Please tell us the secret of managing the very difficult emotions that arise when watching the Pakistan bowling attack against England

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It’s probably Shoaib Akhtar’s fault.

It started with Wasim Akram, obviously. He was the one who first presented us with this idea that the current score might not necessarily be the real score.

The scorecard in an early Nineties Lancashire match required a coda. ‘This many runs for this many wickets but Wasim’. That was the real score.

Because while some bowlers have favourite wickets, Wasim is a man who has been known to start a sentence, “If I were to pick one hat trick…”

He took four of them in international cricket – two against Sri Lanka in 1999 in a little over a week.

Wasim was a bowling attack in his own right. A new ball bowler, a reverse swing master, a line and length seam bowler and a flat track innovator. You didn’t really need to play him alongside Ian Austin to highlight his dynamism, but Lancashire did.

At the same time, there was this other name you’d keep seeing on county cricket scorecards in the newspaper.

We wrote a big thing for The Wisden Cricketer about Waqar Younis for their ‘My Favourite Cricketer’ section.

It’s about two things: (1) How the very best bowlers can give you hope and keep you watching in even the most dire situations. (2) His yorker.

We presume there was a day when we deduced that Wasim and Waqar sometimes played for the same team.

Just the mere idea of that is more intoxicating than 10% Brecon Mind Bleach in its wholly inappropriate 500ml bottle. And then you garnish it with leg-spin.

So that’s where our more fundamental concept of The Pakistan Bowling Attack comes from. It’s not just the bowlers who represent the country, it’s the very foundations of the idea that a bad situation can be turned around with a moment of inspiration.

It’s nice to know that 200 for 0 can sometimes become 250 all out, whether that’s a metaphor for life or just actual scores in an actual cricket match.

That’s how we already felt about the Pakistan bowling attack at the point at which they also started picking Shoaib Akhtar.

Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib actually only played five Tests together and in truth, it didn’t really work. They only won one of those matches – but that’s not the point. The point is the very idea that you could have Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and some match-winning spinner or other and then also throw Shoaib Akhtar into the mix.

What a world.

Things have never been quite so spectacular since. Because how could they be? But the roots are there in our psyche and they’re very deep.

The idea of The Pakistan Bowling Attack is why we remember the moments when Mohammad Amir made us say “Holy shit!” and forget about all those times when he bowled like Geoff Allott.

The idea of The Pakistan Bowling Attack is why we fell in love with Umar Gul’s reverse swing, even though he moved like a puppet and averaged more with the red ball than Shane Watson.

Back in 2018, footage emerged of Naseem Shah – supposedly 15 years old, but more probably 17 – taking 6-59 in his second first-class match with a heady masala of hooping away-swingers, yorkers and helmet-rattlers.

The idea of The Pakistan Bowling Attack made this very hard to ignore.

At the very same time, Mohammad Abbas was busy taking a bunch of Test wickets for next to nothing in the UAE. Despite his almost wilfully unspectacular modus operandi, the idea of The Pakistan Bowling Attack imbued his feats with magic.

We imagined Nadeem Shah and Mohammad Abbas playing together. We imagined what they might achieve. The Pakistan Bowling Attack being The Pakistan Bowling Attack, they’d probably end up playing alongside some otherworldly left-armer, like Shaheen Shah Afridi, and a couple of leg-spinners.

That would be glorious. Imagine what that would be like.

Although then again, how would we feel if it happened against England?


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  1. For me the Real Score, after mental adjustment and particularly when England are batting, is this many runs but for w+2 wickets. Because one could fall at any time, and “one brings two”. It’s certainly how I judge if a score is “good” or not.

    Is adding two wickets a Boycottism? Not sure where I picked the idea up from.

    For me the joy of watching Pakistan bowl is the artistry of it. The shape or spin they can get on the ball. The batsmen are almost an irrelevance really. If the Kingdom’s subjects will bear with the second-strangest cue sports analogy seen here to date, though at least one with more appropriate lengths of wood, Pakistan remind me of a sport more popular in continental Europe – artistic billiards, in which competitors attempt to get the ball to do interesting things, with harder and more physically implausible trajectories earning a higher points tariff (a bit like Olympic diving or a snooker trick shot world championship). Enjoy, this world final really kicks off at one minute in with a ten-pointer:

    When Pakistan bowl I do feel like awarding balls a tariff score for attempted difficulty and an execution score, often extremely high.

