Monday, January 16, 2012

Pakistan vs England- 'Not Quite Kissing Cousins' By James Corrigan

Contests between Pakistan and England are the stuff of legend and always have been. It’s clear that a tense and violent political history provides a dramatic backdrop to the cultural heritage of these clashes. England is the birthplace of the game that we love but also the former colonial master of all the other test-playing nations. Although the echoes of the British Empire are barely relevant to a twenty-first century United Kingdom, grappling with its own place in the modern world; whether it’s within Europe or not and whether it even wants to be one country anymore, Pakistan still feels the impact of the end of Empire within brutal, living memory. The end of colonial rule in 1947, the horror and suffering of Partition and latterly Britain’s role within Nato represent to many Pakistanis the continuing imperialist domination of “The West” and its specific cultural stance over the developing nations, themselves coming to terms with their place in the brave new world. In many ways, England’s and Pakistan’s shared history means they are cousins; but third cousins twice removed at least.

Against this background comes one of the spiciest and most absorbing contests in the test cricket calendar. Bristling with adrenaline, presence and mutual suspicion, it’s played out against a background where few series, if not matches, have not been the subject of controversy.
Accusations of umpiring bias, ball tampering, unsporting conduct and, as we all know, spot-fixing, cross the history of these two sides like blade marks from the sword of Zorro. Both sides have historically played hard to win and the tension and spirit of that can spill over dramatically into personal issues played out across the wicket. When Pakistan refused to take the field over ball-tampering allegations in the fourth test in 2006, it was a low point for the spirit of the game, equal to the infamous Trevor Chappell underarm delivery in 1981. Tensions rumbled on between the sides, spilling over again in 2010 with the News of the World spot-fixing allegations marring the fourth test at Lord’s. 

With the sides now declaring that the past is behind them and the spot-fixers successfully convicted, the two teams meet once more on semi-neutral territory in the first series since the new age of détente between these two long-standing foes. But despite the words and gestures of reconciliation between the captains at their joint press conference and the media charm offensive, only the most naïve would believe that the moment cricket spike is thrust into imported Pakistani soil in the Ring of Fire Stadium in Dubai, that the heart will beat harder beneath those whites, the pulse will race faster beneath the sweat bands and the resolve will be as great as it has ever been to prove a point to the old enemy twenty-two yards away down a sun-baked track.

With England occupying the summit of the rankings both statistically and in reality; and Pakistan eager to show all the spirit of a team on the up, whose rapidly improving form in 2011 has been questioned in some quarters by the quality of the opposition presented to them, this has all the ingredients for one of the most exciting contests between these two sides. Anything can happen and possibly will happen once the umpires call “play” in an absorbing and anticipated series. Even if you’re a neutral supporter of neither team, you’ll find it hard to ignore the lighting of a blue touchpaper and the display that it could deliver.

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