On Thursday the First Test between England and Pakistan will take place at Lords and based on their last two tours of England, could there be more controversy in the offing? A lot of talk in the build up to the series is regarding the return to Test Cricket of Mohammad Amir. In 2010 Amir and his fellow bowler and then captain Salman Butt were implicated in a spot-fixing scandal which involved deliberately bowling no-balls. His return as courted controversy with some pundits and ex-players including Graeme Swann feel he should have been banned for life for damaging the morality of the game. Although Pakistan will be hoping for the series to pass without controversy, it is hard to see the series passing quietly especially if Amir has a successful return to Test Cricket it will only spark the debate around cheats in the sport. Should they be rehabilitated and allowed back in the sport or should they be banned for life. Former England cricketers James Taylor and Graeme Swann certainly believe he shouldn’t play again and Swann was even quoted stating he will feel sick when he sees him line up at the home of Cricket.
However, the spot fixing scandal of 2010 is not the only scandal that has involved England and Pakistan. The 2006 series was also shrouded in controversy during the fourth test when umpires Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove deemed that the Pakistani team had been tampering with the ball and awarded England 5 runs and offered a replacement ball. This lead to Pakistan refusing to take to the field after tea which lead to the umpires removing the bails and awarding the Test to England. I was the first Test to be decided by forfeit.
The Pakistan squad that are preparing for the First Test will be hoping for a much less controversial tour this time around and with the two left arm pace bowlers of Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir expected to be a tough test for the England batting line up which despite their recent good form and series wins against South Africa and Sri Lanka. England have notoriously struggled against pacey left arm bowlers and the conditions in England should suit Riaz and Amir against a vulnerable England top order.
Alongside some of the most exciting pace bowlers, they also have Yasir Shah. Shah is a spin bowler of genuine quality and his record of 76 wickets in only 12 Tests is hugely impressive. The one question mark against Shah is he has never played a Test outside of Asia. However, Shah does have some experience of English conditions having played club Cricket for Middlesbrough in 2010. During his time in England, Shah would often bowl incredibly long spells which helped him to hone his skills and learn not only how to contain batsman but also to take wickets at a regular interval like the all the best spinners in history have been able to do. Shah has been able to succeed in the Test arena after his predecessor Saeed Ajmal was banned due to his illegal action. Ajmal caused havoc to the England side in the United Arab Emirates in 2012 and if Shah can have even a little bit of the success Ajmal achieved it could be a hard summer for the England side.
So, as the series between England and Pakistan is ready to begin it is likely to be an exhilerating series between two sides with exciting pace attacks, a world class spinner and some of the best batsman of the current generation. Both of these sides like to play on the edge so expect it to be a fiery encounter with two captains, Alastair Cook and Misbah-Ul-Haq whose style is to calm situations down which may be easier said than done with the weight of controversy a burden on both sides.