Which pacers should Pakistan choose in the playing XIs for the Tests against Ireland and England?
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Pakistan all-rounder reminisces about the brilliant atmosphere and drama at the 2001 Test match.

By Amir Husain (20th July, 2016)

Picture this beautiful scene in your mind if you are an avid cricket enthusiast: a beautiful summer’s day at the Emirates Old Trafford, replete with a healthy dose of sunshine, a hard and fast cricket pitch ready and waiting for some of the best players in the world to ply their trade, and a knowledgeable but good natured crowd waiting patiently for the sound of bat on ball. Add to that the prospect of seeing two top Test playing nations in the shape of England and Pakistan, engrossed in an intense battle for supremacy which ebbs and flows over five glorious days of cricket and you will understand why the second Test match of the upcoming series holds such importance in the eyes of cricket lovers.

Pakistan may have had the ascendency in the recent past due to back-to-back victories in the UAE but if England’s current form, as witnessed in their recent demolition of a hapless Sri Lanka side are any indicators, the series has the potential to be a blockbuster.

Whilst the actions of some during Pakistan’s previous tour of England in 2010 may not have left a pretty picture in the views of purists, there is little doubt that in terms of magical talent, there are few teams which bring so much joy to cricket fans the world over.

From the inspirational ‘Cornered Tiger’ traditions of Imran Khan to the artistry of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, coupled with the ‘street fighting’ skills of Javed Miandad or the sublime touch of Zaheer Abbas, Pakistan teams of yore have presented fans in England, and especially those at Old Trafford, with some great sights over the years.

One of the many Pakistan players to have entertained crowds at Old Trafford in the past is all-rounder Azhar Mahmood, who in 2001 played in one of the most closely fought battles between the two countries. Like many who watched the two match Test series with intense interest will recall, the teams went into the second and final Test match at Old Trafford with the home-side in the ascendency after their sweeping innings victory at Lord’s.

The Test match at Old Trafford was to become one of the most memorable encounters between both teams as Azhar recalls “I remember that Test series really well as it was a closely fought one where the teams shared the honours with a 1-1 draw. We had lost the game at Lord’s so a lot was riding on this game.”

The match began with a somewhat surprising but excellent batting performance by the visitors as they put up an impressive 403 runs in the first innings. England then responded with 357 in their reply and after bowling out Pakistan for 323 in the second innings on the 4th day, were faced with a total of 370 to win the match. Mike Atherton and Marcus Trescothick then took England to a safe position by the end of the fourth day on 85/0, thus setting up a grand-finale on the last day of the series. To Azhar Mahmood, few games could parallel the feeling as the game in Manchester ended with a fantastic Pakistan victory brought on by some wonderful skills from the Pakistan bowlers.

“The game itself was a tense one as it went all the way to the fifth day. It had lots of ups and downs and a few controversies as well but that always adds an extra something to England versus Pakistan games. For me personally, it was a memorable match for a few reasons. One reason of course was the fact that we won it on the last day from a point where it appeared that Mike Atherton and Marcus Trescothick had all but saved the game for England, but it was also the last Test match I played for Pakistan.”

With a bowling attack that could dismantle any batting line-up at its whim, it was no wonder that even with time running out on the final day, Pakistan always felt that they could come back into the game as Azhar stated “The whole team contributed to this victory which was a great feeling. Waqar Younis made the initial breakthrough in that second innings and once he opened the door, in charged Wasim Akram and Abdul Razzaq but the star of the day was Saqlain Mushtaq with four wickets to take the game for Pakistan. I batted well in that match and also ran out Ian Ward. Whilst there are many teams which would have felt the game was slipping away with England sitting comfortably on 146-0, we knew that we had a never-say-die attitude which was backed by a bowling attack comprising of some world-class names. Our captain Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq, Abdul Razzaq and myself all bowled well in that game and Pakistan squared the series with a brilliant bowling performance on the fifth and final day of the game. With us facing defeat in a match which we had to win and England on 174-1 at one point on the final day, to win the match by 108 runs and draw the series provided inspiration for many generations to come.”

A Test match to treasure forever for the die-hard fans of the game is what was played in 2001 in Manchester but without an atmosphere to match the brilliance of both sides at Old Trafford, the spectacle would have been lost forever in the history books. Azhar feels honoured to have played a game of such intensity in front of an audience which he feels was equal in its enthusiasm to the efforts of the teams.

“The atmosphere at Old Trafford that day was simply electric. The tension in the air was reminiscent of any of our classic India-Pakistan encounters. It was an edge of the seat affair and every single ball bowled and shot played during those crucial hours was being watched by thousands with rapt attention at Old Trafford throughout that match.”

In 2016, England and Pakistan are all set to continue the fine tradition of intense competition from 22nd to 26th July at Old Trafford. Memories of the 2001 encounter does make Azhar nostalgic about his last Test but he knows that when the Pakistan tourists play in Manchester next, they will do so at a venue which is no stranger to great performances by cricketers from all generations “I played my last match for Pakistan at Old Trafford but the memory I will always treasure as a player will be the fantastic game of cricket which was played in front of a great crowd at an equally brilliant venue which made it even more enjoyable. All in all, some happy memories of this game in Manchester”, he concluded.