Pakistan Snapshots - Part 2

13 May

From Photo: Donald MacLeod

Scotland v Pakistan logoScotland v Pakistan -  May 17/19 2013

Neil Drysdale 

Cricket Scotland writer Neil Drysdale brings us another instalment of his memories of Scottish tussles against Pakistan.

 

TROUBLE WITH THE RAWALPINDI EXPRESS AND A THRILLER IN GLASGOW

Craig Wright still remembers the afternoon when he and his fellow Saltires collided with the Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar, performing at full throttle in Edinburgh. It happened on July 7, 2003 when the Scots met Durham, whom they had defeated in their previous encounter in the National Cricket League at the Riverside. The home supporters were, if not exactly abrim with confidence, at least reasonably optimistic. The hosts were in pretty buoyant shape, their batting had been bolstered by the recruitment of Indian maestro, Rahul Dravid, and the visitors were minus the likes of their international duo, Paul Collingwood and Steve Harmison. Could another victory be on the cards?

Erm, that would be a no.

Instead, it turned into a wretched experience for most of the Saltires, whose initial decent effort with the ball was undone by an excellent knock of 87 from Gordon Muchall and some extravagant late-innings cameos from Gary Pratt – who later earned fleeting fame for running out Ricky Ponting in controversial circumstances during the 2005 Ashes series – and Akhtar, who pounded 14 from seven balls as Durham posted 267 for 7.

At the interval, some of us reckoned it wasn’t an impossible chase, and especially if stalwarts such as Ryan Watson, Colin Smith and Dougie Lockhart could offer support to Dravid. But Wright, who had noticed some zip in the pitch throughout his typically effective nine-over spell of one for 34, had misgivings about what might ensue if Akhtar – the most explosive paceman on the planet – displayed his full potential. An hour later, with Scotland on six for 5, the rest of us realised just how destructive he could be.

Watson was the first to depart, swiftly followed by Greig Williamson, both to the Pakistan merchant of menace, with the score on 1. Then, as Akhtar built up a genuinely frightening head of steam, he removed Lockhart and Jon Kent, while Neil Killeen accounted for Dravid at the other end and half the Saltires were gone for half-a-dozen runs. As Wright recalls: “Not only were we up against the fastest bowler in the world, but, for some reason, the quickest and bounciest wicket I have ever seen at the Grange had been prepared for that match (and Shoaib was fired up that day, compared to other occasions when we played against him, when he didn’t look interested.)

“It was certainly one of the more “interesting” batting experiences of my career. I remember walking to the crease and envisaging the potential headlines – “Scotland bowled out for 10!” – the following morning. But, thankfully, Majid [Haq] and I managed some sort of rearguard action and that concern was averted.”

Indeed, after the home ensemble had slumped to 32 for 7, the Saltires pair restored a decent amount of respectability with a fighting partnership of 90, with Wright striking five 4s in a defiant 43 and Haq belying his lowly No 9 berth with an unbeaten 55 which featured seven 4s and a 6, as he and James Brinkley (21) guided their personnel past 150: a total which had seemed unthinkable while Akhtar hogged centre stage. Ultimately, Durham prevailed by 114 runs, but one man dominated the proceedings and sent out the chilling message to his opponents: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”

Scotland v PakistanExactly a month earlier, Wright and his colleagues served up a considerably better display when they confronted Pakistan in front of a packed crowd at Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow. Even today, nearly a decade later, there is an understandable sense of frustration in Wright’s voice when he maintains: “We should have beaten them.”

Granted, there was little indication that a surprise might be on the cards when Rashid Latif won the toss and inserted the Scots. Soon enough, Watson was dismissed for two, then, to the horror of the home aficionados, Dravid perished first ball, caught behind from a brute of a delivery by Shabbir Ahmed. That made it five for 2 and, although Wright’s confreres kept scrapping away and there were hard-earned 20s and 30s from Williamson (36), Gregor Maiden (31), Kent (27) and Smith (26), they could never really break the stranglehold imposed by their adversaries, with Shoaib Malik taking three wickets and conceding just 17 runs in 10 overs as the innings petered out on 169. It looked inadequate and the fact Kyle Coetzer and Wright spent 59 balls in mustering 12 runs between them testified to the travails which the underdogs faced in trying to raise the tempo.

However, these players had a deep-rooted pride and passion in fighting for their country and anybody who imagined Pakistan’s Test-class line-up would canter to their target was soon disabused of that notion. Instead, with the Scottish attack unleashing a potent blend of penetration and parsimony, they dragged their team back into contention.

Paul Hoffmann swiftly got rid of Mohammad Hafeez, Kent accounted for Yasir Hameed,

and when Wright dislodged the dangerous Imran Nazir for a pugnacious 38 and followed that up by having Younis Khan caught behind cheaply, the tourists had slipped to 60 for 4 and any thoughts this might develop into a gentle warm-up fixture had been cast to the wind. Mohammad Yousuf was devoid of his usual fluency, yet when he nudged and nurdled his side past 100, it appeared Pakistan were gradually gaining ascendancy. But then, suddenly, he was undone by Kent, and with Bilal Asad subsequently falling to Ian Stanger, the outcome was sill very much in doubt as tension enveloped the ground.

Unfortunately, from a Caledonian perspective, Shoaib Malik was replicating his heroics, this time with the bat, and, together with Rashid, the duo advanced the score to 157 for 6. It looked a forlorn cause for Wright’s brigade, and yet, when Latif was run out for 26, the balance shifted again, especially once Wright and Watson pounced to dismiss Shabbir and Umar Gul for two and 0 respectively. In an instant, the implausible has become distinctly possible: the tourists were on the precipice at 165 for 9 and still required another five runs to avoid an unprecedented defeat to their Associate rivals.

Dravid told me later: “I felt annoyed with myself, because if I could have scored even 20 or 30, it would have been enough to change the result. But that is taking nothing away from the Scottish boys, who put in a terrific effort and came so close to an upset.”

Malik, however, was not to be denied, finishing on 52 not out, while the now-disgraced Danish Kaneria struck a boundary to release the pressure, prior to punching the air in triumph. But it had been a hard-fought success, one where the whole Scottish XI produced something or other to demonstrate the esprit des crops in their ranks.

“We realised that we didn’t have many runs to defend, but we backed ourselves to make life tough for any opponents and they knew that they had been in a contest by the end,” said Wright. “Hopefully, the lads can go one better this week in Edinburgh.”

Let’s all drink to that!

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