FINEST HOUR IN SPORTS

The routing of England with all their high hopes and pretensions at Gaddafi Stadium appears to be the beginning of another epoch-making era for home team

From KHALID BUTT, Lahore
Dec 19 - 25, 2005

For the Pakistan cricket team and lion-hearted skipper Inzamam, it was the finest hour at Gaddafi Stadium when they tamed the mighty England - the recent winner of Ashes back home - to a convincing win by an innings and 100 runs and full post-tea session to spare on the pulsating final day of the third and final Test.

It was also a sweet revenge over England, who in year 2000 had licked us in home series with an improbable but dramatic win to clinch the series. The Poms as the England are widely known the world over especially among the traditional rivals in Australia, had been riding high after their recent run of success against redoubtable Aussies. For Aussies the recent Ashes was an end of a long era as the undisputed world champions. They had over the two decades swept every opposition away which also included humbling of Pakistan in a home series played quite unusually and unnecessarily at the offshore venue of Sharjah. But like all good things it ended as they finally met their Waterloo against Poms who had been in cricket wilderness for long time. For the mother country of game of cricket their recent resurgence and rise in ICC cricket ranking only behind the champs - Australia - have been like a heady tonic. After vanquishing Aussies they had clearly set their goals at the top slot. It was, therefore, no wonder that England had taken their current tour of Pakistan and coming visit to India on all seriousness. This became quite evident when England announced their squad by picking up the strongest possible team for Pakistan including all their star performers of the recent Ashes series. This is something England had never done before on a tour of Pakistan and it showed they meant business to consolidate their newfound form and ranking.

For Pakistan after riding high with their famous world cup victory at Melbourne in 1992 the recent years had been a downhill ride. Even while possessing a reasonably strong combination their lowest ebb came at the last World Cup where they faded out of the preliminary rounds. After retirement of some aging stars - willingly or otherwise - the new combination has taken time in maturing. Inzamam too has taken time to find his bearing and it seems the new combination under an ambitious and innovative coach, Bob Woolmer, has finally struck the right mode to success.

The victory at Lahore was truly historic. As I reflected back on the recent cricket history my mind went back to a balmy day in 1978, when Pakistan had routed India to clinch the series 2-0 against their traditional rivals. The routing of England with all their high hopes and pretensions at Gaddafi, to me appears to be the beginning of another epoch-making era for home team.

Team Pakistan under Inzamam looks a close-knit team as it had been under Imran Khan. This is not a small achievement. On top of it, skipper, deservingly made "Man of the Series" has led from front and proved to be better tactician than his rival captain. Each member has played his part superbly to show what a team effort and high motivation can achieve.

The inevitable return of the prodigal, Shoaib Akhtar and his living upto to his true potential has been the key factor. Also, his new role as a totally committed and highly disciplined player shows him in a different light than he was being described earlier. Mohammad Yousaf, Danish Kaneria, Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal, Naved Rana, all played their part in making the Test series, memorable in every way. I was also reminded of the firm belief which Air Marshal Nur Khan, a former cricket and hockey supremo and great sports visionary had held that in order to get on top in sports you have to be doubly good, always allowing margins for umpiring blunders - intentional or otherwise. How well it proved to be. Pakistan in their victory march had shown even some most visibly blunderous umpiring decisions could not change the destiny if there is dogged determination and will to succeed. Pakistan won the series by their sheer tenacity, better temperament, better leadership and above all superior allround display.

So, good luck Inzamam and Pakistan Team, keep it up. This is just the beginning of a long and challenging journey for you. Our prayers and best wishes are with you.

Fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar wants ICC to allow two bouncers in one-day matches.

"The decision makers should allow two bouncers in the one-dayers also as are bowled in the Test matches. On flat wickets, the bowlers should be given some freeness to bowl," he said. Shoaib took five wickets in the second match to make path for Pakistan's win.

"At a time when there are fielding and bowling restrictions, you can't bowl if one flies away then you can't try it again (or) you end up getting a warning," he said.

He also praised England team's efforts. "You can't do well everytime. Ups and downs are part of the game," he said.

He also praised the captaincy of Inzamam-ul-Haq and put him along the greats of the game like Wasim Akram and Imran Khan.

He also termed the maintenance of the image as the main factor of the team's hard work and consistency.

"The way we have played in the recent past has turned the players to maintain their image as a fighting team," he said. "I think the consistency that has come into our performances is also due to the way Inzamam has developed into a very good captain," he said.

"Every captain learns with time. I would now rate Inzamam in the top three captains of Pakistan cricket after Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. He has helped keep the team together. He is very calm and composed and is good at encouraging the players and getting their best performances. After the first match loss he lifted the team really well," said Shoaib.

Shoaib also played down the toss factor. "Winning or losing the toss does not matter when the team is playing as a unit." He further said that he has been left bowling slower delivery but now he has again started working on it.