    1. Thanks for introducing us all to that.

      Yes, think +2 wickest is a Boycottism. We reckon it is a good ‘thumb rule’ in most circumstances though.

      1. I’m not sure the “particularly with England batting” is entirely fair though. England certainly are prone to collapses – but so is absolutely everyone else.

      2. Statistically that’s correct but if I’m thinking it while England are bowling at someone else, then that’s far too close to optimism for my liking…

  2. Good article – I had very conflicting feelings yesterday:

    I love a bit of Pakistani Pace, I very much rate the youngsters, I greatly enjoy someone being bowled despite being about halfway down the pitch when the ball passes them…..

    ….usually. Usually all those things are true. And when England are 12/3 at home things have arguably tipped from ‘this is terrible’ to ‘this is, objectively, hilarious’ so the feelings are more easily reconciled. But then when Root gets out thoughtlessly and it’s 62/4, it’s back to plain old ‘this is terrible’ again….

    …but it’s hard not to love these bowlers….

    1. I also love Abbas. Just because he bowled some balls yesterday at 72 mph which looked like they genuinely confused Buttler. He’s a right arm Mullaly except brilliant.

  3. Just saw the highlights from yesterday. Why do Burns and Sibley move around the crease so much when the ball is being bowled? And what’s with the exaggerated bat movements?

  4. This other rule of thumb that you take a Pakistani bowler’s age and add two baffles me a bit.. I spent a few months in Pakistan somewhat before these younger bowlers were born. There was plenty that was strange to my callow eyes, but I’m pretty sure everyone knew what year it was. It it because of the difference between the lunar Islamic and Gregorian calendar?

    Pakistan have this continuous line of remarkable fast bowlers from Imran Khan onwards. But did it start with him? Was there a pre-Imran culture inspired quicks, or did it start with him?

    1. This happens because a lot of births in the more rural areas of India and Pakistan (and possibly other countries around the region) aren’t registered immediately. Often not till it is time for the child to go to the local school, the starting age for which is also approximate. And so when the child is registered as being born, they’re four or five years old. Which is enough time to forget exactly how long ago s/he was born, especially if you have five or six children all born a year or so apart from each other (again not uncommon).
      So what happens is that the child is decided to be, say, 5 years old (which is a reasonable school starting age) and the birth year is calculated counting back from that. Of course, that often means that the child is older than that and there you have it.

      1. There’s also the factor of birth certificates that underestimate your age being handy for certain purposes – as a youth player it is possible to stand out more if you’re really under-19s level but you find a way to play under-17s for example. Paperwork has a certain “flexibility” in some countries still. Go back a few generations to Hollywood under the studio system and you see a similar phenomenon in the age of the starlets – plenty of actresses whose actual and stated birthdates were a couple of years apart, in order to make her seem a bit younger and fresher and less like someone who has been waiting for her big break a few years too many.

        In fact the Googler’s Guide to the Hitchless High-blaggers even has an article on the subject:

      2. Basil D’Oliviera did the same thing, but at the mature end of his career. It is probably not often he is compared to a golden age Hollywood starlet however.

  5. I always love it when we play Pakistan because for once I genuinely don’t mind if we lose. It’s not just the idea of the Pakistan Bowling Attack though.
    It’s also the idea of Mohammed Yousef and Younis Kahn. And Inzamam.

    1. If we lose to the Netherlands or Ireland or Bangladesh or, in their current state, the Windies, I don’t mind either, but that’s largely a form of sympathy vote (which I’m sure those teams would rather not be on the receiving end of) and potentially misplaced optimism such a result will be “good for the game” in a global sense. I also usually don’t mind losing to Pakistan but it’s qualitatively very different – something about respecting their tradition and passion and the touch of magic they bring to the game. I wouldn’t like it if they grind their way to a dull win with boring professionalism, but they are generally reliable (or better still, gloriously unreliable) purveyors of panache.

