Pakistan are stable again but will still amaze and infuriate


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The Independent Online

Pakistan's cricket team remain one of the wonders of the modern world. All logic suggests that they ought to be hopeless, permanently skewered by the mysteries of fractious internal politics and waspish selection, and simply representing a basket case of a country where they cannot play because everybody else refuses to go there.

Not to mention the fall-out from the spot-fixing scandal which enveloped them on their last tour of England in 2010 and led to three players being jailed with others implicated. Instead they completely defy such reasoning and relish cocking a snook at the rest of the inhabitants of planet cricket.

While it might be pushing ita bit to surmise that their attitude is one of "nobody likes us and we don't care", their continuing achievements border on the astonishing. England, clearly the best Test side around, will not make the mistake of underestimating them in the next two months.

Lesser teams (and talents) would have capsized after their experiences in England. Pakistan were defeated 3-1 in the Test series, and eventually lost an acrimonious one-day tournament 3-2.

Already denied the opportunity of playing at home because of security concerns, they were then denied the services of their captain, Salman Butt, and their two best bowlers, Mohammad Amir and Mohammed Asif, who were all banned and imprisoned for their roles in the bowling of deliberate no balls in the Fourth Test at Lord's.

Pariahs they may have been but Pakistan – as so often before – dusted themselves down and started all over again. Since leaving England in disgrace they have lost none of their six subsequent Test series, they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup, losing to the eventual winners India, and have lost only three of their last 18 one-dayers, twoof them dead matches.

True, England represent a very different kind of challenge but Pakistan's recent experience on the lifeless, unresponsive but apparently quirky pitches of the United Arab Emirates may be a crucial factor. England will have to glean everything they can from their two warm-up matches.

Their recent record – beating New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, drawing with South Africa and West Indies – might suggest they are sailing in smooth waters again. Not so, of course.

They are still operating under a temporary coach, Mohsin Khan, who is also the chief selector. Their board are understood to be negotiating with Dav Whatmore to take the permanent role after the series against England. The team at least have a degree of stability, although the recall of left-arm seamer Wahab Riaz seemed designed to raise hackles.

His name was dragged into the spot-fixing controversy and having dropped him, it seemed perverse to bring him back to a squad of 16 for a series on which the eyes of the cricket world will be focused. Perverse but characteristic of a side who have always sprung surprises and courted controversy.

They won their second Test match of all, against India almost 60 years ago, then on their first tour outside the sub-continent drew 1-1 in England, beating a side at The Oval whose top six contained Len Hutton, Peter May, Denis Compton and Tom Graveney. Pakistan have since continued to delight, to frustrate, to annoy, to achieve, to implode in just about equal measure.

From the turmoil of England they have regrouped under the improbable captaincy of the 37-year-old Misbah-ul-Haq. His calm leadership has been matched by being a model of consistency in the middle-order where he has 11 times scored above 50 in his 20 Test innings since assuming the role and has an average of 75. That, in his quiet way, has been of Cookesque proportions.

The batting otherwise is still infuriatingly capricious, but the return of another veteran, Younis Khan – overlooked for the last tour of England – has added style and substance.

Without Amir and Asif, they are not as potent in the bowling department but Umar Gul can be a wizard of swing, Junaid Khan, at 22, looks very much the part and their two spinners, slow left-armer Abdur Rehman and off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, know their business. Pakistan, as usual, will not be pushovers and will be mightily watchable.