Misbah takes Pakistan back to the Imran Khan era

Last Updated: Mon, Feb 13, 2012 05:58 hrs

​While these are turbulent times for Indian cricket on and off the field, sensational results have marked on-field activity in world cricket. In the space of a few months, two No 1 ranked teams have suffered clean sweep reverses leading to one being toppled from the pedestal and the other now being in danger of meeting the same fate.

In fact, over the last three years, the top spot has changed hands with Australia, South Africa (very briefly), India and England occupying it. In a way this is a good thing. It is always good to have stiff competition at the top instead of having one team like West Indies or Australia dominating the scene for an extended period.

For some time, England were the most talked about team after they had dislodged India as the No 1 ranked Test team. For the moment though, it has to be Pakistan which is in the spotlight - and for a change for the right reasons!

No, they are not No 1, they are only fifth in the latest rankings. Indeed, even before the 3-0 rout of England they were in the same position but now they have closed the gap considerably. Pakistan are now just three points behind India and Australia and nine points behind No 2 ranked South Africa.

A clean sweep result against the top ranked team is an extremely rare occurrence and we thought we had seen it when England brushed aside India a few months ago. But now England themselves have been at the receiving end and at the hands of a side that was given little chance of even winning one Test.

Indeed Pakistan were rated as no-hopers after what their cricket had been through over the last year or so. Match-fixing and spot-fixing controversies culminating in players being jailed, upheavals in the Pakistan Cricket Board, internal politics, player misbehaviour, sub-standard performances and being unable to play at home following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers, the Pakistan cricketers had seen it all. The mood was sullen and Pakistan cricket was perhaps at its lowest ebb ever. In the aftermath of all this, the result against England must rank as one of the finest achievements in the history of Pakistan cricket.

The mercurial swings in Pakistan cricket have been well chronicled. On talent alone, they have been second to none in world cricket. But then besieged by the kind of problems already listed, Pakistan cricket has not achieved the kind of exalted status it has warranted.

So unpredictable have been their performances that the cliche "even Pakistan cannot lose from this position" has rung true on several occasions. In 2010 alone there were two such examples - the Sydney Test against Australia and the T20 World Cup semifinal against the same opponents were matches that only Pakistan could have lost after holding a vice-like grip on the proceedings.

On the other hand, in keeping with their mercurial moods, the team has pulled off some glorious Test victories and limited overs triumphs - also from hopeless positions. One can instantly recall the absolutely sensational match-winning performance by Sarfraz Nawaz against Australia at Melbourne in 1979.

The home team, at 305 for three, needed just 77 runs to win with all the time in the world but Sarfraz then produced one of the greatest spells of bowling in Test history taking those seven wickets for one run from 33 balls. Australia, all out for 310, lost by 71 runs.

Similarly their ultimately victorious campaign in the 1992 World Cup was virtually grounded at the halfway mark of the preliminary stage when they were lying eighth in the nine team competition. Three losses, a win and an abandoned game meant that they had to win all the three remaining matches to make it to the semifinals. This they did, just about squeezing into the last four and the rest is history.

That great triumph was achieved under the captaincy of Imran Khan who helped bring stability to a temperamental side. In the last two decades since Imran's retirement, the mercurial mood has returned to haunt Pakistan and then of course there have been the unhappy off the field happenings that have hampered the growth of cricket in the country.

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Somehow it appears that under Misbah-ul-Haq, there could be a return to the Imran Khan era. The soft spoken, modest and unassuming leader has moulded his players into a cohesive unit and must be applauded for his man management skills, a cool, calm and methodical approach besides of course doing more than his bit with the bat.

Despite the success of Fazal Mahmood, Sarfraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar, spin too has played a major role in shaping the destiny of Pakistan cricket over the years as the performances of Intikhab Alam, Abdul Qadir, Iqbal Qasim, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq and Danish Kaneria will underline.

Under the circumstances, it is significant that the 3-0 triumph over England was largely the result of the bowling of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. The figures - Ajmal 24 wickets at 14.7 apiece, Rehman 19 scalps at an average of 16.7 - say it all. They achieved a mastery over the big names in the England batting line-up who for all their impressive record just had no clue to the guiles of the spin duo.

So will this be the start of a new dawn for Pakistan cricket? One has to careful in predicting this, given the unpredictability of the game in the country. But as former captain Rashid Latif has said, the victory will drive a new generation to play the game. Indeed, it will be difficult for the young not to be inspired by such a notable and historic verdict.

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