      I also don’t mind losing to NZ and that’s different yet again – an element of underdog appreciation creeping in again but mostly because they seem so surprisingly un-Australian! As you may be able to tell, there are still some sides I do mind losing to…

      1. Somehow that’s both one of England’s most bizarrely uncharacteristic bowling attacks (two left-arm seamers for the first time since 1912! A LEGGIE!!) yet also utterly stereotypically 1990s England selectorial inspiration. When we all discussed the ninetiesest England bowling lineup, weren’t Cork, Salisbury, Mullally and Ealham all names that sprung immediately to mind, with Simon Brown suggested as a typically surprising wildcard and Hick’s credentials as an all-rounder at least getting a mention?

        I also particularly appreciate in retrospect the way day 4 closed with England 74/1, with Knight out cheaply but Atherton and Stewart laying the foundation for yet another dose of misplaced hope. With Thorpe and Hick next in, then Ealham/Russell/Cork, it was even a stereotypical 90s English batting lineup who managed stereotypical 90s English batting, collapsing from 168/1 to 186/8 on day 5. And to give Salisbury his due, dragging it out to 243 all out against that bowling lineup when your partners are Alan Mullally and Simon Brown – and Brown is sufficiently untrusted with the bat that Mullally has actually been promoted to bat at ten! – is a considerable yet reassuringly pointless feat of batsmanship.

      2. Superb analysis across the rubicon of time there, Bail-out.

        I saw a surprising amount of that quirky England bowling attack at the start of day two: I watched Rashid Latif and Ata Ur-Rehman (he of a subsequent match fixing scandal) bat for best part of 90 minutes, putting on 50 for the last wicket. I’m not certain that Mullally bowled that day – it might have been Ealham and Salisbury first change. The latter took the wicket, which means that I live-witnessed 5% of Salisbury’s test wickets. I wonder what my equivalent percentage is for Jimmy or Stuart Broad? Similar, I’d guess.

        I’d love to see one of KC’s simulation matches, with that 1996 England team playing a “Rest Of The World 1996 Quirky Selection XI”. The only player from that Pakistan XI who might make the cut is Shadab Kabir:

        Which brings us back neatly to Sam’s comment, Shadab-a Ya Face, I was a teenager when that song was a big hit. My dad liked it. It was designed to be a pop record for your parents to like. We would frequently trade mock insults along the lines of “shadab-a-ya-face”…”shadab-a-ya-self”… I just felt the need to share that memory.

      3. Nice spot Ged. And Shadab Kabir is younger than a certain Mr Stevens of Canterbury!

        I particularly like his ODI career, played out in its entirety in September 1996. Three ODIs, two continents, three innings, five balls, no not outs, no runs. Against England in the Third ODI at Nottingham on 1 Sep he was caught for a two-ball duck; crossing over to Toronto to face India he was caught for a golden duck in the First ODI on 16 Sep, then recalled for the Fifth ODI on 23 Sep to be caught again for another two-ball duck. He managed three separate batting positions (5 then 6 then 4) and went 33% of the way to balancing out the fielding stats by snaffling one catch himself, England’s Graham Lloyd – probably another contender for a quirky 90s ODI XI.

        This didn’t prevent him being picked for the third Test of his career in October, at home against Zim, where in Pakistan’s only innings he batted at 3 to reach 2 off 14 balls before being caught by Houghton off Whittall. This is the famous innings where Wasim led a recovery from 237/7 to 553 ao with his Test-best score of 257*, featuring 22 fours and 12 sixes, a proper captain’s knock. Yet against Wasim, Waqar and Saqlain Mushtaq in home conditions, somehow Zim clung on for the draw.

        After that Shadab Kabir returned to the international wilderness (actually that’s not quite true, he was demoted back to the U19 team from whence he had been picked in classic Pakistan wildcard selection style), except for a recall to open in both Tests on Pakistan’s tour of Bangladesh in 2002 – two massive innings victories where he made 55 (his highest score) and 4 to finish his Test career with 148 runs at 21.14. He was, however, undefeated with three huge wins and two draws.

