England v Pakistan – a Magical Mystery Tour

In England by Bill Ricquier

 The relationship between England and Pakistan as cricketing nations has always been “interesting”. 

Things started to go wrong almost as soon as Pakistan achieved Test status. Their first tour of England in 1954 was a success on all fronts. Accorded the popularity that, the English always give the underdog, they astonished the cricketing world by winning the last Test, the great medium-pacer Fazal Mahmood proving too good for an admittedly below-strength batting line-up. In 1955-56 MCC sent an “A” side to Pakistan, and on this tour an incident occurred that in some ways set a pattern for the future. The “A” side was a young team not perhaps prepared to cope with the rigours of touring in Pakistan. The absence of diversion after stumps were drawn proved a severe trial and a prank was played one evening whose not very subtle denouement involved the drenching with water of a senior Pakistan umpire, Idriz Begh. It gave rise to a not inconsiderable “diplomatic incident” and it somehow encapsulated a “clash of cultures”.

Once the initial shock-waves from the Idriz Begh affair had receded, relations stabilized. This was helped to some extent by Pakistan’s poor record in England: they were not regarded remotely as a cricketing threat (although they were very hard to beat at home). They lost a five Test series very heavily in 1962 (when off-spinner, Haseeb Ahsan returned home early with, allegedly, a suspect action, never to play Test cricket again) and a 3-Test series equally heavily in 1967. In the 1970s the genial Intikhab Alam brought two sides to England full of popular and talented cricketers such as Majid Khan, Mushtaq Mohammed and Asif Iqbal. The English crowds found their combination of playing attractive cricket and not actually beating the home team irresistible.

But by the early 1980s Pakistan, for the first time since A.H. Kardar in the 1950s, had a captain who was able to co-ordinate his players’ mercurial talents. This was the Oxford-educated Imran Khan. In 1982 he led his country to what almost became their first series win in England. The Pakistanis were convinced that a major factor in their losing the final Test was an erroneous umpiring decision by David Constant. When England’s injury hit party toured Pakistan in 1983-84 the hosts won handsomely. Ian Botham, leaving early for home injured remarked that Pakistan was the sort of place you sent your mother-in-law to, a remark that was dissected by cultural commentators from both countries for years afterwards.

By 1987 Pakistan were a leading cricket nation. They toured England, (managed by – well, well – Haseeb Ahsan) and won a five Test series one-nil, the tour being packed with “incidents” gleefully handled by the ebullient Pakistani manager. That winter the sides met again in Pakistan. Although the two teams did not, like the Australian and English teams of 1921, make the journey on the same boat, it rapidly became clear that this was too much of a good thing. The English, not for the first or last time, adopted a siege mentality. There were some, to put it mildly, highly questionable umpiring decisions and, alas, one of the abiding memories of cricket in the 1980s is the picture of the England captain, Mike Gatting and umpire Shakoor Rana engaged in a shouting match on the second evening of the second Test at Faisalabad. The match and the tour itself were in jeopardy. The long-term effects of the incident were considerable. Gatting, who many felt was the best English captain of his generation, was sacked the following year. And Imran Khan – not involved in the series as a player – stepped up the campaign he had been waging for years for “neutral” Test match umpires.

It was thus with some trepidation that England awaited the Pakistan tourists under their maverick captain Javed Miandad in 1992. The Pakistanis, fresh from a World Cup triumph in which they defeated England in the final, won an increasingly fraught series two-one. England’s win at Headingley was helped by a decision on a run-out by umpire Ken Palmer in favour of Graham Gooch that was so manifestly wrong that photographs of it adorned buses in Pakistan’s cities for weeks. The tour culminated with allegations of ball-tampering in a one-day international when the ball was replaced during the England innings: the officials, whether the English TCCB or the ICC match referee Deryck Murray refused to say why and the ball has remained locked in a safe at Lord’s. Allan Lamb, who was batting at the time, had his say in a Sunday tabloid and English cricket’s domestic showpiece final was marked by the unusual spectacle of Lamb being served with a libel writ as he walked out to bat by his former team-mate and erstwhile Pakistan opening bowler, Sarfraz Nawaz. Ball-tampering allegations also formed a prominent part of another libel case brought by Ian Botham and Lamb against Imran, the latter asserting that ball-tampering was a regular feature of the English game.

That case formed a surreal backdrop to the beginning of Pakistan’s next series in England, in 1996. By then relations on the field were much better. This was in large measure due to the two captains. The Pakistan captain, Wasim Akram was a county team-mate, and friend of his English counterpart Mike Atherton. Pakistan were again too good for England, winning the series two-nil. 

The two countries did not meet again in Test cricket until 2000-01. England enjoyed their most successful tour of Pakistan, clinching the series with a surreal run-chase in near-darkness in Karachi. It was certainly better than their next tour, in 2005, when they lost 2-0. They must have thought of themselves as world champions after beating Australia for the first time for almost twenty years. 

Plus ça change…. When Pakistan were beating England in the late 1980s and early 1990s there were two things that really irritated the English: the Pakistanis’ ability to swing the old ball; and their habit of continually using substitute fielders. By 2005, both were part of an Ashes master plan. When Sarfraz Nawaz or Wasim Akram swung the old ball, it was time for a special enquiry; when Simon Jones did it, it was, according to the voice of authority – Mark Nicholas on Channel 4 – the result of months of hard work.

Controversy continued to blight Pakistan tours of England. In 2006 the spectre of ball-tampering reared its head again; an outraged Iman-ul-haq led his men off the field at The Oval and forfeited the match. In 2010 there was the miserable spot-fixing episode.

Every cloud has a silver lining. That new low in 2010 led directly to the appointment of Misbah-ul-haq as Pakistan captain. One of cricket’s great men of the early 21st century, Misbah led his young charges to overwhelming wins over England in the UAE in 2011-12 and 2015-16. There was a superb series in England in 2016, drawn two-all, and marked by magnificent batting by Misbah, Younis Khan, another of the great men of Pakistan cricket, and Joe Root, and outstanding bowling by Chris Woakes and Yasir Shah. The two-match series (two matches – nonsense) in 2018 was drawn one-all.

The series which started this week will be challenging for England. Interestingly, Misbah is in charge of the Pakistan squad, and Younis is the batting coach. Babar Azam looks likely to cement his place as one of the world’s leading batsmen. The attack as always looks varied and exciting.

Whatever happens, it won’t be dull.

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