The special tensions of England v Pakistan

Tomorrow will see the renewal of hostilities between two countries with an acrimonious past. Derek Pringle has experienced it all
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The Independent Online
Every sport, wherever and whenever it has been played, has always had its rivalries and grudge matches. Over the last 20 years, England's cricketers would have seen Australia and the West Indies as the most desirable teams to beat, with Pakistan the side most likely to get the blood bubbling. But if the former remain on the healthy side of competition, the latter has been filled with acrimony as old prejudices surface.

In the case of England and Pakistan, the reasons are complex and have a history which, if not exactly ancient, certainly goes back to the partition of India in 1947, and to the painful birth of the new nation state of Pakistan, since when a million uprootings and mass migration have kept its proud people on the boil.

Its cricketers, too, have rarely ever simmered in their bid to bring wider recognition to their country and themselves. It is what makes them more serious and hot-headed than their neighbours in India, who look upon them as a weary senior citizen might quizzically gaze upon a petulant child.

Representing a country devoted to Islam and one that takes its cricket almost as seriously is a weighty responsibility and not one for the faint of heart.

To recall the widespread outrage when Pakistan lost to India in the quarter- finals of the recent World Cup - Wasim Akram and several other players had effigies of themselves burnt and their houses stoned - is to realise that winning is of overriding national importance.

But if winning is important generally, it is virtually compulsory at home, where politicians and those who run cricket need the necessary diversions as they lurch from one public scandal to the next. But even the most downtrodden can spot a subterfuge, and all but two of England's eight tours there have been interrupted by political riots.

On one occasion, the Lahore Test of 1977-78 was interrupted on two successive days, as Benazir Bhutto and supporters of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, came to confront General Zia, who had recently deposed and incarcerated him. In Pakistan, sport is politics and the infrastructure around cricket has often been more viperish, and possessed more hidden agendas, than the most convoluted of John Le Carre's plots.

During the 1987 World Cup, Graham Gooch was invited to a prominent former Pakistan player's house for dinner. However, once a hasty meal had been eaten, it became clear that there was a political angle to the evening, and Gooch was asked why England had not complained about the appointment of the then manager of the Pakistan team, the ex-player in question clearly wanting him out of the way. Such chicanery, whilst amusing to many, later led Gooch to comment that captaining England seemed a doddle in comparison.

It is not surprising, then, that winning by all means necessary has become a way of life in Pakistan. It is a necessity that gave rise to the recent phenomenon of reverse swing, which although sporadically achievable legally can be virtually guaranteed when the ball is tampered with. As a discovery, it is touched with genius, but unlike picking the seam and shining the ball with lip balm, it has roughed up the level playing field to such an extent that it cannot, like the others, simply be ignored.

Not surprisingly, England have always found themselves under great pressure when they travel to Pakistan, and it is on tours there, stretching back to 1951-52, that most of the ill-will between the two countries has developed. A feeling that time has clearly not healed, as Tom Graveney's outburst during the ball-tampering row in 1992 proved.

But apart from the discomfort of alien conditions on and off the field, the main cause for complaint has been poor umpiring, with accusations of blatant cheating being a familiar claim. Those who have toured claim it to be a one-way street and the first time Javed Miandad was dismissedlbw on home soil, he was given out by an Australian umpire. A momentous event your correspondent happened to witness from mid-on.

I even heard it alleged, by a Pakistani player, that it wasn't unusual for all the umpires to be rounded up before a home series and coerced into giving Pakistan favourable decisions. If so, the concept of neutral umpires has been a good one; not only for the game in general but for legitimately confirming Pakistan's deserved high standing in Test cricket.

Even so, Pakistani players can be quick to develop a sense of grievance when the umpiring goes against them. On a tour to Sri Lanka, one prominent player became so infuriated by his team's lack of success with lbw appeals that he ran up to the umpire with a copy of Wisden opened on the relevant page.

But the blame cannot all be heaped upon one side. Indeed, on the 1955- 56 MCC tour, the captain, Donald Carr, was held responsible for his players dousing the umpire Idris Beigh with water after he had given what were perceived to be four injudicious lbw decisions against them in the final "unofficial" Test, a match the visitors, coincidentally, needed to win in order to square the series.

