London: A rare sight was beheld on the last day of the Lord’s Test.
Not England collapsing against a wrist-spinner — that has been common through the ages — nor their middle-order disintegrations, which have been their leitmotif this year.
It was the appearance of Pakistan supporters — perhaps a thousand — which was different, and potentially so significant.
It seemed to confirm not just the rebirth of Pakistani cricket as a major Test force, but also a reforging of the bond between the team and their vast swathes of expatriate supporters.
It is rare for them to turn up to a Test match, whether in England or Pakistan or their exiled home in the UAE.
Most are too busy working to take several days off at a time, and save their money for tickets to Pakistan’s One Day Internationals or T20s.
This misapprehension was the expensive mistake that Yorkshire made in 2010 when bidding to host the Test between Australia and Pakistan at Headingley.
It was a fascinating match, which included the first Test innings of note by Steve Smith and was decided by the superb swing bowling of Mohammad Amir and his partner in more than one respect, Mohammad Asif.
But it cost Yorkshire, who had expected half of Bradford to attend, about 1million pounds (Dh4.8 million).
Pakistan supporters have always flocked to Old Trafford for their country’s ODIs, but will they do so for the second Test, which starts Friday?
The prevailing pattern could begin to change, because this Pakistan team are not only winning but doing everything they can to rehabilitate their image after the spot-fixing scandal of 2010.
Even if Pakistan do not go on to win this series, Misbah-ul-Haq is establishing himself as Pakistan’s greatest Test captain, although Imran Khan is unchallenged as their finest one-day captain for winning the World Cup of 1992.
Like Hercules, Misbah has cleaned the stables.
On tours of England, Pakistan’s cricketers have always been the most elusive — even more so than India’s — as far as the media are concerned.
On this occasion, with the emphasis on diplomacy, the tourists have employed a public-relations consultant and, while Amir has been largely shielded, the other players have been encouraged to give interviews.
Best of all, Pakistan won a memorable game at Lord’s through their superior skills.
And their celebration in front of the pavilion should not be misconstrued.
Almost every spectator thought it was original and fun when Younus Khan led the players in doing press-ups, to convey their thanks to the army for their training camp.
If England did not like it, it was because they were sore, inevitably so after underperforming.
Two initiatives suggest that even when this tour is over, the role of British Asian cricket in England will be enhanced.
Two players of Pakistani origin are in England’s squad for Old Trafford, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid. There must be many more where they came from, and not only spinners, although England need them most.
Firstly, the AYA Foundation — a community organisation that specialises in promoting minority heritage, arts and culture — has been awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to work with young people from across West Yorkshire to record interviews and collect memorabilia from the founders of the Quaid E Azam Sunday Cricket League.
Mobeen Butt, projects director at the AYA Foundation, said: “The Quaid E Azam League has been running for nearly four decades. Players from these Asian cricket leagues are now being scouted by county cricket clubs and have even gone on to play for England. I believe the way black and mixed-race players and audiences have changed the face of football, Asian players and supporters could go on to change the face of cricket — and, when this happens, the material that a project like this collects will be vital to help tell a wider story of cricket in Britain.” It is to be hoped these researchers can trace a historic match played around 1980. Yorkshire second XI put up a team to play a Quaid E Azam XI — and lost. The fixture was never repeated. But how many bridges could have been built if it had become a regular fixture, one which showcased the best Asian talent for Yorkshire to pick from? The second initiative is the National Asian Cricket Council. Around one-third of all recreational cricketers in England and Wales are of south Asian origin, yet only five per cent of county cricketers. This body was set up in November 2014 to find out why, among other issues. On July 27, the England and Wales Cricket Board will consider at their board meeting a paper from the NACC which proposes working together. For example, when the recreational board of a county meets, should not two regional representatives of the NACC attend, so they can hear about courses for umpires or coaches or groundsmen, and report to their communities? The vast majority of south Asian cricketers have to play on poor pitches, in parks, prepared by councils with ever-diminishing budgets. Should the ECB not be urging all clubs that have their own grounds to rent them out to Asian teams whenever possible — and perhaps subsidise the cost of hiring? That would be a legacy from Pakistan’s tour this summer which would endure for the benefit of all.
Probable teams and officials for the second Test between England and Pakistan at Old Trafford on Friday:
England (probable): Alastair Cook (capt), Alex Hales, Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow (wkt), Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
Pakistan (probable): Mohammad Hafeez, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (capt), Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed (wkt), Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah, Rahat Ali
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI), Rod Tucker (AUS)
TV umpire: Joel Wilson (WIS)
Match referee: Richie Richardson