Thursday 19 January 2012

Winning 'dry'

There was a lot to enjoy about Pakistan’s shockingly straightforward victory in the first Test. Saeed Ajmal bewitching England’s batsmen into submission on a first-day pitch was a highlight. But for a team celebrated for their volatility, it was Pakistan’s stubbornness in pursuit of victory that impressed most.

It has been Misbah-ul-Haq’s way since he took over as captain after the spot fixing debacle. While victories against Test cricket’s weaker nations showed promise, to outdo England - at their own conservative approach - was something to cherish.

Though Andrew Strauss may be reluctant to admit it at this precise moment, he has something of a kindred spirit in Misbah. Both give the air of enlightened bureaucrats, mucking in stoically for the greater good. Both claimed the captaincy at moments of relative turmoil but Misbah has had little of the structural support Strauss enjoys. Pakistan’s backroom organisation has been improving, but it’s been Misbah alone whose forged unity and discipline on the field.

It’s the first time England have been up against a side prepared to match their pragmatism shot for shot. Or leave for leave. England have climbed the rankings by being prepared to dial down the pace of the game at a time when the rest of the world seemed intent on hurrying it up. Bowling ‘dry’ was matched by Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott laying sturdy foundations with the batting equivalent.

But in the first Test Pakistan too resisted all frivolity. After bundling England out in less than a day it would have been easy for their batsmen to come out trying to dominate and kick home the advantage. But that might have let England back into the game.

Instead openers Mohammed Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar calmly negotiated the new ball - England’s biggest hope - before Younis Khan, Misbah himself and Adnan Akmal all made solid contributions. By nudging and tucking their way, at 2.82 an over, to a 146-run lead, they effectively closed the door on England.

Though Pakistan’s bowlers hardly needed patience - the tourists were too generous for that - they were still miserly. Misbah set low-ego fields, just as Strauss might have done, and allowed England to make the mistakes they seemed intent on.

In the past England could have taken hope from the fact a crushing Pakistan win could easily be followed by a clanging defeat a week later. Team Misbah may prove a far more robust outfit.

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