You can probably guess that the individual world player award is going to go to a non-Pakistani player given this collective award, and you would be right. Misbah-ul-Haq, Yasir Shah and Younis Khan all played really well, as did Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq (Ali making a double hundred as I write this piece), but I’ve decided to go elsewhere for that particular Dmitri. However, for an “award” founded on the influence and debate-stirring on a blog, to ignore the tourists of 2016 would be remiss. The good commenters on this blog showed plenty of excitement and happiness at the style of play, the quality of the matches and a somewhat unexpected tight contest. So for Dmitri #5 I am awarding this highly prestigious and awe-inspiring gong to the Pakistan team.
Once they get over their excitement let’s look at why. All through my cricketing life there’s been a special sort of loathing for Pakistan – they were the ones who were quite clear in calling for neutral umpires as they considered David Constant (and others) to be biased. However, we could call their umpires anything under the sun, and did, especially in 1987! They also had players who could be called abrasive – Javed Miandad, I’m looking at you – and would not take a step back, as they showed when winning here in 1987 and 1992. Then there was reverse swing, so lauded in our press now as a skill Anderson and others possess, but at the time of Pakistani mastery, was seen as cheating and ball tampering. There have always been murmurs, and louder, of corruption, match fixing et al, as well as the nonsense at the Oval in 2006. Relations between England and Pakistan have always been “difficult”. Then 2010 seemed to prove all the naysayers right. They were up to their eyes in spot fixing, and three big players were booted out. When their premier spin bowler was effectively booted from the game for chucking, it seemed as though Pakistan were dead in the water. Where was there to go? No home. No throughflow of players despite the talent, the regurgitation of the Akmals, and the presence, always of Shahid Afridi, for good or bad. Within their ranks, they had a true leader. He was just, well, old.
Under Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan briefly reached the status of world number one in test cricket. Given the team plays no series in its home country, this is possibly the most remarkable achievement in recent times. Of course they are formidable in the United Arab Emirates, and play very well in those conditions, but they have taken some of their form outside of the cosy confines of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah to be able to top the rankings. While they are not unbeatable on their travels, as New Zealand showed, and Australia are going someway to doing so, they are capable of exciting and dashing cricket. They also have that steel in them as well. Azhar Ali has scored a triple hundred and double hundred this year, while converting from a number three batsman to an opener to fill a vulnerable position. Bookending the top order is unsung hero Asad Shafiq, a gutsy, game fighter of a batsman who has given England more trouble than they would have liked. They have another punchy keeper, Sarfraz Ahmed, who is threatening to become a front-line level batsman, capable of match turning knocks.
The bowling is a bit hither and thither. It can look good on its day, but also veer well of tangent. This applies to the seamers, who on paper look a more than useful battery of quickish bowlers, and with decent spare capacity in case of injury. The spin of Yasir Shah is lethal in suitable conditions. He is a clever bowler, not a massive turner of the ball, but constantly at you – more your Kumble than your Warne. They do seem to go through massive dry spells without wickets, perhaps allowing too many games to drift.
Which leads us to the old duo in the middle order – Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. They cannot go on forever, and undoubtedly this will be the last time we will see them playing tests on English shores (or should I doubt that). For long spells of the test summer, Younis looked like someone had him on remote control and was playing him around like an idiot. He couldn’t keep still, got himself in dreadful positions, looked totally awful. Then, when his team needed an innings to punish England for their lax batting at The Oval, Younis came through with a double hundred. At times it wasn’t pretty, but the old stager wasn’t to be denied. Combining with Asad Shafiq, he took Pakistan to a dominant position, over 200 in front, and let Yasir Shah do the rest. Pakistan walked away with an honourable 2-2 draw and put to bed the rubbish emanating from some of the press corps about how fortunate they might have been to win at Lord’s.
Because it was at Lord’s that Pakistan made massive headlines with their play, and their celebrations. For most, the sight of Misbah doing press-ups after his hundred was a joyous one. It was a “I can still do it” moment (in my circle of mates we call this a Spacey, after his role in American Beauty), and most bought into it. When they repeated the celebration as a team at the end, in front of the Lord’s position, some wanted to make a point that it was “rubbing our noses in it”. I don’t know who could have thought, that, or why. But some did. Sport has a lot of growing up to do, and also needs to shed itself of its damn self-righteousness. Pakistan had been a joy for the four days, England contributed to a really good game of cricket, and the game was the winner. What might have been lost was the credibility of the 7-0 merchants prior to this summer’s test matches.
This blog appreciated the series, loved its competitiveness, including an excellent win from behind at Edgbaston by England, and had real empathy for the team’s characters and characteristics. So to Misbah and his team, thanks for a cracking series, and for the entertainment you gave us.
Dmitri #6 will be the International Player award. Coming soon.