        Perhaps the oddest thing was his unspectacular U19 record at the time of his initial selection – 4 Youth Tests, 177 runs at 35.40 with HS 61*, and 6 Youth ODIs, 120 runs at 20.00 with HS 38. So a curious choice really, even with their pro-youth policy – by the time he finished his U19 career in 1997 he had played seven more Youth Tests (reducing his average to 21.70) and three more Youth ODIs (slightly raising his average to 20.22 and increasing his wicket tally from one to three with his part-time off-spin, ironically playing his last U19 ODI several months after his last full ODI). He did have a pretty long domestic career however, particularly in first-class cricket where he lasted until 2012 – 136 matches, 6961 runs at 31.78 with HS 176. His List A stats look a little rosier – 81 matches, 2813 runs at 38.53 with HS 152* – but his limited overs career ended in 2008.

        Maybe this is another reason it’s easy for an England fan to like Pakistan – we can empathise with the selectorial élan/mysteries/madness and might even have a little envy for how theirs can pick a teenager you’ve never heard of (and twenty years later will either forget you ever heard of, or will remember all the better for their insanely talented teenagehood) whereas ours are more likely to pluck a thirty-ish county cricketer from relative obscurity before returning him there.

        Shadab Kabir.

      4. Astonishingly niche, Bail-out – thank you. It’s comments like these that keeping me coming back to King Cricket time and time again…

        …and KC’s editorial pieces, of course…and my own guest pieces, obvs…

        …but mostly amazing comments like this one from you Bail-out. Thanks again.

      5. I loved your contribution too Ged, brought back a lot of Ninetiestalgia! Sadly had to reconstruct a lot of it from Cricinfo and elsewhere, and very sadly Cricinfo don’t even have a brief biographical profile of Shadab Kabir so he remains an international man of mystery. Oddly I have clearer recollections of the specifics of the Zim-Pak match -257* is ingrained in the grey matter – than of that particular Test against England, though I remember the shape of the 90s England emotional journey all too well – I think I must have followed Zimbabwe’s progress on Ceefax. Grant Flower and Paul Strang (the leggie) had both scored centuries in the first innings, two of my favourite players. In fact Paul’s only Test century included an 87-run ninth wicket partnership with his brother Bryan (the left-arm military medium, who played more in ODIs than Tests), which is really rather heart-warming!

        It was a classic transitional mid-90s Zim lineup except that Heath Streak had been ruled out from the series with a groin strain – unfortunate as he’d been their Man of the Series with 22 wickets at 13.54 when Pakistan had toured Zimbabwe in 1994/95. So a bowling lineup of Olonga (right-arm pace), both Strang brothers (left-arm medium and leg-spinner), both Whittall cousins (Gary the right-arm medium being the more famous of the two, Andy the off-spinner again more usually featuring in ODIs) and Gary Flower (SLA – Andy was wicketkeeping of course, so this made three surname pairs, and two pairs of brothers, in the XI!) offered a lot of variety but rather less quality. While reducing Pakistan to 183/6 and then 237/7 was impressive, perhaps it was inevitable that someone was going to tee off… and Wasim’s 12 sixes in an innings is still the Test record! Having clung on for the draw, Zimbabwe lost the second Test of that series. Which was famous for something else being discussed elsewhere on this thread: Then, in the Second Test at Faisalabad, Pakistan astonished the cricketing world by selecting a boy, Hasan Raza, who was said to be just 14 years and 227 days old, and thus the youngest ever Test cricket [sic].

        After the match, the Pakistan board’s chief executive, Majid Khan, announced that in June Raza’s age had been estimated at 15 by a leading radiologist at a Lahore hospital, Dr Zia Faruqi. The Board, sceptical about the validity of birth certificates for members of the squad which played in the Under-15 World Cup in England in August, had insisted that every boy undergo a bone test on his left wrist. Dr Faruqi claimed that an examination of the amount of fusion between the wrist’s growth-plates gave an accurate estimate of age. This idea was rejected by other experts, and the matter remained unresolved.

        When Zimbabwe returned to Pakistan much stronger in 1998/9 they famously won the rain-curtailed officially-three-Test-but-only-played-two series 1-0 with Olonga, Streak and Pommie Mbangwa in good form with the ball and Neil Johnson and Murray Goodwin doing the business with the bat. Two further things about Shadab Kabir – I ought to have specified it was, surprisingly, Andy rather than Gary Whittall who got him out in that match. As for the longevity of his first-class career, the 2012 end-date was something of a failed comeback – scoring just nine and five for Port Qasim Authority against Pakistan International Airlines in the President’s Trophy. His previous first-class match had been back in 2009, for Karachi Whites against Water and Power Development Agency, where he’d scored a pair of ones, which I suppose technically isn’t a pair at all. On which note, isn’t it a shame that this year’s Bob Willis Trophy isn’t being used as an excuse to trial some catchier names in English first-class cricket? I see the Elliptical Gas Works Incorporated had a good start against the Wideboy Oranges.

