Category: Pakistan (page 1 of 37)

Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif are back

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

As in ‘returned’. What else would the word ‘back’ mean in that context? It’s not like there’s an ambiguous apostrophe-S in there or anything.

Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif both played for Water and Power Development Authority against Federally Administered Tribal Areas in one of those somehat fictional sounding domestic fixtures in which Pakistan specialises. Butt made a ton.

Back when Asif, Butt and Mohammad Amir were banned, we wrote that a reformed cricketer would acknowledge wrongdoing and accept a fitting punishment that would serve the greater good of the sport. Whether you believe him or not, this is pretty much what Amir did. The other two, less so.

Butt spent most of his ban denying that he did anything, while Asif is just a dick and therefore saw no real need to apologise or seek redemption. As far as we can tell, he simply doesn’t care. He probably passed his time away from the sport shoplifting from charity shops and throwing his plunder into the river in a bid to clog it up.

Despite the protestations of some of his team-mates, Amir is now returning to the Pakistan side. The selectors said they went purely on ability in making their decision. By that rationale, it surely can’t be long before his one-time new ball partner also makes a return. Amir was good, but he was hit and miss. Asif, as unpalatable as it may be, was always better.

When is an omission a rotation and when is it a good old-fashioned drop?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

There’s a subtlety to England’s current approach to one-day cricket which may have passed some by. It’s not about ball-wallopery or -whangery, it’s to do with that other key aspect of international cricket – man management.

Everyone’s agreed that one of the keys to one-day success is a no-blame culture which allows the player to go out and express themselves. Quite why ‘joyous abandon’ is the only thing players are expected to express is beyond us. Players of earlier vintages used to express uncertainty and paranoia incredibly well, but apparently you don’t talk about those as being expressions of self.

Add ingredients and cook on heat for time

There’s a certain alchemy to creating this sort of environment. We’ve said before that as a coach you can’t simply say ‘play positively’ – you have to show, not tell.

England have partly ‘shown’ through picking a whole bunch of players with reputations for cricketing positivity. It’s not just about picking ‘the right players’ – the constitution of the whole also serves as a message to each of its parts. Were any of the individual players in an entirely different squad, they wouldn’t be able to play in the same way. They wouldn’t believe that they could get away with their current approach without being harshly judged. If we had to boil the psychology we’re describing down to three words, we’d go with ‘safety in numbers’.

There’s a certain critical mass that’s necessary for this to work and this gives rise to an interesting academic question as to how players from earlier eras might fare were they dropped into this squad. Encouraged by his surroundings, maybe someone like Mark Ramprakash would have felt liberated enough to play with the devil-may-care attitude that would have allowed him to succeed – no more gritty paralysis with the weight of his entire career bearing down on the innings being played in the here and now.

How to drop someone, how to rest someone

Which brings us to dropping players or ‘rest and rotation’ in the parlance of our times. Trevor Bayliss has thus far employed a neat trick, making it clear to everyone that ‘dropped’ and ‘rested’ are not synonyms.

The traditional way of doing things is that as often as not, you ‘rotate’ the players you’re not sure about. You leave out your third seamer or a young batsman finding his way and you say that they’re not dropped, they’re rested and they’ll be back again soon enough.

However true this is, when it’s always the same players in and out of the side, it blurs the distinction. England have of late operated a different policy. When a player’s been omitted, it’s been the captain or the vice captain or the best batsman. As often as not, it’s been abundantly clear that they haven’t been dropped.

Rather than showing support to those who least need it while undermining those on the fringes, Bayliss has flipped things around. There’s an illusion that he’s been able to rest his strongest players because his squad has such depth, but the squad has depth precisely because he shows support to those on the margins.

England cricketers never last – why learn lessons when you’ll probably never return?

It’s a truism that the England players will learn from this series defeat to Pakistan. You could actually see it happening before your eyes at times: Jonny Bairstow fighting his impulses or Ben Stokes seemingly devising a batting method on the fly. We just wonder whether these players will ever get chance to demonstrate what they’ve taken from this schooling.

