When you achieve a win like Pakistan earned at Lord’s, it’s easy to get carried away. After all it was after 20 years that Pakistan tamed England at Lord’s and the way they did it triggered jubilation across the lengths and breadths of the country. Doing push-ups, it seemed became a national pastime as Pakistanis paid tribute to Misbah-ul-Haq and his men for what will certainly go down in the annals of Pakistan cricket history as one of their most memorable Test victories. They were buoyed up by Yasir Shah’s heroics, and were happily asking the question: Will England be able to handle this wily leggie during the rest of the series? Happily because, they believed that Yasir will go on to toy with the English batsmen in the next three Tests. There were also expectations that after a relatively sedate return to Test cricket, Mohammad Amir will only get more lethal. Such was the mood that the fans and even a few experts were talking about Pakistan being set for a cakewalk in the four-Test series.
But as they say, ‘Hunooz Dilli door ast’ (Delhi is still far away), all talk about Pakistan going on to win the series was a bit too premature. Having won the toss, a much more determined England dominated Pakistan’s bowlers to cruise to 314-4 on the opening day of the second Test at Old Trafford. At Lord’s Yasir took 10-141. At Old Trafford his opening day’s figures were none for 111. It’s not that Yasir didn’t try. He threw everything at England but the basic difference was that the home team’s batters were better prepared for the spinner this time around. At Lord’s they were clueless against Yasir and once again exposed their inability to handle quality leg-spin. But it seemed that they did their homework properly before taking the field at Old Trafford. They opted against hitting Yasir square of the wicket and took the safer route of getting on the front foot to drive him down the ground. Alistair Cook and Joe Root were in top gear during an authoritative 185-run partnership for the second wicket. Both Cook and Root are, by far England’s best batsmen, and the duo knew that they needed to score big to allow the hosts to level the series. Their centuries did put Pakistan on the back foot and though Lord’s was just a few days back, the previous Test appeared to be a distant memory, almost irrelevant.
Pakistan will have to keep their eyes on the ball. Not just during this Test, not just for this series or this tour. They should know that despite doing well in Tests, their overall standing in international cricket remains shaky. Once regarded as the best team in the 20-over format Pakistan have slipped abysmally low in Twenty20 Internationals over the years, a fact that was clearly underlined during the ICC World T20 championship in India earlier this year. Their standing in One-day Internationals isn’t any better. They are counted among the top-three teams in Tests but the team’s future, even in the five-day format, appears far from secure. Misbah, the team’s binding force and its biggest inspiration, will retire sooner rather than later. He is already 42 and the tour of Australia at the year-end could be his last. Younis Khan, the only other accomplished Test batter in the Pakistan line-up, is 38 and doesn’t have many years left in his international career. Pakistan have the likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq but the team could end up like Sri Lanka, who are unable to fill the vacuum left by the exit of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, once Misbah and Younis call it quits.
For the limited-over formats there is much more work that needs to be done. Pakistan’s biggest handicap is the absence of game-changing batters both at the top and down the order. Their batsmen will have to, somehow, learn the art of clearing boundaries and do that consistently. If the current lot can’t do it, then they will have to find new ones who can. Pakistan’s next big 50-over assignment will be the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England next June. Then there will be the ICC World Twenty20 championship and then the World Cup in 2019 in England.
It was easy to forget all of this once Amir shattered the stumps of England No 11 Jake Ball to wrap up Pakistan’s 75-run triumph at Lord’s last Sunday. For a Pakistan supporter, it was pure joy.
There was nothing wrong in celebrating the Lord’s triumph. It’s just that such results shouldn’t make us think that all’s well. The fact is that all is far from well. Pakistan certainly have the guts to excel at the highest level, something that they proved by taming England at Lord’s. Whether they can keep doing it regularly remains unclear.