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Pakistan to rely on unity and spirit at England

Published: Tuesday, July 11, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Karachi:Pakistan cricket can be a cruel game for players and administrators alike.

If a good performance can bring instant accolades and rewards, a poor result can lead to heads rolling and management changes.

No one knows this better than captain Inzamam-ul-Haq as Pakistan prepare for Thursday's first Test against England at Lord's.

The 36-year-old veteran of 109 Tests and 362 One-day internationals faces another pressure situation before a challenging series against England.

Not for the first time he has to contend with fitness problems among his main players and deal with critics sceptical about his team's chances of securing their fourth series win in England since 1987.

He has seen all this before after taking over as captain in November 2003 from wicketkeeper Rashid Latif who quit, fed up with the politics in Pakistan cricket.

Since Inzamam took on the role, Pakistan have won 10 Tests and their last three Test series.

Labelled a poor tactician and a lazy man with age catching up on him, Inzamam has led by example with some sublime innings changing not only the playing pattern of the team but also the fabric within the side with help from coach Bob Woolmer.

The outcome has been that Pakistan have not lost their last five series, beating England and India at home last winter and defeating Sri Lanka in their own back yard.

This success has been based on Inzamam's easy working relationship with the coach and the respect he commands from his players.

Since they were drubbed 3-0 by Australia in early 2005, Pakistan have developed the habit of fighting back in helpless situations and turning losing causes into winning ones even without their best players.

Strike bowler Shoaib Akhtar has missed three of their last five Test rubbers due to fitness problems.

''It is all about team spirit. If every player feels part of the team the results will always be good,'' Woolmer told reporters recently.

''And I give Inzamam a lot of credit for developing this spirit.

He is good at communicating and wants nothing less than 100 percent.'' The Pakistan Cricket Board has helped by having faith in the captain and coach since 2004 despite some poor results which in the past would have led to rapid changes.

Pakistan have changed eight coaches and eight captains since 1995 with Wasim Akram and Javed Miandad having three separate stints as captain and coach respectively.

The present side might not command the same talent as other Pakistan teams that travelled to England in the 1980s and 1990s, winning series in 1987, 1992 and 1996, but they play as a unit.

Inzamam (8,266 Test runs), Mohammad Yousuf (5,106) and Younis Khan (3,555) provide the backbone with consistent scores.

They will again be in the forefront in England.

With Akhtar struggling since January, newcomer Mohammad Asif has stepped in to take 25 wickets in five Tests and leg spinner Danish Kaneria is happy to keep churning away.

Both of them will again be Pakistan's main hopes until Akhtar or Rana Naved can rejoin the team.

Pakistan's biggest problem is the opening pair. They have experimented with several combinations since the retirements of Anwar and Aamer Sohail.

Inzamam and Woolmer, though, are both satisfied with all rounder Shoaib Malik's progress as a makeshift opener and he is expected to open with either Salman Butt or Imran Farhat.

It is in the all-rounder department that Pakistan excel, with the explosive Shahid Afridi, Malik and Abdul Razzaq combining with the batting of wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal.

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