A tarred team does a whitewash

The 3-0 defeat of England by Pakistan has only confirmed the legendary Imran Khan's assessment that Pakistan was capable of resurgence. The margin of the result embellished the team's dedication to salvage the country's reputation so badly dented by the cases of corruption. Over to Vijay Lokapally.

It should make Imran Khan proud. A fierce competitor, the legendary Pakistan cricketer always believed that lack of talent was not the factor that held his nation back. He was convinced that most of its woes were self-inflicted and it was lack of self-belief that often led to Pakistan being humiliated on the cricket field.

Having nurtured the team to some great conquests as a captain, it was understandable that Imran expected the team to reach similar heights quite frequently. But then Pakistan stood blacklisted as a host for various reasons, security being the paramount issue, and Imran watched the degeneration of cricket in his country with despair. When would Pakistan play to its potential? “Matter of time,” he was sure.

The 3-0 whitewash of England by Pakistan in the Gulf has only confirmed Imran's assessment. Pakistan is a team to be reckoned with. Not for the margin of the result but for the team's dedication to salvage the country's reputation so badly dented by the cases of corruption.

What if the team did not have Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, both lost to world cricket in the spot-fixing corruption of 2010? That was the last time Pakistan had played England. So, when Pakistan ‘hosted' England in the Gulf little would the team have imagined that it would post a stunning whitewash!

“We showed that we are a power in the cricketing world again. Now is the time to give importance to the Pakistan team again. It is a wonderful thing for us. I can't describe in words how important this series was for our team,” said Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. He is to this team what Imran was in his prime.

Misbah summed it up well. “We just came out of some problems. But the way we have come out and the way we are progressing is wonderful. Everyone was ignoring us, but now they have to look at Pakistan cricket.” Only, Misbah will have to ensure that Pakistan excels overseas too, for the conditions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai were akin to Lahore and Karachi.

Yes, the world has to take notice of Pakistan cricket. It is an amazing side that draws inspiration from the fact that every time it takes the field it has to deliver. The series against England has placed Pakistan among the most exciting combinations with spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman emerging the giant killers.

Here is an interesting bit of statistics. Pakistan, skittled out for a mere 99 on the first day of the last Test match, became the first team since 1907 to win a Test after being bowled out for below 100 in the first innings. It restricted England's first innings lead to 42 and then hit back through centuries by Younis Khan and Azhar Ali.

“Our bowlers did a wonderful job,” Misbah said. “They cut down the lead and we knew that if we were only behind by 100 on the first innings, we were still in the game. Then Azhar Ali and Younis Khan batted wonderfully. Their batting was the main thing that brought us back into the game.” It also put Pakistan on the road to a total domination of the series.

This was the resurgence that Imran had long been talking of. In the absence of a proper infrastructure in the country, it is indeed laudable that Pakistan keeps producing quality cricketers. There is little to boast in terms of junior cricket in Pakistan but there is a stream of youngsters who keep making news with their performances at the international level.

Is Pakistan a champion team in the making? Certainly! It has an enviable capacity to compete with dignity in the most adverse situations. England, the No. 1 Test team in world cricket, did have the upper hand on a couple of occasions, but Pakistan had a man to deal with the challenge. As Misbah pointed out, the team had a saviour every time it faced trouble.

Pakistan, with an astonishing reputation to unearth raw talent and give it the right break too, is headed in the right direction. Having suffered in reputation and credibility, the team had its glorious moments in 2009 when it claimed the T20 World Cup. It was seen as the much-needed boost, but the spot-fixing scandal wounded the team badly. Pakistan cricket became a butt of ridicule and scorn on the international circuit.

Under pressure to perform and deliver, the Pakistan cricket team confronted a huge challenge when it took on England in the Gulf for a ‘home' series. Misbah was the ideal man to lead the dispirited combination and the authorities came up with a master move by employing former international Mohsin Khan as the coach. It was an interim appointment but it worked wonders.

Misbah, an uncertain captain prior to the series, emerged the silent motivator, bringing cohesion to a team that was known to drift in different directions. Pakistan, a collective force under Misbah and Mohsin, gave a tough time to the English. Skipper Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower looked for excuses, but Pakistan was a clear winner. It was England's first loss in three years involving nine series.

At the heart of Pakistan's triumph were Ajmal and Rehman. An aggregate of 24 wickets at 14.7 places Ajmal, 34, as the top off-spinner in the world. The debate on the legality of his action should be best left to the International Cricket Council's technical committee. The success of a quality off-spinner must be celebrated in times when seam and pace are encouraged by most captains.

Rehman, 31, has remained a much under-rated left-arm spinner. His haul of 19 wickets at 16.73 apiece was a huge contribution. Mohammad Hafeez, making runs and striking with his off-spin at crucial stages, worked in Pakistan's favour too. This should easily rank the best spin combination in international cricket today.

England did not possess the skills to survive on pitches that helped the slow bowlers. Misbah had his plans in place and his leadership allowed the bowlers to prosper. Umar Gul, with his nagging seam and swing, made a huge impression as he supported the spinners all the way.

Pakistan's strength was collective. The seam and slow bowlers were consistent with their line — Gul in the first Test when he sliced through the top four in the second innings and again caused a four-wicket dent in the last Test. Ajmal and Rehman were brilliant right through. Azhar Ali, 26, and 21 Tests old, chipped in with Asad Shafiq and Younis to enhance his reputation. Azhar's 442-ball 157 in the third Test was a pleasant demonstration of discipline and technique. His 216-run stand with Younis, who made 127 off 221 balls, ensured the whitewash.

Ajmal remained an enigmatic opponent for the English. For Pakistan, he emerged the architect of a resurgence that Imran had been dreaming about. It does not matter that Pakistan remains at number five in Test rankings even after the 3-0 triumph. With talent flowing abundantly, it is firmly on way to becoming a major force in international cricket. Pakistan is certainly a team to watch in all forms of the game.