You know what? I’m actually quite excited. It’s been a while since we’ve seen some competitive test cricket and I’ve rather missed it. Although the World T20 was entertaining, and England did surprisingly well the reach the final, tense test cricket reaches the parts other sports cannot reach. Limited overs games, and the walkovers we saw during the Sri Lanka tour, don’t quite satisfy.
Because I’m looking forward to Lord’s so much, I’m slightly alarmed and disappointed that the Mohammad Amir issue (or ex-issue) seems to be overshadowing what could be a gripping series. I won’t dwell on this too much, mainly because I don’t want to dignify the extremely harsh recent comments made by Graeme Swann and Kevin Pietersen, however I can’t ignore the elephant in the room completely.
In case you haven’t read what these former players (who have never been short of an opinion) have said, Swann claimed he will ‘feel sick’ when Amir takes the field at Lord’s tomorrow. Meanwhile, KP has called for anyone involved in match-fixing, drugs or spot-fixing to be banned for life.
These aren’t the only two players and pundits to have a pop at Amir, but they’re certainly the two most high profile; therefore I can’t let their comments go without responding. While I understand the argument that the spot-fixing incident damaged cricket, was a criminal act, and I accept that some people will never be able to forgive and forget, I have a problem with cricketers moralising – particularly Graeme Swann, who was caught drink-driving a while ago because he needed a spanner to rescue his cat.
Although it’s important to note that Swann was ultimately cleared (mainly, from what I can tell, because there was a problem with the second blood sample provided to police) it seems a bit rich for someone who gets in a car after drinking three or four glasses of wine (by his own admission) to start acting like a moral arbiter.
Similarly, I think that Pietersen is wrong to group match-fixers, spot-fixers and drug cheats in the same bracket. These issues are complicated, far from black and white, and therefore a zero tolerance and one-size-fits-all punishment is inappropriate. Let’s not forget that KP’s big mate, Shane Warne, was banned for taking an illicit substance at one point. Should he have been banned for life irrespective of the drug taken and the broader circumstances?
I suspect that Kevin hasn’t thought this one through. He accuses Amir of only being interested in money, yet it’s easy to say that when you’ve been paid handsomely for several years (thanks to England’s comparatively generous central contracts) and you’ve got a few whopping IPL cheques tucked away in your back pocket. As a Pakistani, Amir hasn’t had the same opportunity.
Although I don’t condone what Amir did – he proved himself to be corruptible and criminal – he has been punished and it’s time to move on. A judge spent hours looking into his case (far longer than you and I, or Swann and Pietersen for that matter) and sent him to prison for six months in what is a foreign country to him. He was also banned from cricket for five years. It has hardly been a cakewalk for the lad.
Ask yourself, just for a second, whether you’re the same responsible person today as you were when you were 19? I know I’m not. It seems extraordinarily unforgiving to banish someone for life, and deny them the right to pursue their career indefinitely, for a naïve mistake they made when they were a teenager.
Anyway, back to the cricket. Phew! Amir’s presence, as a cricketer, is one of the reasons why this series is rather intriguing. For the first time in a long-time (and let’s not forget that South Africa were without Steyn and Philander for much of the winter) England’s fragile batting line-up should be under pressure.
One imagines that Cook and Root will needs to score heavily for England to make competitive totals. However, there are actually small question marks above these two batsmen too: Cook’s record against top class pace bowling is actually quite mixed, and his record in England isn’t as good as many would have us believe. Meanwhile, Root will be batting one place higher at 3. Joe has always had a slight weakness outside off-stump and was exposed at the top of the order against Australia in the past. Are these guys really going to be the bankers they usually are?
If Pakistan take early wickets, one suspects they’ll really fancy their chances. England have a well-publicised weakness at 4 and 5, and we can’t keep relying on Jonny Bairstow to get us out of trouble. Much is made of England’s lower middle-order, and it’s true they’ve rescued the innings many times in the past, but it’s much harder for lower order players to find success against quality bowlers. Genuine pace and mystery spin usually send tail-enders packing. Pakistan have both while England have neither.
England’s bowling attack might also struggle at Lord’s, especially as Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes are missing. Lord’s is usually pretty flat and England do occasionally struggle to take wickets there. The high-tech drainage system makes the strip quite dry, which might play into Pakistan’s hands.
Much will obviously depend on the performances of Stuart Broad and Steve Finn. Jake Ball (I’m assuming he plays ahead of Roland-Jones) is a novice with just 31 first class games under his belt. At the beginning of the summer, Mike Selvey claimed that Ball ‘just looks right’. Personally I’m not so sure. I saw Ball for the first time recently and was somewhat underwhelmed. He looks like a good county bowler but he wasn’t particularly quick and his action looked somewhat lumbering and laboured to me. Perhaps we was carrying a niggle? England’s lack of a quality spinner will also be a problem if Lord’s is flat.
