WHEN PAKISTANIS WERE LORDS OF LORD’S

It was ironic that the last time Pakistan won at Lord’s Amir clean bowled the 20th wicket to fall and bring Pakistan a 75 run victory. This time too it was Amir who got the 20th wicket for Pakistan, again clean bowled, and for all practical purposes signaled a certain victory considering the 60-odd to get by his batting colleagues.

To be brutally honest, I did not expect Pakistan to win, let alone win so emphatically. The reason I was wrong is that the Pakistani batsmen underwent a complete cultural change and batted with a discipline that would have done the late Hanif Mohammad proud.

The statistician will back me up in that they collectively let go more deliveries outside the off stump than did the English batsmen. It was such a transformation from Malahide that one could have mistaken the Pakistani batsmen for Englishmen and the Englishmen for Pakistani; Joe Root’s horrendous swipe in the first innings being the perfect example.

I was also wrong in that I never expected a couple of key English batsmen to play such loose shots in the first innings. This does not take away anything from the Pakistani swing bowlers, especially in the first innings. The plan to chip away at Stoneman’s defence on opening day was masterful, three balls leaving and then the one that came back at him. More often than not the English batsmen were drawn into committing mistakes.

Abbas was once again the man and though the Englishman play his type for their bread and butter in the county championship, yet he was dangerous if only because he sticks to a good length and like McGrath and Asif, and can be annoyingly accurate and deceptive to the last nano second.

Shadab was less effective. It was Yasir’s guile that got them two years ago. Shadab is someone who more often than not pushes the ball through and the English batsman like the ball coming on to the bat. Sarfraz should have had him more and more from the far end to take advantage of the slope. The north-west side of the playing surface is just over 8 feet higher than the south-east side. Resultantly anyone bowling inswingers from the pavilion end will get palpable deviance in bounce off the pitch and when bowling from the other end to move away.

Which is why at Lord’s off spinners and inswingers are normally bowled from the pavilion end and leg spinners and bowlers with strong outswing from the far end. Of course that is a preference but not a hard and fast rule.

Following this win Pakistan now have a fine record at Lord’s over England, limiting to Test matches only. Interestingly they have won here in some nail biting finishes, such as in 1982 when Mohsin Khan and Javed Miandad roared home against the clock to defeat England by 10 wickets; with similar close wins in 1992 (2 wickets), an overwhelming one in 1996 (164 runs) and then in 2016 by 75 runs. Now they ran home by 9 wickets.

This is the second time they have won at Lord’s after losing the toss and fielding. Seems Root learnt nothing from Gooch’s mistake in 1992, the first time this happened. England have won only once after winning the toss and batting first; that was against a Pakistan B side in 1978 without the Packer players: Asif Iqbal, Imran Khan, Zaheer Abbas and Mushtaq Mohammad.

Before last week’s game they had drawn four of their first six Tests here from 1954 to 1978, and then did not lose another Test here till 2001, after which they lost two of the next three. The good news leading up to the First Test therefore was that their last memory was of a win. That  is also one that is best remembered for Misbah’s salute and the push up celebration by him on reaching his hundred; and by the team after the victory.

So when the Pakistanis last week marched onto the hallowed turf at Lord’s which record did they have in mind? It was all square with 4 Test wins each at Lord’s from 15 played. Yet England had the experience to par with home conditions and this is a raw, young side they were facing. That is now settled and Pakistan lead England 5-4 in 16 Test matches at Lord’s. Sarfraz was the Imran of 1982. Young wards under him all excited and with no baggage.

Sarfraz was cognizant of the fact that they were without last time’s match winners Misbah ul Haq (114) and Yasir Shah (10 wickets). Added to that he was also missing experienced campaigners in Younus Khan, Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz – in fact only 4 of that winning eleven (Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir) survived from Lord’s 2016.

As someone said, the game was lost by Joe Root (and his advisers) when he chose to bat on a pitch which had been under covers due to rain a day earlier, and had a tinge of green on it. Perhaps he was smitten by the words, attributed to WG Grace, who had said once, “When you win the toss – bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague – then bat.”

It reminded me of how one editor of Wisden cricket magazine gave a heading in the review of the 1987 Headingley Test after Pakistan had beaten England by an innings. That read “Pitch and Toss”. They blamed it on the greenish pitch on opening day after Imran had won the toss and put England in. I had wondered then what would they have run as a headline had England won the toss, irrespective of whether Pakistan had still won, or lost.

I say again the pitch was definitely helpful but not that much to blame for England’s miseries in the two and a bit sessions they were in on the first day. It was Pakistan’s probing line on full and good length that got the English batsmen in the cross-hairs.

By contrast the English bowlers bowled short and wide of the stumps to the Pakistani top order who were so orderly this time that they would play only if the ball was threatening off stump.

England were this time outplayed even in fielding where the chances were all taken, even by Sarfraz who was positively brilliant to make up for the pitiable efforts behind the stumps against Ireland. As was Asad Shafiq.

But had it not been for Shadab with the bat he could have been responsible for a smaller lead. It seems he has got the challenging spirit of Javed Miandad to take on a bowler on his plans without being the genius that was Javed. He shouldn’t became self-denying and give up his penchant for hooking. But there’s a time and place for everything. He couldn’t have given away his wicket any easier than the way he did.

Pakistan now need to be careful, very careful. They have a shot at winning the Tests series in England after 22 years. It is imperative they don’t become complacent or pedestrian as they did against Ireland when Thompson joined Kevin O’Brian. They almost did when Buttler and Bess were batting in the final session on Day 3 at Lord’s.

They will be without the man in form Babar Azam. This means either Fakhar Zaman or Usman Salahuddin at No. 5. New man, new risk. But if this set of lads could overcome their awe at playing at Lord’s, they can rise even further above themselves at Headingley. They must not lose their way now.

END

About Sohaib Alvi

C-Suite Corporate Executive, MBA, Author, Writer, Blogger, Editor, Anchor, TV & Radio Analyst but above all a citizen of the world with a responsibility to live with my personal motto: Have Integrity; Share Knowledge; Create Distinction; Help People.
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