x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pakistan-England a series with many messages

From the fickleness of Pakistan media to the baffling scheduling and the surprise support of Afganistan cricketers, the Pakistan v England series had a lesson to be learnt for all.

Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, left congratulates England's captain Stuart Broad. Both teams learnt much about each, and themselves, during the long series in the UAE.
Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, left congratulates England's captain Stuart Broad. Both teams learnt much about each, and themselves, during the long series in the UAE.

Some are never happy

The fact Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, was having to put out fires in the media by the end of this tour reveals much about the relative priorities of these two nations.

Had England managed a 3-0 series whitewash in the Tests, Andrew Strauss, their captain, would have been putting in for an upgrade on his OBE, no matter what subsequently happened to the team he handed over to Alastair Cook for the one-day matches.

Quite rightly, Misbah was lauded at the time. It was quickly forgotten, however, when the floodlights were switched on and Pakistan crumbled in the coloured clothing. It does not take much to send Pakistani cricket into a tailspin, and four losses in the 50-over matches were grist to the mill for the Shahid Afridi lobby.

International cricket's most combustible team have gained much under the quiet leadership of the studious Misbah. It would be a mistake to doubt him now.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

With a hefty workload ahead, England felt the lengthy break they had at the end of last year, between a one-day international series in India and the trip to the UAE, was a must.

However, these Test matches were important ones to win, too. They arrived here way undercooked, and took three Test matches to get to grips with Pakistan's brilliant spin-bowlers, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman.

By the end, England's batsmen were well in sync, as evidenced by their immaculate showing in the one-day internationals.

Clearly, a 4-0 win in that series was not to be sniffed at, but some would say it was too little, too late.

Schedule benefits?

There is no doubt there is a huge appetite for cricket in this country, but you would not have guessed it from the attendances at these matches. For all but the Twenty20 matches, the crowds were pitiful.

Who was to blame? Various theories abounded.

With 22 days of cricket scheduled to be played within two months, between just two venues - Abu Dhabi and Dubai - some reckoned the supporters might have suffered from cricket fatigue.

Others argued the series was not marketed well enough. "I don't see how anyone can forcibly do any long-term planning considering they are always trying to host them in Pakistan in the first place," Dilawar Mani, the chief executive of the Emirates Cricket Board, said when this series was first mooted.

The lion's share of the blame has to lie with whoever wrote the schedule. The first Test started on a Tuesday, and was finished before it even got to Friday, and not one of the seven limited-overs matches was played on a Friday.

In a country where work has to come first for everyone, the paucity of Friday cricket was entirely ridiculous.

Sharjah needs reviving

It is often said of cricketers that their worth rises if they are out of a struggling team.

Ravi Bopara, for example, was not deemed worthy of England's Test side when they were at their best last year.

Yet when their batsmen were been made to look silly by Pakistan's spinners at the start of this series, all was forgiven and suddenly he was the answer again. The same can go for grounds, too. By missing out on staging a major match in this series, Sharjah's value rose sharply.

The UAE's oldest cricket venue missed out on staging a fixture on the spurious grounds that the fixtures were announced before renovation work at the ground had been complete.

As such, the powers that be in England did not want to dent the tour plans of their travelling supporters by rescheduling and playing a game in Sharjah.

Some felt the real reasoning was more sinister.

Sharjah is comfortably the most accessible ground in the emirates. It generates a fine atmosphere, too, as evidenced by the matches involving Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in recent months.

Big match cricket needs to return there.

Welcome the new world

Talking of Sharjah, that venue played host to a fixture that was more compelling, more raucous and more colourful than any other in the past two months. And it did not involve England. While the world's best Test team were playing a warm-up match against their second string side, the England Lions, Pakistan were involved in a "friendly" of their own.

Pakistan supporters have long been used to owning the stands at matches in the UAE, but they were heavily outnumbered when they played Afghanistan at a packed Sharjah Cricket Stadium - on a Friday, not coincidentally.

Afghanistan are already one of the best supported sides in cricket - and they have not even officially made it yet.

The International Cricket Council should be compelled to give the Afghans as many chances as they can at this level. From the backing they have given them to date, there is no reason to doubt they will.

 

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow The National Sport at @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Radley