In my opinion, Pakistan have a more complete and balanced side. They also have two world-class batsmen in Misbah and Younis but their supporting cast looks more settled and experienced. Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed all average over 40 in test cricket. What’s more, all of their top six (with the exception of Shan Masood) have played fourty matches or more. England simply cannot say the same.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s attack has all the bases covered: there’s pace, swing, height, aggression, a left-arm angle, a quality leg-spinner and an orthodox off-spinner. England, by contrast, have a clutch of orthodox right arm fast-medium bowlers and a part-time offy. I’m sorry if this sounds a little negative but it’s the truth. Pakistan also come into this game with some decent (if not completely thorough) preparation and their top six in decent form.
However, before you reach for your rope and stool, there’s one big factor in England’s favour: England are England (and playing in England), and Pakistan are Pakistan (and playing abroad). This usually ends one way: England play above themselves and Pakistan ultimately give up.
I’ve heard so many stories over the years about Pakistan’s complete lack of professionalism (none of which, I’m afraid, I’m willing to publish here!) that I’m unsure how committed they’ll be. They also haven’t played much on the road recently. Although they have lots of quality cricketers, we don’t know how they’ll respond to English conditions.
I’m tempted, therefore, to argue that the Lord’s test will be more about Pakistan than England. If the tourists turn up, play hard and committed cricket (and don’t look for excuses), they should win. I fear that England will be overmatched at the beginning of the series, and although this should change when Anderson and Stokes return to the fold, it could be a difficult week for our lads. We’ll need our best players to take responsibility and perform at their best.
However, if the worst happens and Pakistan do manage to beat us, I just hope the focus isn’t Mohammad Amir. With the polarising politics of the last few weeks, I’m sick and tired of people making self-righteous but utterly subjective moral judgements. Let’s just focus on the cricket. After all, this could be a really, really good series.
PS I’ve just seen that Dmitri Old over at Being Outside Cricket has written an interesting piece on Amir which discusses the issue in a bit more depth. It’s definitely worth a read.
Selvey claimed that Ball ‘just looks right’.
Kiss of death, then.
As for Amir, I’m really excited to see him back (sadder, wiser and powers undiminished, I hope) – & agree with pretty well all you say on the banning issue.
While I agree with the salutary punishment of the fixers and drug cheats, a prison sentence and five year ban is harsh punishment for a 19 year old. I really don’t think it either lenient or likely to encourage others to copy him.
I’m tempted to put some money on Pakistan, they’re currently at 6-1, with 3-0 at 75-1 and 4-0 at 200-1.
2-1, probably the most likely outcome, is 11-1.
Very generous odds. I’m tempted too.
Swann and KP both speak before they think. Swann in particular is the brasher if anything. But actually it was Captain Cook – who surely has the higher profile? – who said Amir should have been banned for life. Cook likes to talk tough but many might think that stabbing a team mate in the back – while not counting as a criminal offence – is not a position of moral high ground. Seems to be a common pastime in the Britain of today, though, looking at the multiple stabbings in the political arena.
The sentence on Amir wasn’t lenient. For a first time young offender to have a custodial sentence is not usual. Prisons aren’t holiday camps. He was also banned for 5 years during a time when he would normally have been in employment at the highest level and developing his game. Any Justice system doesn’t have a one size fits all because circumstances and age are taken into consideration. Swann, KP and Cook appear to have no knowledge of how punishment is arrived at. A total ban would be regarded as draconian if a young player had been put under pressure by his captain. They are disregarding that the captain was in charge of this spot fixing.
It wasn’t that long ago that a Pakistan international wicket keeper fled to Britain because of pressure by illegal criminal betting syndicates. The gangs are out there. It’s not just money but fear.
Meanwhile our TV has countless betting adverts to bet on sport, which are mainly about spot betting. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that this side of the betting business is booming which will attract illegal syndicates. Any calls to get those adverts off the TV from a concerned sport? No. Too much profit for commercial TV. Too much hypocrisy.
At least Boycott agrees with us;
There are many, who are more familiar with the moral highground than Cook, KP or Swann, who believe betting to be a bad thing.
Dmitir’s piece is excellent, and it really should hit home with a lot of people.
As for the cricket, I’m really looking forward to this clash.
It has lots of plots and sub plots and could go the distance. I definitely see Pakistan winning a test.
