Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Victory at Lord’s is Sweet

This article first appeared on DAWN.

I distinctly remember 1992, the one year that no Pakistani cricket fan can erase from memory. The year when Pakistan won the World Cup was also the year of a great test series win in England. I was back in Pakistan for the traditional summer holidays and I remember spending my entire day in front of PTV and then glued to the radio at times of load shedding and the Khabarnama. After a dull draw in the first test of the 1992 series at Edgbaston, Pakistan won a thrilling encounter at Lord’s to go 1-0 up in the series. It was a memorable victory scripted by the 2 Ws, with both the bat and the ball.

Pakistan’s next tour to England in 1996 was quite similar with Pakistan taking the lead in the first test at Lord’s. Then the victory came on the back of flamboyant innings from Inzamam Ul Haq and Saeed Anwar, coupled with the destructive bowling of the 2 Ws and Mushtaq Ahmed.

20 years later, Pakistan have done it again. They have gone 1-0 up against England with a resounding victory at Lord’s. While this team does not boast of the flair and flamboyance of the Pakistan team of 90s, their grit and determination is second to none. Misbah’s captaincy, his batting along with that of Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, Yasir Shah’s skillful bowling, and the three pronged left arm threat collectively scripted the downfall of England. Unlike the individual brilliance that reigned supreme in 92 and 96, it was a combined team effort that did it this time; and the victory celebration showed as much.

I have written several times about how I believe that over the past 5 years, we have witnessed the best test cricket Pakistan have ever played. The exploits of Pakistan’s solid middle order comprising Azhar, Younis, Misbah, Asad, and Sarfraz has been well documented. When I wrote about how this 2016 tour is Pakistan’s best chance of a series victory in England for the first time in 20 years, critics responded with the same statements that they have been making for the past 5 years.

“This team can’t win outside the UAE.”

“Pakistan’s batting is good for only UAE surfaces.”

“Yasir Shah will not be able to do what he did to England in the UAE.”

“Misbah’s technique is not good enough for pitches in England.”

“Sarfraz won’t be able to counter attack in England the way he has done in the UAE.”

At Lord’s over the past 4 days, Pakistan and each one of its players showed everyone that they are one of the best test teams in the world currently; and that they can not only do it in the UAE, they can do it all around the world.

Before the series, we looked at the players who would make a difference. Here’s a look at those who did.

Misbah Ul Haq
Captain Fantastic is truly just that. If his previous 20 test victories as captain did not give him the title of Pakistan’s best test captain ever, this win at Lord’s has surely pushed him further towards that mark. He led with aplomb and achieved what only three previous captains (Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, and Wasim Akram) had achieved – a win at Lord’s.

It was Misbah’s first innings century that made all the difference. The fact that his century came in a match where only two other batsmen crossed 50 shows the true value of his innings. He already had the most test wins and the most rest runs as Pakistan captain; this century also gave him the record of most test centuries as Pakistan captain, beating Inzamam’s record of 7, which he had equaled last year.

His century at Lord’s created a number of other records also:

At 42, He became the oldest captain to hit a test century, breaking Bob Simpson’s record who was 41 when he scored his last test century as captain.

It was only the 3rd test century by a Pakistan captain at Lord’s, after Hanif Mohammad and Javed Burki.

It was the 1st test century by a Pakistan captain in England in 24 years, after Javed Miandad’s century in 1992.

It was the 3rd instance of a Pakistan captain scoring a test century in his first innings in England, after Hanif Mohammad and Javed Miandad.

This win at Lord’s was Misbah’s 21st test victory as captain, which places him in elite company of captains with over 20 test wins. It also gives Misbah the best W:L ratio and best Win % among all captains from the subcontinent.

Yasir Shah
If anyone had any doubts whatsoever about Yasir Shah’s greatness, they were dispelled with his outstanding performance at Lord’s. It was Yasir’s first 10 wicket haul in a match and he became the first bowler from the subcontinent to achieve this feat at Lord’s.

Yasir created a number of other records through his bowling performance at Lord’s:

10-141 are the second best figures by a spinner from a touring side at Lord’s, after Sonny Ramadhin’s 11-152 for the West Indies in 1950.

His 5 wicket haul in the first innings was the first time a leg spinner took a 5 wicket haul at Lord’s in the first innings in almost 50 years. The last time it happened was in 1967 when Bhagwath Chandrashekar took 5-127.

Yasir Shah now has 86 wickets after 13 tests, which is the most number of wickets for any bowler after 13 tests in the 139-year history of the game. With his 82nd wicket, which came in the first innings, Yasir broke Charlie Turner’s record of 81 wickets after 13 tests, which had been standing for 123 years!

He sure is a special bowler. If Pakistan thought that they would not be able find someone as good as Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq, or Saeed Ajmal, they were so wrong. They have discovered a rare gem in Yasir.

He is now on the verge of breaking another record that has stood for over a century. George Lohmann picked up his 100th test wicket in his 16th test in 1896. No bowler has reached the 100-wicket mark that quickly since then with the next best managed in the 17th test by Charlie Turner, Sydney Barnes, and Clarrie Grimmet. The fastest spinner to 100 test wickets is also Grimmet, followed by Ashwin who reached their in his 18th test. The Pakistan record is held by Saeed Ajmal who raced to 100 wickets in his 19th test. Yasir Shah is on the verge of breaking all these records. Based on his current form and England’s ineptness against leg spin, he should get there in his 15th test; if not then he will surely equal Lohmann’s 120-year old feat.

Asad Shafiq
So far he has been called the best number 6 batsman Pakistan have ever had. I would go even further in stating that he is arguably the best number 6 test batsman the word has ever seen. Asad’s 122 runs in both innings was the highest contribution by a batsman in the Lord’s test; in both innings he played a crucial role in ensuring that Pakistan does not collapse.

Asad was already among the top 10 run scorers of all time at number 6 in tests. With another 122 runs added to his tally, he has now moved past Chanderpaul. By the end of this series, he could well be among the top three runs scorers at number 6.

While these three definitely stood out for Pakistan, it was a true team effort with Sarfraz Ahmed, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Aamer, and Wahab Riaz also chipping in with valuable contributions. Sarfraz’ 45 in the 2nd innings ensured Pakistan set a target in excess of 250; Rahat’s 3 early wickets in the 2nd innings set up the stage for a Pakistan victory; Wahab’s few spells were outstanding and kept the pressure on England - he was really unlucky not to get more wickets; and Aamer who ended the game cleaning up the tail finally sought some redemption and created new (and better) memories at Lords.

With Anderson and Stokes returning, England will be stronger at Old Trafford. Their batting and bowling will both be strengthened and they will come hard at Pakistan. What they don’t realize however is that this Pakistan team is arguably the best test team and surely the best prepared test team that Pakistan has sent to their land.

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