When Pakistan last faced England in Test Match cricket their ability and reputation were left in tatters. Their feeble on-field performances and the disgraceful acts of some of their players off of it left the nation’s sporting and societal name completely tarnished. Thankfully though, the opening day of their latest series told an entirely different story.
For Pakistan national pride and identity is of utmost significance and the events of the summer of 2010 could scarcely have been timed worse. Whilst a few of their national heroes were demonstrating immense greed and selfishness, the country itself was left reeling in the wake of devastating floods. Insensitive and inappropriate as the actions of Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Asif, and Salman Butt were in isolation, they were compounded by the natural disaster unfolding in their homeland.
Joyfully, the opening day of this series will be remembered for what Pakistan do still have to offer to the world of cricket. Their spin-heavy bowling attack tore into the world’s number one Test side, and arguably the world’s best Test batting line-up and dismissed them for a poultry 192.
Without a doubt, the star of the opening day was Saeed Ajmal whose pre-match kidology spoke volumes for his self-confidence going into the series. His promises of a new mystery ball proved fairly unfounded in truth, but there was no doubting the effect of his brilliantly subtle variation.
England’s entire batting order (the brilliant Matt Prior aside) looked baffled by Ajmal’s ability to turn the ball both ways with very little change in action on what seems a very flat pitch. He isn’t a huge turner of the ball, but the craft of his bowling was plain for all to see.
His performance en-route to career-best figures of 7-55 today makes it seem remarkable that he has only played 17 Tests for his country before now when at the of 34 he is potentially right at the back end of his career. For a while now he has been thought of as being a better One-Day bowler for his country, but today’s performance went some way to disputing this and will have had a positive effect on his previously no-better-than-solid Test bowling average of over 30.
Ably supported by the rest of Pakistan’s more regulation bowling attack, Ajmal became by far the stand-out player on day one. His seemingly undying confidence has in the past gone a little unjustified but today he lived up to his own billing and really delivered. If he manages to maintain this level of performance and England continue to help him and his team-mates out with some silly indiscipline, then he could finally be the man Pakistan can rely on to see them to a considerable Test scalp.
Sceptics (myself included), might put a bit of a downer on Pakistan’s day one achievements with thoughts of ‘what might have been’ for their bowling attack had Amir and Asif not have taken a severely wrong-turn in their careers. Today though, certainly showed signs of a re-juvenated Pakistani side intent on trying to at least partially eradicate the ill-feeling surrounding their recent Test Match history.
If England don’t improve their fortunes quick-smart, then they may well find themselves staring down the barrel within three days in this opening Test. Not only will their players be ruing their errors but the selectors too must be feeling the heat having left out the in-form Monty Panesar in a Test that has seen nine wickets for the spinners on day one. In recent times the selectors have been pretty much faultless, but this decision could come back to bite them in a couple of days time.