Ajmal lays down the gauntlet as Pakistan overwhelm England on day one

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.

Ajmal's brilliant variations and "Doosra" impressed rather than his thus far unseen "Teesra"

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.

Advertisements

Can The Ashes Put To Bed The Ghosts Of The Cricketing Summer?

Another hugely anticipated Ashes series is upon us and has there ever been a more important one for the reputation of the sport? Whenever England take on Australia the world watches with baited breath and this Australian summer season will be no different.

As if The Ashes in itself isn’t important enough, this series has the unenviable task of restoring the spirit and integrity of the sport after a controversial summer. The world of cricket was rocked in August when Pakistan became embroiled in a spot-fixing scandal when competing against England. No enduring punishments have yet been placed upon the players involved, but, Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer are all currently suspended pending investigation.

These seemingly unsavoury events have dragged Crickets reputation through the gutter over the past few months and the role that this series holds in rescuing the sport cannot be overstated. It is a series that regardless of the final outcome always seems to provide immense entertainment, the very best test cricket has to offer. Hopefully the series will pan out in a fashion that does this most magnificent and noble of sports sheer justice.

The build up to this particular series has been rather unfamiliar in comparison to previous series’ in Australia. Typical hype revolves around how many the Aussies are going to thump ‘The Poms’ by, but this time their is a definite sense of uncertainty. Australian media and public perception has been rather subdued and many have predicted a tough summer for their men. Quite right too given the poor recent form and apparent indecision within the selection policy.

Much has been made of England’s ‘settled’ side being a huge advantage and one would tend to agree, however, I disagree with the criticism surrounding Australia’s decision to choose a 17 man squad. For a side that have been under performing I believe it a logical decision to line up plenty in reserve so that those who may be brought into the side are prepared mentally to enter the fray. To pick a smaller squad and perhaps run the risk of leaving reserve players in short supply could potentially force Australia to call upon those who haven’t been in and around the Ashes set-up. Public perception very much seems to be driven by the media come Ashes time Down Under and this year has proven no exception.

If ever cricket needed a series to re-establish it’s good name then this is it. The strife still hovering around the game in the wake of the Pakistani scandal will perhaps be put to one side if these two great nations put on a show of great quality and commitment. Expect heartache and ecstasy in the forthcoming weeks and pray that positivity recaptures the cricketing headlines in what is set to be an intriguing quest for the famed Urn.

Andrew Strauss clutches on to the famous little Urn...

Spot The Fixers; The Pakistani Cricket Scandal

The fourth morning of English cricket’s summer swansong descended into misery and chaos. On a morning that should have been all about the extraordinary achievements of messers Broad and Trott and their record-breaking stand, the News of The World broke the news that Pakistan players had been involved in illegal spot-betting during the test match.

Ashen faces filled the stands at the home of cricket where the vast majority were seen clutching to a copy of the NOTW. Star bowlers Mohammeds Aamer and Asif it had been alleged were involved in spot-betting regarding the bowling of no-balls. Recently appointed Captain Salman Butt was also accused of overseeing and profiting from the scandal. Cricket a ‘gentlemen’s sport’ was left reeling.

Suspicion arose when Asif and Aamer delivered in total three blatant no-ball deliveries at the times which corrupt ‘middle man’ Mazhar Majeed revealed they would in an undercover sting carried out by the NOTW. Since these initial allegations investigations have progressed. Aamer, Asif and Butt have been interviewed by Scotland Yard but were all let go without charge, however, the ICC have suspended all three players from playing until investigations are finalised.

It seems as though all thus far suspended are indeed guilty though no official charges have yet been made. Too much clear evidence seems available and even the team mates of the trio such as Yasir Hameed have come out with revelations regarding the whole Pakistani’s team involvement in spot-fixing over the past few months. The publicly named and shamed trio have all protested their innocence but besides themselves and their team of lawyers very little seems to be on offer in terms of sympathy or defence. One would suspect this is down to their being little to defend.

My personal belief is that all players found guilty of such deviance should be dealt with by the toughest means possible; however, I will offer a crumb of support to the cause of the accused. I in no way advocate their actions but it is perhaps understandable that world class Pakistani cricketers are tempted into such corruption when their average annual central contract is approximately £30,000. Compare that to the average English central contract of £400,000 and you begin to grasp a sense of injustice.

Pakistan after horrific recent flooding is a country in ruins, their idols careers may well be as well. I hope for the sake of a desperate nation that this story can in time reach its most savoury and appropriate resolution.