Our batting line up has been the subject of a lot of discussion (on here & social media) over recent days, but we are where we are and hopefully it will fire. If it doesn’t than we really are in a pickle with what lies ahead.
I too am worried about the bowling at Lords and if we were playing a strong batting line up I’d be really fearful, but we are playing a weak Pakistan. Broad is the best bowler on either side so I think that makes us slight favourites.
Bat first and get 350+ and we’ll be ok, I can’t see Pakistan scoring 350+ on too many occasions.
I think (if tradition is anything) that Manchester will be Pakistan’s best chance. Pace, bounce and turn.
That could mean 1-1 going to Edgabston where England just don’t lose.
2-1 going to the Oval, where who knows what we will be playing on, and who will indeed be playing.
Finally, I hope we can just talk about cricket for the next 6 weeks. It would be lovely.
Does anyone know what the Pakistan XI will be? I would like to see a head-to-head comparison against their England counterparts.
England XI has been announced.
Pakistan have named 12 this morning
England: Alastair Cook (capt), Alex Hales, Joe Root, James Vince, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow (wkt), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Jake Ball.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed (wkt), Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali.
Test averages in their main suit:
Azhar Ali 43
Wahab Riaz 34
Yasir Shah 24
Rabat Ali 36
Statistically, man 4 man, Pakistan have slightly better test career records and have more experience. Their support batsman have accumulated their records over a longer period than England’s too. Obviously the match will be played in England, but Lord’s should be the wicket that suits the visitors the most. It will be flat and dry. Pakistan should have a good chance in this match to win. England should be favourites elsewhere in the country.
No one mentioned Cook in the press this week, saying that Amir will probably get some stick from the crowds, in other words, “please get into him”. The old boys in the Long Room will be unforgiving, that’s standard as they give their own English players stick when they bustle back in after a shocker.
I will guarantee you this, and for those that can remember when Murali returned to Australia after the infamous no-ball saga with Darryl Hair, that Amir’s first ball will be called a no-ball from a reasonably large section of the crowd, it’s our morbid sense of humour that will urge us to, well, just call “no ball”!, with a smile of course. Can you imagine if he actually did bowl a “legitimate” no-ball – it’s a funny game…………..
I thought Cook’s attitude to the Amir saga has been unprofessional and quite frankly, if the Pakistani selectors have picked Amir, based on their own assumptions, then it’s none of Cook’s business. It would be fitting, for me, to see Amir get Cook early tomorrow.
Even better, and I would like to see the odds, of Amir getting a 5 for and having his name put up on the honours board – it’s a funny game…………..
Its odds on (10/11) that Amir takes 5 in either innings
Really interested in how Woakes does for England. After disappointing first appearances for the team on the one-off occasions when he was picked, the work on his game and his extended run seems to be paying off. He did very well in the last series. I thought he bowled as good as any of our bowlers and always offers a threat with the bat.
Now that (in the short term at least sans Anderson and Stokes) there is no immediate pressure on his place, I think he could cement himself in this series to the point that he won’t be droppable.
Just watching the start. What is Ball doing with the new ball instead of Woakes (or Finn)? If I didn’t know better I would suggest the powers are deliberately waiting for any help to disappear so they can say Woakes has failed and keep their favourites in the team when Anderson returns.
Amir playing is a disgrace, would a police man be allowed back for tampering with evidence ??
As I don’t like the modern England team as it has too many white ball players like hales, moeen and stokes… Amir could do the decent thing and rip them apart
“Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed all average over 40 in test cricket”.
They all also average under 30 outside Asia.
I’d also point out that Pakistan get one third of the ICC money that England (despite being a larger and poorer country) and their central contracts are worth £40,000 a year to England’s £700,000. If Pakistan make a contest of this series, it’s more than those who’ve run the game in recent years deserve.
That’s obviously a good point Simon, but Lord’s is expected to be somewhat subcontinental – dry, slowish, flat. Sri Lanka got runs there, and if Pakistan can cobble together a decent total, then their attack is likely to be more effective than ours. After all, they have a good leg spinner, a bit more pace and variety. England often look a bit toothless on these kind of surfaces. I guess we’ll just have to see how the pitch plays. Broad himself has expressed concern that it might be like a subcontinent surface.
Hafeez averages 95 in England – based on a sample size of one! His only Test in England was the infamous forfeited game at The Oval. He averages less than 12 in SA and NZ.
He looked a bit dodgy yesterday I have to admit. He did make 40 though.
I have to admit, whilst watching the first session I found myself rooting for Pakistan. I just feel they are so underestimated and patronised, I’d love to see them really stuff England at Lords.
Does England’s over rate get on anyone else’s nerves , or am I on my own by getting completely perturbed by it?