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England vs Pakistan: A rivalry prone to controversy

Pomil Proch
614   //    14 Jul 2016, 18:27 IST
Alastair cook Misbah ul haq
The two captains before the start of the first Test

Euro 2016 is finally over, so is Wimbledon 2016 and it is about time that sports fans now focus their attention to Test cricket, the purest form of the gentleman’s game. An England vs Pakistan test series especially hosted by the British is always a mouth-watering prospect. No wonder that the former Ashes-winning skipper Michael Vaughan described Eng-Pak test series as his second most favorite one after The Ashes. Here is what he had to say on his Facebook page.

Can't wait for Thursday. England v Pakistan is always a series which brings drama. One way or another. Over the next 5 weeks we will witness skills of the highest standard. Skills of the lowest standard. Shot selection of the highest order. Shot selection of the lowest order.  Dynamic running between the wickets. Comedy running between the wickets. Great catches. Glorious drop catches. No doubt some kind of talking point other than the Cricket. That's why it's my most exciting series after the Ashes.

The start and the traditional mindset of the Pakistan team

The start to this rivalry was a bitter one for Pakistan. Even with the mercurial nature that you generally ascribe to the Pakistani, they for some reason have found it hard to shake off a sense of inferiority when it comes to traveling to the land of their colonial masters. As per the effervescent skipper Javed Miandad

For years, Pakistani teams on foreign tours found it difficult to shake a sense of inferiority, Perhaps we were embarrassed to be from a third world country that not too long ago had been ruled by white colonialists.

As per the reputed newspaper Guardian, during Pakistan’s first tour of England in 1954, they didn’t bring a scorer, or a single accredited journalist, instead were accompanied by an official from the Pakistan High Commission “whose task was to educate the British public”. Because, as the team realized to their great surprise, “many British people did not know that Pakistan existed”.

Wisden described them as “virtually an unknown team … estimated to be no better than average county standard.”

The gamut of controversies

The rivalry is plagued with controversies and there are a lot of instances to be plugged into the scope of a single article. Mohammad Amir’s no ball incident is still fresh in hearts of many cricket purists but the line hardly begins there. For all the coverage that the story got, there have already been many unfortunate incidents to dent this healthy rivalry.

Among the many questionable decisions made by English cricket captains, few were as dramatic as the ones taken by Donald Carr on the evening of 26 February 1956. That was the night Carr and six of his team-mates put on masks, slipped into the Services Hotel in Peshawar, gagged the Pakistani umpire Idrees Baig. Baig was the subject of a controversial incident in Peshawar during the MCC tour of 1955-56 as the English players were fed up with what they regarded as Baig's pomposity.

They carried him by his limbs down the back staircase, dumped him in a horse-drawn carriage, drove him across town to Dean’s Hotel, sat him in a chair, offered him a drink, and then poured two buckets of cold water over his head. The incident caused outrage in Pakistan and almost led to the abandonment of the tour, but diplomacy by the MCC president, Lord Alexander, and Iskander Mirza, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan, smoothed things to allow the tour to continue.

When England won by an innings and 129 runs at Trent Bridge, Neville Cardus decided “a mistake was made by those authorities who decided the time was now ripe for Test matches between England and Pakistan.” And then Pakistan won the fourth Test at the Oval, thanks to the inspired bowling of Fazal Mahmood.

Also read: England vs Pakistan 2016: 5 player battles to watch out for

In the minutes after the victory, the man who founded the Pakistan Cricket Board, Chief Justice Alvin Cornelius, was said to have been seen striding around the pavilion shouting “Call Hutton! Call Compton! And tell them to learn from Fazal how to play cricket!”

If there was nothing happening on the field, racism off the field was always an option worth exploring. In the 1970s, these tours often took place against ugly backdrops, as racist attacks against Pakistanis living in Britain became more common. Imran Khan, who studied at Oxford, also had experience of what Hanif Kureshi called “the more polite forms of hatred.”

English players came to regard Pakistani umpires as incompetent and described them as the Worst Cheats. Mike Gatting’s confrontation with Shakoor Rana, the accusations of cheating made against Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in 1992. Steve Bucknor punishing Pakistan for their time-wasting, Shahid Afridi’s ban for scuffing the pitch while a nearby explosion distracted everyone’s attention in 2005, the forfeited Test at The Oval in 2006, when Inzamam-ul-Haq refused to lead his team out after they were penalized five runs. And, of course, the spot-fixing scandal in 2010.

What does the present test series promise?

While Vaughan was being overly sarcastic with his aforementioned quote but it can’t be denied that the series will be one worth watching. I do expect moments of individual brilliance and rare moments of collective glory. There are enough talented players on both sides and each team has it niggles to face in the Test series. I repeat again, every bit of this series would be worth watching.

Mohammad Amir
All eyes will be on Mohammad Amir as he looks to redeem himself at Lord’s

It will be impossible to watch this series in isolation. The media will definitely overplay the 2010 fiasco but the sooner it is forgotten, the better it will be for Cricket. The series is being billed as #PaceVsPace contest which appears to be partly true.

We can’t totally neglect the criticality of gutsy batting during such an important series. While English strive hard for a permanent solution to no. 3 spot, they are definitely bound to miss the experience of the leader of the wolf pack – Jimmy Anderson.

The build to the Lord’s test will be all Amir. He has put an end to all the speculations with his worthy performances since his comeback. He has the skipper Misbah backing him up in his column for Cricket Australia.

Amir is mentally a very tough man and he obviously knows there could be some untoward shouts from the crowd. But to counter it he just needs to be himself and not worry. The best way a sportsman can silence his critics is by performing.

Rahat Ali and Yasir Shah are two very talented bowlers to watch out for and it will be interesting to compare their neck-to-neck performances in the series. Even though Pakistan’s batting line is inexperienced but they proved to be up to the task in the warm-up matches.

This is the kind of series that elevates players to legends. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have shown promise and certainly have their work cut out for the series. Expect Bairstow to light up a dull day, expect Wahab to breathe fire and expect the resilience of Misbah and Younis.

Micky Arthur’s dedication to make the fielding of Pakistan worthy of international standards should ensure that their fitness levels are good and they don’t lose concentration during long sessions in the field. That being said, it will still be a mammoth task for the Asian team to win its first series on British soil since the past 20 years

As a neutral observer, I don’t really care about which team wins. All I pray is for a fiercely fought series and relatively controversy-free phase (Hopefully).

May the best team win.

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Pomil Proch
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