There is a big lesson for all concerned after last week’s Test at Lord’s: underrate Pakistan at your own risk.
Yes, they did survive a scare of sorts in the later stages of the Ireland Test at Dublin earlier this month but perhaps they had saved their best for the bigger stage.
To rise from nowhere is their forte. They look very fragile but actually they aren’t. They have got talent which may be raw but can outshine the best when it blossoms. Yes, at times they play shoddily which is unfathomable to all, but when they commit to the duty, Pakistan no doubt compete like champions.
Joe Root and his men somehow missed this fundamental lesson and paid a heavy price at the home of cricket.
The resounding nine-wicket triumph is, indeed, stunning on several counts.
The combined Test experience of the Pakistan side that played under Sarfraz Ahmed at Lord’s was 219 matches. In great contrast, England’s veteran pace duo of Stuart Broad (116) and James Anderson (136) coupled with their former captain Alastair Cook (154) and Root (67) had loads of experience and could give coaching tips to several promising members of the current Pakistan squad!
Besides, more than half of Sarfraz’s brigade was featuring in a Test on English soil for the first time and, therefore, were generally expected to be flattened by a full-strength home team who in their backyard seldom allow their opponents to dictate terms.
And very importantly for Mickey Arthur, Sarfraz and his men at Lord’s ticked all the boxes — batting, bowling and fielding — to beat England on merit.
Let us now look ahead.
On this England tour, Pakistan are playing a brief two-Test series. And after their top-class show at Lord’s, Sarfraz and company have all the right to dream big: a series whitewash!
Many in the England camp must now be having a few sleepless nights, knowing that not just the series is on the line but they are also in danger of suffering a clean-sweep — and that too at the hands of largely a ‘rookie’ Pakistan side that is now pumped up and has nothing to lose.
Michael Vaughan has astonished many by advising England think-tank to consider axing either Anderson or Broad for the second Test at Headingley. Vaughan has his reasons for the out-of-the-box suggestion. The seasoned but wearing pace duo were quite unimpressive at Lord’s and the former skipper wants England — who now have lost six of their last eight Test matches — to be futuristic.
Interestingly for Pakistan, the scenario despite their superb outing at Lord’s can be tricky. Known worldwide for their capriciousness, the tourists must remain on guard. Complacency is what they should never allow to set in at this stage and must be reminded of how a beleaguered Sri Lankan team beat them 2-0 in the familiar UAE conditions late last year.
England are clearly bruised after the Lord’s defeat, if not battered. Having lost the Ashes and the series in New Zealand, Root is mighty upset and coach Trevor Bayliss is frustrated as their big guns are not firing.
They will surely be coming out all guns blazing at Headingley to avoid a series loss at a venue where the hosts’ overall record (Tests 75, wins 32, losses 25, draws 18) can cautiously be termed as good if not excellent.
Therefore, if Pakistan are to end the series on a historic note, they need to have a brilliant plan for the second Test and must execute it to perfection to win it. Headingley has never been a happy hunting ground for Pakistan teams who have lost five out of nine Tests against England at the venue and have won just once —back in 1987 under Imran Khan.
There are many positives that Pakistan can take into the final Test. A young and energetic outfit — comprising Mohammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Babar Azam and Haris Sohail — all of whom showed remarkable poise at Lord’s in unfamiliar conditions. The harmony in the Sarfraz-led team is a treat to watch that can help these young players gell in superbly with seniors like Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali to unnerve the opposition.
The weak areas are there, no doubt, but can be addressed with sound planning in order to maintain the Lord’s impetus. Skipper Sarfraz, more than any other team member, needs to show more maturity as a batsman now. His reckless dismissal at Lord’s when Pakistan were in the driving seat could have proved disastrous but for the Shadab-Faheem stand that followed.
A lot will depend upon the talented but nascent opening pair of Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman, who is most likely to make the playing XI after Babar’s injury. They still look vulnerable and for this reason Azhar — who may drop to number three at Headingley — will have a huge responsibility on his shoulders to consolidate the innings if anyone of the openers departs early.
A whitewash in a two-Test series may not be as satisfying as it is in a three- or five-match rubber. But a clean-sweep is a clean-sweep and if it comes through, it would be Pakistan’s first on English soil.
A victory at Headingley would also ensure Pakistan’s series triumph in England after 22 long years. All of it would indeed be a bonanza for Sarfraz and his troops. However, to achieve the feat, the tourists will have to pass through a grand test of nerves and skills against a revenge-hungry England.
Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2018