By Richard Foord
As I sit down to write this article Henry Blofeld’s sonorous blue-blooded tones announce over the radio that Pakistan batsman Azir Ali has finally been dismissed. His knock has been an exceptional one; facing 442 balls in an innings lasting just shy of nine hours, amassing 157 patient runs.
It’s Just the sort of innings that England supporters have grown to expect over the past couple of summers. Let us not forget that England top the world test match rankings for a reason. Last year we saw Cook and Trott knocking the beleaguered Aussies around the MCG for fun. World record partnerships seemed to tumble every time England went out to bat. Against India last summer Ian Bell, Alistair Cook, and Kevin Pietersen all hit double centuries. We saw an England batting attack that specialised in the slow and painful destruction of any set of bowlers brave enough to challenge them. Even Tim Bresnan took India’s attack for ninety runs…
By contrast the start of 2012 has not been so happy. England’s highest individual score during this series against Pakistan is a 94 from Alistair Cook during the catastrophe that was the 2nd test. England capitulated in their second innings, scoring a derisory 72; the extra’s column earning the dubious honour of being the 3rd top scorer. Commentators have been quick to attribute this sharp fall from form to various factors:
Could it be the lack of practise against decent spin bowling spin? In the last series against India England had only to contend with a flat and lifeless Harbajan Singh on equally flat and lifeless pitches. Before that, Australia were so determined to be rid of Kevin Pietersen that they insisted on fielding a succession of bog standard left arm spinners. Xavier Doherty managed three wickets for 306 runs, and Geoffrey Boycott insisted his grandmother could do better than Michael beer. I’m somewhat inclined to agree. Ajmal on the other hand has proved a different story altogether. He mixes his variation beautifully and can bowl a genuinely disguised doosra (something painfully lacking from Swann’s armoury), which has been the principle bane of English batsmen.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. If one positive can be taken from the series, it must be the revival of Monty Panesar. He is a cricketer that’s never been taken completely seriously, and has been outcast from the team from 3 years. He described his return as a ‘second debut’, and he has certainly looked like a player reborn. In the two test matches that he has played in the series he has amassed fourteen wickets: one more than Swann who has played an extra test and is considered England’s primary strike bowler.
What is also exceptional from Pakistan’s point of view (apart from their systematic deconstruction of the England cricket team) is their ability to consistently find top talent. In the first test in Dubai there were only two survivors in the Pakistan team from the team that last played England in the notorious test match at Lords in 2010. The way this current team has performed can only be applauded and can be seen to have truly put those nightmarish days of corruption behind them.
I hope by the time you are reading this that England’s batsmen have pulled of an extraordinary victory and restored some semblance of pride or consolation to a series which has been nothing short of a disaster. England certainly deserve to be atop the test match rankings, however with performances like this, they don’t deserve to stay there for very long.