A tour of England is always a tricky business. The ball swings and seams much more than anywhere else. Playing conditions are far different than the sub-continent. But gone are the days when pacers used to dominate in England and the West Indies taking advantage of green-top wickets. While Statham, Trueman, Hendrick, Snow and Botham played havoc in England, the likes of Hall, Griffith, Roberts, Garner, Marshall and Ambrose terrorized batsmen in the Caribbean.
But of late, the tracks have become easy-paced with spinners coming more into play especially on fourth and fifth day of the match. Recently such a situation was fully exploited by Murali against England. He was almost unplayable and won a Test single-handedly to ensure the series was drawn.
So on these wickets and considering the weather in July and August, Pakistan have clear advantage with Danish Kaneria, the only world class spinner in either side. Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik will be there to help the spin department as both have proved their usefulness in the past.
England performed splendidly well against Australia in winning the Ashes. However, injuries to couple of key players have considerably depleted them which should be an advantage for Pakistan. Both skipper Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones have been ruled out of the series due to serious injuries. All-rounder Andrew Flintoff is unfit for the first Test while spinner Ashley Giles is sidelined due to career-threatening injury. There is uncertainty also about Matthew Hoggard’s availability for the Tests. So England are definitely weakened by the absence of key players.
On top of that, the drubbing at the hands of the Sri Lankans, who made a 5-0 clean sweep of the ODIs, must have totally demoralized the home team. The combination of these factors makes Inzi and his boys favourite to win the Test series starting at Lord’s from today.
Pakistan is also beset with injury problems in bowling department. Inzi will certainly feel lack of fire power as three of the main strike bowlers – Shoaib Akhtar, Rana Navedul Hasan and Mohammad Asif – are on the injured list. The first two are virtually ruled out of the entire tour. So Pakistan will have to rely on erratic Mohammad Sami, Umar Gul and rookie Samiullah Niazi assisted by the seasoned campaigner Abdul Razzaq.
Away from the field, the affairs of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) continue to be run on ad hoc basis. The powers that be of PCB are not aware even with A, B, C of the game. As a result, coach Bob Woolmer and chief selector Wasim Bari are having their own way. The manner they are managing the team, the likely outcome could be destruction of Pakistan cricket.
Woolmer, highly overrated and overpaid, is not accountable to anyone. The fact is that nobody in the PCB has enough knowledge to hold him accountable.
The combination of Woolmer and Bari have so far done nothing but experiments with the team, turning Pakistan, despite having the most talented outfit at their disposal, into nothing but unpredictable capable of beating the best on a given day but losing out to lesser lights the other day.
As far the selection committee, the less said the better. Teams are chosen in air-conditioned rooms without Bari and company actually watching any domestic cricket. How can they discover talent when they don’t look around. Why can’t we produce one left-arm spinner in nearly two decades after Iqbal Qasim? Same goes with the opening pair. We are yet to find a successful opening pair after the retirement of Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar.
It is just a rubber-stamp selection committee giving in to the demands of Woolmer and Inzamam. The most glaring case has been the inclusion of Samiullah who replaced Naved. Inzamam without consent of the selectors had announced three weeks ago that Samiullah would be Naved’s replacement. The selection committee obliged by endorsing Inzi’s choice only two days back.
Coming back to the job on hand – beating England in England. We have the teams that can do it. Manager “Zed” (Zaheer Abbas) is a respectable name in England and luckily for him, he won’t have any discipline problems to handle.
The writer is former national chief selector and Test player.