Pakistan's cricketers were slow to get out of bed yesterday morning, the day after their bad defeat at The Oval. It was a morning off for most of them, though three of the fast bowlers heaved their coffins on to the team coach and went off to a net session at Lord's.
Prominent among them was Shoaib Akhtar, who clearly felt he needed a workout after conceding 69 runs in nine overs at The Oval. He appears to have been confused by the pace of the wicket. It was not as fast as he was expecting, though his problem was length, not pace. He was either too short or overpitched, and he allowed Marcus Trescothick to feast off him, and the spectators to feast on Tres-cothick's remarkable assault, which brought him 86 runs off 55 balls, with 16 fours and two sixes.
Back inside among the plush of the Intercontinental Hotel at Hyde Park Corner, Rashid Latif, the Pakistani skipper, and Sammy Burney, the team spokes-man, also had Trescothick on the mind. Latif identifies him as the key man at Lord's today in the decider in the three-match series. Latif, who admired Tresco-thick from behind the stumps, had been impressed because he was so positive. "He used the long handle and hit the ball hard when it was new, before it got soft. He will apply the same policy at Lord's."
Latif wants to see the back of Trescothick early so that his bowlers can attack England's middle order. Following the collapse at Old Trafford and the prompt disappearance of Michael Vaughan and Jim Troughton at The Oval, Latif has identified the middle order as England's soft underbelly - though that is not the phrase he would employ.
Latif is 34 and a graduate engineer. He speaks English, but without the precision he requires. At the post-game press conferences he speaks Urdu through an interpreter, and it is no different when he is off duty in the hotel. He is a self-contained person, obliging but not to the point of risking his English in a conversation for the record. His Urdu is broken by English phrases, but he insists on Sammy as his interpreter, except when he explains that his black eye is the result of getting a ball in the face at Old Trafford. He's not bothered by it, he says.
His fond memories of the win at Old Trafford are not obscured by the crowd invasion, which so perturbs the English authorities. His attitude is ambiguous. He suggests that people should not get upset. After all, crowd invasions happen only when Pakistan are playing. "It is the style of our friends to show their delight," he says. "It is as though they have been waiting for their happiness for too long." Of course he does not want anyone injured, but if no one is he refuses to worry.
Since there was no invasion when Pakistan lost at The Oval, I suggested that the best way for Pakistan to prevent them was to go on losing. The joke must have been lost in the translation, because Latif insisted that Pakistan fully intend to win at Lord's.
Latif is the new broom after the reconstruction of the team after their lamentable World Cup. Out go all the great egos - which were the accompaniment of great talent, with the likes of Wasim, Waqar, Saeed and Saqlain - and in comes Latif to encourage a new generation of players such as Mohammad Hafeez, Imram Nazir, Umar Gul and Mohammad Sami. Only five of today's unchanged team have played at Lord's.
Sami is the junior partner in the world's fastest bowling attack, and Latif says right out that Sami is more promising than Shoaib, the notorious 100mph man: "He's the best of the lot we have."
Sami took a pasting at The Oval ( three overs, 25 runs, no wickets) but Latif was not deterred: "He was over-excited. He wanted to put in something extra because of the crowd and because he's going to play for Kent." (He goes to Canterbury next week.)
Latif has found it hard to judge the performances of the new men on such a short tour, played on unpredictable wickets. "The only English wicket we played on was in Scotland," he says. But we must hope Latif's judgement of fast bowlers is sound, because he is an admirer of James Anderson as well. "A brilliant bowler with a bright future, but let's see if he gets injured. Most English bowlers do."
This is Latif's fourth tour of England, and it is worth noting that he attributes his pleasure in playing here to the media. This unusual remark requires explanation. "England is the right place to play cricket because the strength of the media means that great performers get acknowledged," he says. "Perhaps I'm not great, but when I was here I got the appreciation, and that's very good for a player."
That's nice of him.
Verdict on the five freshmen
He was quietly and oddly forgotten after playing eight matches three-and-a-half years ago, but the signs are that this time he is here to stay. He has lifted the fielding to fresh heights with calmly spectacular interventions. If his batting can sometimes be careless, his shot-making is outrageously inventive, and he has potential to be a fitting replacement for Nick Knight.
An inauspicious start to his international career will, as always, embolden those who suggested his elevation came too soon. His fielding has been vigorous and sharp. It hardly matters for the moment that he has not made a score, but the manner of his dismissal at The Oval was slightly concerning: he did not look like he wanted to get into line. Must be given time.
As if to the manor born for the Bradford lad. Has batted maturely and bowled a decent line on Friday, thus neatly deflecting attention from his weight. He could hardly have done more to stake a permanent claim, at 27 perverse testimony to the worth of a long county apprenticeship. A player of whom good judges are unsure, though they are probably southerners.
The name, by the way, is not a short form; Rikki is not Richard. Like the other young guns, he is keen in the field. A wicket with his first international ball does not yet make him an all-rounder. But it was an indicator. Naïve, but with abundant natural talent, and patience, at least in this form of the game, should be rewarded.
Another of the comeback boys after being discarded following the Millennium Tour. His wicketkeeping is aggressive and vibrant, and the next stop should be a Test place again. His batting is fearless and, if still unproven, he looks capable of making quick, improvised late runs. In the field he could become the fulcrum.
By Stephen BrenkleyReuse content