Wednesday, 22 September 2010

That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger

At last it's over. We can say goodbye to Pakistan and pretend the whole sorry saga never happened.

But we shouldn't, because in the midst of all that's gone on England have been genuinely impressive. It's not so much their actual cricketing skill that has impressed, although they have on the whole played very good cricket. It's more to do with the way they've coped with being innocent bystanders in one of the most toxic scandals ever to hit any sport, let alone cricket.

Last summer this team just about managed to prise the Ashes away from Australia, then over the winter they just, by the skin of their teeth, managed to draw the Test series with South Africa. It was no great surprise that we spanked Bangladesh home and away, but it was very much a surprise that Collingwood managed to captain us to our first tournament win in the T20 World Cup. After all, England aren't supposed to be good at the shorter versions of the game, but if that wasn't enough we beat Australia in three consecutive ODIs to win that series as well.

On then to the series against Pakistan, a team one hoped would give England a good run for their money, especially after beating Australia at the Oval. As it turned out, they seemed to buckle in the face of England's bowling attack, with England scoring more in their first innings than Pakistan managed in their first three, and that, remember, with many of England's key batsmen misfiring badly. Brilliant bowling from Ajmal and Amir won the third test for Pakistan, and Amir looked to have gone a long way towards winning the Lords test when he took six wickets to reduce England to 102 for 7 after less than 40 overs. Of course, Trott and Broad's epic stand of 332 runs in just over 7 hours, followed by Pakistan's pathetic 74 all out in reply put paid to that, but then on the third evening everything comes tumbling down.

I won't go through it all, there's simply no point. The thing I want to emphasise is the way in which the England team have behaved since that evening. Their own hard-earned achievements were brought into question, and most of the World's media was there to question it. Every news bulletin, every front page, and virtually everyone they spoke to was there to remind them what was being alleged. And yet they conducted themselves in the most exemplary way. They did their talking on the pitch, or failing that left it to the staff and Andrew Strauss, who himself showed a quality of leadership, diplomacy and discretion that deserves the highest praise.

As if that wasn't enough, the situation was made even worse thanks to the monumentally idiotic intervention if Ijaz Butt after the third ODI, and at last the pressure began to show. England the next match, and Jonathan Trott became involved in a pre-match altercation with Riaz. However, this is the only time anyone within the England camp has let the pressure show throughout the whole nasty business, and frankly, I can't blame him.

On to the Rose Bowl, and the winning moment shows just what an extraordinary experience the team has been through. In a brilliant second innings, England seemed to take all the anger, the stress, the hurt and channel it into bowling their best, fielding their best, beating Pakistan and winning the series. The scenes of delirium amongst the England players when the final wicket fell tells you all you need to know: Here's a team that for a month has been confronted with possibly the greatest pressure and stress an English team has ever had to face, who've had their hard work belittled and their character and integrity brought into question, and at the end they have come through with their own character and team spirit not weakened but in fact significantly strengthened. At last, a weight has been lifted.

Now bring on the Aussies - we'll never be more ready for them.

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