroyer. Therefore it leaves little to the imagination to figure out the type of damage he could inflict on the friendlier bowling surfaces at Leeds and the Oval.
Even in the advent of Flintoff’s return for the second Test, his impact would not match Pakistan’s prowess from now on.
Leg spin is one of the most difficult bowling types to negotiate and Pakistan is coming stronger with two very good ones.
Ask Brian Lara. His attempt to win the third Test and the series at Sabina Park last year went up in smoke when Kaneria bamboozled the home team to a deflating defeat after the homesters excellent start.
Less it be forgotten, Pakistan are now warming to the English conditions. And if it took Sri Lanka until the third Test to find their rhythm, the visitors now are much quicker to the draw.
With their firepower Pakistan should be the team generating the hype for a clash with Australia for the world number one title at the end of the year.
Not England, because the Ashes return clash is doomed to end in another miss match Down Under.
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