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October 24, 2007
The times they are a changing
Back in the spring, Sri Lanka were taking part in a somewhat shambolic World Cup final while only a week previously England had played their last match of the Super Eights, playing only for pride, after having been knocked out of the tournament previously.
Both were deserving outcomes for the two sides. Sri Lanka were by far the second best team in the tournament and the only team deserving of partnering the Australians in the final.
England on the other hand, had been predictably disappointing and deserved to have been knocked out. The limited overs form of the game is one that England have never truly looked comfortable playing since the World Cup of 1992 where they were overwhelmed by a strong Pakistan side in the final.
Today, just six months later, things could not appear more different. England, for the first time in their history, have won a One Day series in Sri Lanka and their first One-Day series in subcontinental Asia since Stuart Broad’s Dad played in Pakistan under Mike Gatting’s captaincy in 1986/7.
It is a series that has been won with some authority too, despite losing the first match quite convincingly. England’s bowlers have been superb, bowling accurately and to carefully formulated plans and as such have restricted the Sri Lanka top order that was so instrumental in their World Cup successes.
The Sri Lankan opening pair has been one of the most important aspects of their game plan (not to mention the fact that numbers three and four are Kumar Sangakkara and Jayawardene, two of the world’s best batsmen at the moment).
The Jayasuriya/Tharanga pairing has given the innings a fast moving impetus which takes the pressure off the middle order and allows the whole side to play with freedom.
In this series, Jayasuriya and Tharanga have averaged 18 and 16 respectively, meaning that more often than not Kumar Sangakkara is in the action immediately with the pressure of the innings on his shoulders.
The encouraging thing about this series, from an England point of view is that they have succeeded without, for the most part, their main One Day batsmen truly firing.
Alastair Cook has shown he has what it takes in the fourth match with a steady match-winning 80 and Owais Shah deserved his man of the match award for his 82 in the second match.
On the whole though, England’s victories have come more as a result of a strong team effort with each member chipping in when their team has needed it, such as when Broad and Swann chipped in during the 3rd Match to turn the match around and guide England home to victory.
If anything can be said about the impact that Peter Moores’ coaching has had on the England team it is that he has restored a sense of stability that is crucial for the success of any team effort and promotes a strong team ethic.
This is very much as was the case when England won the 2005 Ashes; the England management used the same 11 players for the first four Tests (and only 12 in the entire series). Stability breeds familiarity and confidence in the players as each member of the team is aware of what their duties are and when they need to step up to the plate.
By taking the series 4-1, England had the opportunity to move to 4th place in the international rankings and push Sri Lanka to 7th, a situation that would have seemed very improbable at the culmination of the World Cup but seems to reflect the efforts in the current series.
In another part of the world, Pakistan are playing host to South Africa in a somewhat punctuated tour consisting of 2 Test matches and 5 ODIs. Arguably, it is a tour that has very little significance in the grand scheme of the international arena.
It is however the setting for a somewhat unceremonious departure from the international arena of one of the game’s all time greats: Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Having been out of the side for the first Test of the series, he was recalled for the deciding match to allow him to bow out on his own terms. In the event his last hurrah took place very much in the manner he played his cricket: with a minimum of fuss.
In his two innings, he mustered 14 and 3 as Pakistan clung on for a draw that sealed the series at 1-0 for South Africa. In many ways though, it was a sad exit for one of the greatest batsmen to come out of Pakistan.
Great is an oft overused word in sport but with Inzamam, his contemporaries argue the case for him. In a tribute to his career, some of the most established names in Anil Kumble, Allan Donald, Damien Fleming, Chaminda Vaas and Matthew Hoggard have almost invariably rated him among their Top 5 batsmen that they bowled to.
Another striking endorsement of his talents and versatility is that the variety of shots named by those bowlers as their “Favourite Inzy Shot” from the back foot punch to the straight drive or even the hook and pull shots. All of which, he played with consummate ease always appearing to have all the time in the world.
Pakistan cricket is entering a new era, with a fresh young face as captain in Shoaib Malik and with some exciting new players such as Misbah-ul-Haq making his way after showing he has potential in the Twenty20 World Cup.
That aside, it is never going to be easy to replace a player of such class as Inzamam. Not only was his record as a batsman outstanding but his experience in the dressing room is invaluable and his calm and unflappable captaincy has been a very much under-rated commodity in the past few years.