KARACHI: In the 1998 Test series in South Africa, Pakistan were in sight of a series win in what was their maiden full tour there. With a 1-0 lead in the bag, the team was closing on a landmark achievement in the final Test at Port Elizabeth. After an engrossing opening day, the second day was washed out.
Only three days were left and South Africa had to first finish their innings then had the task of dismissing Pakistan twice inside three days to win the Test and square the series — anything less would have ensured a series win for the tourists.
Dismissing Pakistan twice inside three days was, on paper, a momentous task considering the resilience the batsmen had shown in the preceding Johannesburg and Durban Tests.
But in the end it turned out to be one of the easiest coup de grace ever administered in Test history. Forget about playing out three days, the Proteas took only 101 overs (scores of 106 and 134) to pack up the visitors twice. The hosts themselves batted for 65.4 overs in their second innings and despite the loss of an entire day’s play the Test ended well inside the first hour on the final day.
The trend has afflicted Pakistan cricket ever since especially in away Tests: Perth, Hobart, Centurion, Nottingham, Birmingham, Johannesburg, Cape Town etc. are among the venues where meek Pakistan capitulations out of nowhere have left us bewildered.
The Old Trafford Test is the latest episode in the tough to digest ‘meek capitulations’ stories. After the incredible high of Lord’s the Test came as a grim reminder of how ordinary this eleven can look in alien conditions that are out of their comfort zone.
Old Trafford is in fact such a spineless surrender that it can be termed a nightmare with ample justification and perhaps the team can simply move on without harping on what went wrong, since then quite frankly nothing went right.
Numbers alone paint a depressing bleak picture: England amassed 762 runs for the loss of nine wickets scoring at nearly 4.2 runs per over. Pakistan in reply stuttered to a combined two innings total of 432 runs.
For England Joe Root produced a 254-run masterclass and followed it up with an unbeaten 71, while Cook hammered 105 and 76 not out.
Misbahul Haq’s 52 was the best by a Pakistan batsmen in the first dig with Mohammad Hafeez’s 42, a depressingly low top-score, in the second dig.
Chris Woakes collected seven wickets, Moeen Ali bagged five and James Anderson tallied four wickets in the match. In contrast Wahab Riaz with three cheap wickets during the English search for quick runs was statistically the most successful Pakistan bowler on show.
But the biggest proverbial ‘fall from grace’ was reserved for now former ICC number one Test bowler Yasir Shah.
The ‘Shah of Lords’ left Manchester as ‘Shah in shambles’ with shockingly abysmal match figures of one for 266 from 63 overs as England straightened him out with their straight bats.
How did the team crumble so inexplicably? Historically such bizarre Pakistan capitulations have puzzled the best of the pundits; once again they have been left scratching their heads.
But a closer introspection can perhaps help make some sense. The bounce and pace that the pitch offered made batting easy for the English team. Cook and Root thrived on a wicket where the ball was coming on to the bat. England lost Alex Hales early but, helped by some wayward bowling, the duo stitched a match-winning 185-run alliance in the first innings.
England made the technical adjustment and played Yasir with a straight bat, cutting down on shots on the back-foot, they minimised risks but continued to score at a brisk rate due to the profligacy of Pakistan bowlers.
The partnership had such a telling effect that the bowlers seemingly lost heart, fielders struggled to concentrate and focus as Younus Khan, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed spilled chances that must be taken at the Test level.
With 589 runs in the bank, England were firmly in control. The bounce in the surface was likely to be undoing of Pakistan batsmen and within a blink of an eye, the top-order was found napping in the dressing room.
The failure of the top-order was a major disappointment six years ago — England tour of 2010 — a bunch of rookies were sent folding for three sub-100 totals in the four-match series.
Expectations were justifiably much greater from this side. Almost the entire batting unit has featured consistently in the last six years. They have amassed a lot of runs in Asia and one felt that after lengthy preparations they would be ready to gust it out.
But all expectations fell flat on the face. In a combined total of 16 innings at Lord’s and Old Trafford, the quartet of Hafeez, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali and Younus have collected 297 runs at an average of 18.25 — Pakistan are indeed lucky that the series score is only 1-1 at present with such low returns from their front-line batsmen.
None of the top-order batters have a fifty yet and Pakistan desperately need to fix the ailment if they are to make a game of Edgbaston and Oval Tests.
But can they? They say the only thing predictable about this cricket team is their unpredictability —another cringe worthy cliché — but there’s a likelihood of the task becoming less challenging at Oval if not Edgbaston — venue of the third Test.
The Edgbaston pitch should be less bouncy but can swing substantially as Pakistan found out in 2010 — dismissed for 72, on the first day.
If Root and Cook can fine tune their games in a matter of four days, the seasoned Pakistan batters can at least replicate their commitment.
Younus especially has delivered in adversity innumerable times; at the back-end of his career he should grind it out one last time in company of his batting buddies — anything less can result in another fearful battering.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