Sometimes in sport, a team will punch logic for a six on its way to achieving the seemingly impossible. Case in point: Leicester City’s fairytale rise to the English Premier League crown earlier this summer.
But such results are the exception and not the norm. More often than not, sporting success is achieved on the basis of pure statistics. The better they are of a particular team the higher the rate of its success.
On a scale much smaller than Leicester City’s incredible feat, Pakistan did the same when they won the opening Test against England. Misbah-ul-Haq and his men defied the odds when they floored England at Lord’s, cruising to a 75-run triumph in their four-Test series opener on July 20.
But Old Trafford turned out to be a different story.
At Lord’s, the visitors found England, especially their top-order, napping and made the most of the home team’s unexpectedly below-par performance. Instead of building on the momentum, Pakistan came out with a less potent showing in the second Test where England were fully ready for them. The hosts rode roughshod over their opponents on their way to a mammoth 330-run victory.
Going into the third Test which gets underway at Edgbaston from August 3, both teams are tied at 1-1. Whatever happens in Birmingham, the four-Test will be decided at The Oval which will host the final Test from August 11. Though the series is level, England clearly seem to be the team holding the upper hand. And the primary reason for it that is England have proved themselves to be superior than Pakistan, at least statistically, in most departments of the game.
Take for example the performance of the top-four batsmen from either team. The Pakistani quartet of Mohammad Hafeez, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali and Younis Khan have been the biggest disappointment for the visitors so far. While there were question marks about the credentials of both Hafeez and Shan even before the start of the series, many believed that the technically superior duo of Azhar and Younis will compensate for any failures at the top of the order. The two did raise hopes when they scored centuries in tour games in the lead up to the Test series. But once the actual contest began, neither Younis nor Azhar have managed to make their presence felt.
In the first two Tests, Pakistan’s top four batters have contributed a combined total of 297 runs at a dismal average of 18.56. Hafeez’s 42 is the highest score in an innings from any of the tour-four. His tally of 100 at an average of 25 is the best. Younis with 87 runs from four innings comes next followed by Shan (71) and Azhar (39).
Compare that with England’s top-order. Despite the fact that opener Alex Hales and James Vince are yet to fire, England’s top-four have given their team much better starts thanks to skipper Alistair Cook and Joe Root. Overall, the top-four have contributed 784 runs in the two Tests at 60.30. Despite scores of 48 and 09 at Lord’s, Root has already piled up 382 runs in the two Tests at 127.33. His 254 in England’s first innings at Old Trafford turned out to be a match-winning knock. Cook isn’t far behind with 270 runs at 90. Together, the duo have compensated for the failures of Hales (56 from four innings) and Vince (76 from three innings).
Now that we get ready for the next Test at Edgbaston, Pakistan will have to somehow come out with a better showing, especially at the top of the order. There are a few exceptions but generally Pakistani openers have never really impressed in England which is why the onus will once again be on Younis and Azhar. Younis, especially, because he is the team’s most seasoned batter, somebody who has scored in England in the past. Unless Pakistan showed spine at the top of the order, their chances of beating England in the Test series will be, at best, dim.
Just days before the third Test, Root revealed how Mark Ramprakash, England’s batting coach, took him to task after he threw away his wicket twice at Lord’s. Root admitted that it was Ramprakash’s hard words that inspired him to play a match-winning knock at Old Trafford.
It is time that somebody in the Pakistani camp does a Ramprakash with the misfiring batters. ‘Perform or go home’ should be the message. Whether it will actually be done is a different story.
Despite the fact that Misbah and Co won impressively at Lord’s their crashing defeat at Old Trafford didn’t come as a big surprise. After all, consistency has almost always eluded Pakistan cricket. But it is about time that we started doing something about it.