A furore in the media ensued and Lord Alexander, then president of the MCC, offered to recall the team, promising to pay compensation for any lost revenue. But if the deed itself was reprehensible enough, for Pakistanis with not such long memories, the insult was duly compounded when Carr was made tour manager for England's 1972-73 tour.

It was an appointment that confirmed to many the ingrained arrogance of those who run English cricket; an impression Michael Atherton reinforced with his refusal to send a written apology to the Pakistan journalist whom he referred to as a "buffoon" during the recent World Cup.

There is no doubt that in its extreme forms Islamic justice can be barbaric. But while no one in Pakistan would have wanted to see the removal of the finger with which Mike Gatting so famously jabbed umpire Shakoor Rana during their altercation in the Faisalabad Test of 1987, the pounds 1,000 hardship bonus the TCCB awarded each player was contemptuous of local outrage. It also confused some within the TCCB, and until he was informed to the contrary, Doug Insole, the chairman of the overseas tours committee, was under the impression it was a "slightly harsh" fine.

The attitude of most England players on recent tours has done little to break down these barriers. Few ever attempt to embrace or understand the culture they suddenly find themselves plonked in the middle of, preferring instead to cocoon themselves away with videotapes and an array of familiar comestibles. But as Allan Lamb showed when he horsed around with a policeman on the boundary in Peshawar, it doesn't take an enormous amount of effort to win the locals over.

However, once a feud is set up it is not easily defused, as it gets passed from one dressing-room generation to the next, snowballing in weight and significance until the original germ - a dodgy decision or two - becomes mutated to the broad swathes of prejudice such as "PAKI CHEAT" so beloved of tabloid headline-makers, and now sadly part of the lingua franca wherever English is spoken.

Powerful personalities play their part in perpetuating these feuds. Something the current Ian Botham versus Imran Khan spat continues to reinforce even if cheating and class, and not old grievances, are claimed to be at its core. These two all-rounders were undoubtedly great rivals on the field. But Botham was never more wound up than when confronted by Javed Miandad, a man for whom he formed an almost pathological dislike.

Mind you, he was not alone and Javed's ability to wind up just about everyone he ever played with or against often masked the brilliance of his play. Personally, I found him more of a mischief-maker than a villain and, with bat in hand, riveting to watch. His tactical flexibility as a batsman - deciding how to combat certain bowlers on a certain pitch - was second to none, and he bestrode Test and one-day cricket with equal facility. The players down at Glamorgan thought none the less of him, either, and have nothing but praise for the expertise and help he lent to players during his 10-year stint there.

In fact, it was much the same with Imran at Sussex, Salim Malik at Essex, Wasim at Lancashire, Waqar Younis at Surrey, Mushtaq at Somerset (to name a few), all having their praises sung in purest falsetto.

It is only when they pull on their green cap with its crescent moon badge that the drama and excessive appealing starts, and likeable, sane fellows turn into a howling pack of pumped-up Dominic Corks, a transformation that left Robin Smith seething and visibly upset after playing against his Hampshire team-mate Aqib Javed.

Much of the behaviour on both sides stems from individual insecurity over one's place in the side. Yet if Pakistan has been prey to far more internecine bickering than England, this summer's tourists look as settled as any side since Imran was at the helm. Unlike England, they are at least prepared to make an effort abroad and Wasim has promised a gentle tour. But if some of their excesses are better off behind them, it will be a shame if, like the over-cautious driver, their cricket suffers from too much due care and attention.

ENGLAND v PAKISTAN

a brief history

1954 in England: series drawn 1-1

1961-62 in Pakistan: England won 1-0

1962 in England: England won 4-0

1967 in England: England won 2-0

1968-69 in Pakistan: series drawn 0-0

1971 in England: England won 1-0

1972-73 in Pakistan: series drawn 0-0

1974 in England: series drawn 0-0

1977-78 in Pakistan: series drawn 0-0

1978 in England: England won 2-0

1982 in England: England won 2-1

1983-84 in Pakistan: Pakistan won 1-0

1987 in England: Pakistan won 1-0

1987-88 in Pakistan: Pakistan won 1-0

1992 in England: Pakistan won 2-1

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