The build up to this Test match was dominated by one thing – Mohammad Amir and his return to the scene of his crime. His conviction for bowling deliberate no balls at the behest of his then captain Salman Butt in 2010 was all anyone was talking about. But after four days of pulsating cricket between two exciting and likable sides, no one was interested in that any more. Such is the nature of sport and the fleeting attention span of the modern world, all is not forgotten but cricket fans have moved on.
The fact that it look just four days for the narrative to change is due to the team spirit of this Pakistan side that has been created by Misbah-ul-Haq. When he took over the captaincy of this team six years ago, things were bleak and there seemed little hope of improvement. Corruption allegations, no home matches, the loss of three key players to suspension and prison. It could not have been worse.
Now six years later, Pakistan have returned to Lord’s triumphantly, charming everyone they have come across. As Misbah reached his hundred in the first innings there wasn’t a soul in the crowd at St John’s Wood or anyone watching around the world, who wasn’t delighted for this hugely impressive leader. As he dropped to the floor and started doing push-ups in tribute to the fitness work the team have done in an army training camp, he brought smiles of delight.
This is a team that is crafted in the image of Misbah. They are hard-working, humble and consistent. The in-fighting and politicking that has been rife in Pakistan teams in the past seems to be a thing of the past under Misbah’s captaincy. It is one for all and all for one in the pursuit of victory. This Pakistan team are ranked third in the world in Test cricket and they are still on the rise.
The win against England in England was set up by Misbah’s hundred but the real match-winner was Yasir Shah. His leg-spin bamboozled the hapless England middle order as he claimed 10 wickets in the match, the first leggie to do so at Lord’s in more than two decades.
There needs to be something of a caveat on this performance from Yasir, but not one that is his fault, he bowled brilliantly in conditions that offered him little. But England played him horrifically badly. There were plenty of opportunities to milk Yasir for runs and look to score off the seamers, but England insisted on playing cross bat shots to balls that were too full to sweep or too close to cut. If they are going to come back from this loss the England players need to find a way to survive against Yasir.
This wasn’t the perfect performance from Pakistan either, and the reason for that was the fielding. If they are going to win this series they cannot afford to spill as many chances as they did at Lord’s. They dropped Alastair Cook twice on his way to 81. On another day Cook could have made 181 given two extra lives.
The man off who those Cook chances were spilled was Mohammad Amir, who had a good game if not a spectacular one. He was very clearly nervous when he got a chance to bowl on the afternoon of the second day. And it would have been remarkable if he wasn’t. The six years since he last bowled on this ground have been tumultuous for this young man, and while those “interesting times” have been entirely of his own making, his return should be welcomed not scorned.
By any measure Amir has paid a heavy price for his crime. He has had five years away from the game, he went to prison, and he has been vilified for his actions. In fact quite a few members of this Pakistan team didn’t want him back at all. But he has done all that was asked of him. He admitted his actions, apologised for them and he has been happy to work with the ICC in the education of others in the dangers and temptations of corruption. Contrition should bring some absolution, but it will never be forgotten.
It is right that the coverage leading up to this game was dominated by Amir and his past crimes. And whenever he is mentioned from now until his career ends, his conviction will be mentioned. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. However, Amir has a duty to be the poster boy for what happens if you are corrupt and the hoops that you have to jump through to make it back to the top of the game.
But the story of this Test wasn’t Amir and his comeback, and we have these two teams – England and Pakistan – that are both flawed and talented in equal measure to thank for that. They produced a riveting spectacle that once again reminded us why Test cricket is the king of sports. There is no other game that can give us the twists and turns that this format of this sport can.
We have three more Tests between these teams to look forward to over the coming weeks. If they are all as good as this game, England vs Pakistan will be one great Test series.