Imran Khan's belief, expressed last weekend, almost reads like a hope: that Pakistan will not play Test cricket with England until the next century. It finally exposes the worst kept secret in cricket - that these two countries, whose histories have been so intertwined in recent centuries, just cannot stand each other. There is more than cricketing rivalry involved. In reality, Pakistan is very likely to play Test cricket against England before 2001. The English cricket calendar is far from finalised.

Imran was speaking in the backwash of the Sarfraz Nawaz/Allan Lamb affair: the English memories of 1992 turned to a story of cheating and ball-gouging, expunging the memory of Pakistan's victory.

Pakistanis saw it as just the latest attempt to deny them credit, let alone the acknowledgement that they are probably the best cricket team in the world. Coming, as it does, on top of the constant whispers that they cheated when the won the World Cup last winter, it is more than they can stomach. They feel it as a terrible blow to their izzat, or honour, a wound they take like a dagger to the heart.

In Pakistani eyes, English cricket has been insulting Pakistani izzat almost from the first moment the two countries started playing Test cricket. On that tour in 1954, an unknown Pakistani team with only one player of genuine English experience - their captain, Abdul Hafeez Kardar - created a sensation by becoming the first country to win a Test match in England on its inaugural visit. That victory also gave them a drawn series. But English cricket was unimpressed, emphasising that Pakistan had been heavily outplayed in the previous Tests, that but for the rain they would easily have lost the series, and that in that Test, English selectors rested key players.

Ever since then, Pakistan has always felt that whatever it does, it will never be able to win the unqualified approval of the English. It took South Africa 46 years to win a Test in England, and yet Pakistan's achievement was damned with faint praise. Clearly the audacity of a former colony, brown at that, was too much for the white sahibs.

Things have gone downhill since then, with almost every tour reinforcing national stereotypes. Barely 18 months later, during an MCC A tour of Pakistan, some English players decided to douse the Pakistan umpire, Idris Begh, giving him what Wisden later called the 'water treatment'. The incident roused such feelings that the then-president of the MCC, Lord Alexander of Tunis, offered to bring the players back immediately and even compensate the Pakistanis. It did not come to that, there were only two more matches to go, but it left a scar that has never healed.

The water treatment had come in a match when the MCC had seen four of their main batsmen given out lbw and was the start of the English feeling that they could never get any justice from Pakistani umpires. Needless to say, MCC lost the match and such feelings have been reinforced over the years by tales from other visiting sides to that country.

Pakistan was not only outraged by the water treatment for Idris Begh but scandalised that the English should treat it as a jape. Wisden, which is much a bible for Pakistani cricketers as it is for English, even tried to pass it off as no more than a student rag that had gone wrong, adding the insult of condescension to injury. It said: 'Unfortunately, some of the players did not realise that the type of humour generally accepted by most people in Britain might not be understood in other parts of the world.'

Not even Wisden could take refuge in such cultural differences when 30 years later, in the summer of 1987, the Shakoor Rana incident very nearly put a stop to Test cricket between the two countries. That was avoided, but it did mean a day's play was lost as the cricketers of the two countries patched up their relationship.

As the Pakistanis saw it, the incident was simple. The English cricket captain abused a Pakistani umpire during a Test match. The English could hardly deny the incident, but in their eyes Mike Gatting, the captain who had done the shouting, had been provoked beyond endurance, as had his colleagues, by wretched umpiring decisions, and in any case Rana had also shouted at Gatting. For a couple of days the two cricket boards indulged in the sort of diplomacy that would have been more suited to solving the war in Bosnia, let alone a cricket problem. In the end Gatting apologised, Rana too made a statement, but after that things could never be the same.

In Pakistani eyes this was yet another instance of loss of izzat. The English saw it as a simple case of reaction to cheating. Indeed, Raman Subba Row and Alan Smith, chairman and chief executive of the TCCB, who flew to Pakistan to solve the problem, decided to grant the players a bonus of pounds 1,000, described as a hardship bonus. If Gatting had insulted Rana's izzat, the granting of the bonus was an insult to the entire Pakistani nation's izzat. But as Subba Row saw it, this was to demonstrate that cricket is not a game of cheating.

Since then, Subba Row's point has been echoed by many, including Tom Graveney, who claimed Pakistani cricketers had been cheating for 30 years. And a few months before the Rana incident, English cricket appeared to have conclusive proof. This came in the 1987 Headingley Test, when the Pakistani wicketkeeper, Saleem Yousuf, claimed a catch off Ian Botham after clearly taking the ball on the first bounce. The umpire shouted at the wicketkeeper and Botham nearly thumped him.

All this must come as a surprise to those Raj stalwarts for whom, during the days of the Empire, Pakistan was the favoured part of the subcontinent. For as the Indian nationalists, largely a Hindu-led group, agitated for independence from Britain, the majority of the Muslims happily collaborated. And the great champions of the Raj built up a cosy picture of tall, dark fearless men who were always true to their word and honour in comparison to the devious Hindus. Yet now the word Paki is itself a term of abuse and a rallying cry of white racists, and many in English cricket secretly echo Botham's remark that Pakistan is a country you do not send your mother-in-law to.

Where the old Raj had struck up a working relationship with the old Muslim elite of the subcontinent, in the new multicultural England almost every Pakistani is regarded as an illiterate peasant. It is galling for the educated elite who control Pakistani cricket to find that they are confused with their poor fellow Pakistanis. Not even Imran Khan's rise as a man who can outperform Englishmen both on and off the field helped in rescuing the image of the Paki as an undesirable.

Pakistanis have also not helped their cause by displaying a mixture of aggressive defensiveness and a chippiness which makes them see conspiracy when there may only be a cock-up. Pakistan is a young nation carved out of the predominantly Hindu India, and most of whose Muslims are converts from Hinduism. This is a past they would rather forget, and they have a fierce desire to prove they are the best in the world.

Pakistanis find it very difficult to accept that they can be beaten fairly by anyone. On a recent tour of the West Indies, they readily believed that drugs charges against their leading cricketers were deliberately instigated to destroy their team. And in recent summers, the annual series of exhibition matches against India held in this country, whenever the Indians have appeared to be on the point of winning, the Pakistani crowd has rioted, forcing abandonment of the match. The last came at Crystal Palace back in July.

In England, it seems the Pakistanis cannot enjoy victory; they are still a long way from having learnt to accept defeat.

Umpire's claims, page 35

(Photographs omitted)

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