Pakistan’s legendary World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan always wanted to achieve two things during his cricketing career: to beat England and India at their homes.
Having to lead a bunch of mercurial cricketers, he managed to materialise both dreams, beating India and England in the 1987 tours.
India may be Pakistan’s fiercest rival, but beating England in England has a charm of its own – which has immortalised two performances in Pakistan fans’ minds: Fazal Mahmood’s heroic spell at the Oval in 1954, and Imran Khan’s 10-wicket haul in Leeds 1987 that gave Pakistan its first-ever series win in England.
But tourists don’t often get the friendliest reception there. Like in Australia, there can be tough competition, both on and off the field.
Pakistan’s later tours to the country in 2006 and 2010 were marred by controversies.
From forfeiting a Test in reaction to a ball-tampering allegation to key players getting caught in the act of spot-fixing, Pakistan players and team officials have faced their fair share of problems.
These haunting past events make Pakistan’s tour to England, which kicks off with the first Test in Lord’s on July 14, all too important.
Renowned fielding coach Julien Fountain believes coming out victorious from such a demanding tour can turn newly-appointed head coach Mickey Arthur into a national hero.
“Mickey can become a hero if the England tour is a success; if the tour goes badly he becomes the proverbial whipping boy. In a fair and balanced world everybody will understand that Mickey cannot change the world in a couple of months.
“However, sometimes certain portions of the cricket media can look for scapegoats rather quickly,” Fountain, who was hired by Bob Woolmer in 2006 as a specialist fielding coach for Pakistan team, says in his blog for PakPassion.
“I hope that he gets a fair chance to plan and implement his own policies and measures over a suitable timescale, along with the cooperation of the board, the players, the fans and the media; as he will be the one who is ultimately held accountable if the team fails over the longer term,” he says.
A brutal tour
The 45-year-old fielding specialist considers England visit a brutal tour especially for sides travelling from hotter climatic regions.
“England can be a brutal place to tour if you come from a hot climate. Even at the peak of the so-called British summer, temperatures can plummet making spending long periods out on the field pretty taxing,” he says.
For Fountain, acclimatising to English conditions is the key if the visitors want to pose real threats to a strong England team, who recently secured comprehensive victories over Sri Lanka in Tests and ODIs.
“Hard ball plus cold hands equals fielding mistakes and dropped catches,” he says.
It will be a test of nerves for Pakistani batsmen, who have in recent times struggled to establish long partnerships and give their bowlers enough on the board to defend.
“Batting in the United Kingdom requires the ability to adjust mid shot, as you bring your bat through, because the ball may be changing its location due to swinging conditions. Hitting blindly through the ball is a recipe for snicks to the slips and keeper,” says Fountain.
He adds that both Pakistani and English bowlers have the ability to trouble batsmen, which will bring down the quest of survival to those who are tougher physically and mentally and who would be able to stand pace, seam and swing for a longer period of time.
Having coached Pakistan for quite a time, Fountain surely has had a taste of the complexities that surround Pakistan cricket.
He says: “Teams have to hire new coaches; it’s just how it is. So with a big tour to England [and] a new coach in, Pakistan has to be in a positive frame of mind. He brings a wealth of experience from a wide range of teams and formats.”