Monday, August 15, 2016

Pakistan Near the Pinnacle

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This week, we saw a refreshing show of strength by all the South Asian teams. Sri Lanka hammered Australia at home and exposed their vulnerabilities to spin. As numerous articles in Cricinfo have pointed out, Australia simply have not recovered from the loss of their previous greats. Angelo Mathews must heave a sigh of relief after the virtual obliteration in England. Sri Lankan cricket seemed to have descended into mediocrity after Jayawardene and Sangakarra. But Mathews, Chandimal and Herath have brought them right back. Mendis' excellent innings in the first test too may raise hopes of a long term find.

Meanwhile, India recovered swiftly from their second test set-back (if one can call it that) and made quick work of West Indies. Virat Kohli made some astute changes and quickly put behind him, the tough draw in the second test. His desire to win every game is apparent in the way he attacks the opposition and throws everything he has in his arsenal at them. India can seal the number one spot with yet another win in the next test at Port of Spain. India have done well there traditionally and chances are that India will dominate that test. Virat Kohli is almost Steve Waugh-like in his desire to be ruthless. His team selection is un-emotional and exciting. Very few saw these changes coming (including me) but never-the-less it was a pleasant and pulsating exercise by the captain. At the risk of repeating myself, watching India play test cricket is a dream come true. So purely on results alone India deserve to be number one.

But the most remarkable cricket story is Pakistan's redemption at the Oval. They've firmly put back the spot-fixing, squabbles and domestic security issues and built themselves into a formidable team. They've beaten a strong team away from home against all odds. At the start of the series, Pakistan was not given much of a chance. England were formidable at home with their varied bowling attack. Pakistan's frailties with the bat are well known. Few thought that they could win the series with their bowling alone.

In the end, Misbah-ul-Haq was named man of the series and aptly so. Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq have made us fall in love with the Pakistan brand of cricket all over again. The sheer romance of Pakistan's cricket lies in the fact that they play what many consider to be an old-fashioned game. Yet time and again, they've proven that their passion for the game is second to none and their ability to switch on in key moments is top class. They've given us many moments to remember.

Younis Khan's 218 will rank as one of the greatest innings played in England. I can't remember the last time anyone scored a 200 against Anderson and Broad in England in their prime. To dig deep and come up with such a special innings away from home is the definition of greatness. Even more endearing has been the honest post match comments and interviews from both Misbah and Younis. They have the rare ability to remain in the present and grounded. Truly great sportsmen and we are lucky to have watched this series. Add Wahab Riaz to this pantheon and we have a group of cricketers who are grounded, real and salt-of-the-earth likeable.

Regardless of whether India becomes number, Pakistan will rule the hearts of true cricket fans for months to come.

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