We touched on this a few days ago. England cricketers may well play as many Tests as their counterparts from other parts of the world – but they don’t tend to play for as long (quite possibly because of the very fact that they play more frequently).

The class of 2012

Last time England were in the UAE – which was all of three years ago – Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Eoin Morgan, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar all learnt plenty. But what for? When did they get chance to use that knowledge?

It’s surely no coincidence that the survivors from that series – Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, James Anderson and Stuart Broad – were among England’s best-performing players this time around. Yes, even Bell – that’s how ineffectual everyone else was. Broad even had the gall to finish with England’s third-highest batting average.

The Trott template

In many ways, Trott is the archetypal England cricketer. Other than a brief aborted comeback as an opener, his Test career basically comprises one Test touring cycle from 2009 to 2012. One tour of Bangladesh, one tour of India, one tour of New Zealand, one tour of South Africa, one tour of Sri Lanka, one tour of the UAE and one full tour of Australia, plus one aborted. Funnily enough, his later reappearance provided his only tour of the West Indies.

All of those lessons learnt. No chance to demonstrate his knowledge.

The one thing in England’s credit this time around is that the comprehensive implosion of that previous side has meant that this current one is that much younger, so there is actually a decent chance of a few of them returning to the UAE if it remains Pakistan’s rented ‘home’. We wouldn’t bet on it though, because no matter what their age, very few England players endure.

What else?

As this series comes to an end, Test cricket’s kicking off elsewhere in the world with four of the five teams above England in the rankings (Pakistan are the other) currently in action. Australia are continuing their annual tradition of comforting themselves that everything’s okay during their home summer, racking up a huge total against New Zealand. Meanwhile India, the home of spin, has just played host to a masterclass from that all-time master of the art, Dean Elgar.

England poised to make some sort of history

It might be an unlikely series-levelling victory; more likely it’ll be a defeat. Either way, someone somewhere will make a note and history will be made. History is always being made. On a personal level, we have a history of drinking tea and typing that stretches back at least as far as this morning.

Our overall assessment of this series is that England have generally made decent decisions and applied themselves well, but that Pakistan bowl better spin and also bat better against it. The tourists compete well in patches, but over time that fundamental gap will probably tell.

So what is there left to look out for?

Will Alastair Cook avoid being dismissed by Yasir Shah four innings in succession by surrendering his wicket to someone else? (Maybe)

Will any England batsman other than him make a hundred in this series? (No)

Will Samit Patel, powered by a majestic lunch, launch a reasonably impressive but ultimately inconsequential batting salvo before subsiding out of the side after this Test, never to return? (Probably)

Will Zulfiqur Babar concede less than a run an over? (Yes)

Will Jonny Bairstow continue playing the cut shot to him and Yasir Shah, even though doing so means it’s clearly just a matter of time before he’s dismissed? (Yes)

Will some sort of history be made? (Yes)

Shoaib Malik adds to the rich tradition of Pakistani cricketer retirements

No-one does retirement quite like a Pakistan cricketer. Mohammad Yousuf’s was a textbook departure, entirely equivocal such that his absence can perhaps only now be considered permanent, some five years later. Or at least it could have been considered permanent if he hadn’t played a number of international matches after that announcement.

That isn’t actually all that impressive by Pakistan standards though. Abdul Razzaq was turning out for the national side some six years after he retired. The latest to deliver a masterful exit is Shoaib Malik who said “the time was right” to stand down from Test cricket, a good fortnight after concluding the time was right for a return after five years out of the side.

That’s still pretty piss-poor as short-lived returns go, however. Shahid Afridi made a four-day cameo comeback before he jacked in the longest format. He was captain at the time too.

Hopefully Shoaib Malik’s got something a little more innovative up his sleeve. We fully expect him to have reversed his decision by the time we click ‘publish’. That’ll set the scene perfectly for him to be named Misbah’s replacement as captain, at which point he can retire again with even more impact.


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