      6. Wow, Zimninetiestalgia is quite a rare commodity, even around here. Very interesting stuff, but I couldn’t help wondering whether it was all diversion activity to prevent you from biting your fingernails or summat.

        I only once saw Zimbabwe live in the 1990’s, which coincidentally was Daisy’s first ever visit to Lord’s. We saw the world cup match between Australia & Zimbabwe in 1999, a rare example of a man of the match going, quite rightly, to a player on the losing side – Neil Johnson. I ahven’t yet Ogblogged that day but here is the card:

        “I see the Elliptical Gas Works Incorporated (EGWI) had a good start against the Wideboy Oranges.” Hmmm – I’d say honours even at this stage. Last week EGWI made a right MESS of it against my favourite team, the Metropolitan Elite Spirit Side.

      7. BTW, in the matter of Zimninetiestalgia…I hate to nitpick at such a wonderful exposition, but neither of the G’s in the brother/cousin pairings is named Gary. G Flower is named Grant (you refer to him in one place as Grant and another as Gary) and G Whittall was named Guy, not Gary.

        Gutted that Bryan Strang didn’t play in that 1999 world cup, so Daisy and I missed out on witnessing that hat-trick of related pairs by just the Strang of our teeth, as it were.

      8. Great lineup that match. I think it’s more millennium-straddling Zimstalgia than 90s-specific, I had underdog affection for their early 90s side but not much more than that. But by the late nineties and early 2000s they had developed into an admirably effective and even surprisingly exciting team – when Andy Flower or Heath Streak expressed their full talent, or Goodwin or Johnson or (fun when it came off) Olonga or especially, a couple of years later than the lineup you saw, Dougie Marillier. But then there were the others who didn’t maybe have that electrifying streak but could still knuckle down and make the most of what they had – Grant Flower, Eddo Brandes, quite a few work-horses in fact but again I particularly liked two mainly 2000s players in the very efficient Ray Price and multifaceted Tatenda Taibu. Perhaps being a bit harsh on some of this latter group in retrospect as clearly they were talented sportsmen too, but their ability to “do a job” was vital and praiseworthy. As an England fan of the time it was easy to look at what Zimbabwe were managing to produce with such limited resources and feel a bit jealous. Not necessarily results-wise, but at least the quality of the cricket, especially bearing in mind they only had two serious first-class sides to pick their squads from. I loved their fight, which runs of poor results didn’t seem (to me at least) to knock out of them in the same way they seemed to sometimes (again, purely subjectively) for England.

        Can’t believe I wrote Gary, especially twice and for two different players! A result, as you correctly surmise, of trying to not-really-concentrate on two things at once. I know exactly why I wrote it though, had actually been thinking about another cricketer from Zimbabwe, a certain Gary B, while I wrote that paragraph – was trying to figure out why his name was absent from the list, as he seemed a potential contender for the team in the absence of Streak. If any of you are thinking that’s easy as (a) it would unbalance the side to replace a bowler with a batsman, (b) he was still in primary school in the late nineties, then you’ve got the wrong Gary… I was pondering Gary Brent.

      9. “I’d say honours even at this stage”

        Yep, agreed at close of play. The morning session was distinctly suboptimal for the Wideboys, 49/3 not being the best of looks, but the Gasmen fortunately seem to have run out of puff… The Messy lot seem to be in a good scrap too! Quite enjoying this new look competition but a bit wary in case officialdom decides it’s better than a proper Championship.

      1. It has been “Shadab And Dance With Me” in our house, as having daughters has recently led to the surprising revelation that they continue Tomane music in the 21st century.

  6. Top Pakistannery from Pakistan, although sadly for them they managed both types within the same Test.

    And I’m only slightly upset that today is the day I was supposed to be watching England vs Pakistan at Old Trafford in person….

  7. Woakes! Cricket! He’s the nicest man in the game! Never mind anybody else! We all can’t spake.

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