How Pakistan turned from a fielding joke to one of the best sides in the world

On Saturday afternoon at Lord’s, Joe Root played a beautiful square cut into the ground. Fielding at backward point, Imam-ul-Haq dived to intercept the ball with his outstretched arms, and grabbed the ball cleanly. In a split-second of athleticism, four runs became none, prompting the entire Pakistan team to run to give Imam a high five.

It was a microcosm of the transformation in Pakistan’s fielding. Imam, like all of Pakistan’s young players, is dynamic in the field; rewind 15 years, and his uncle, the brilliant batsman Inzamam, would reach down to field balls with the air of a man rather insulted at being asked to do so. 

After an England Test defeat as abject as Lord’s, fingers have inevitably been pointed at Twenty20 – for England’s shoddy shot selection, the marginalisation of the County Championship, and probably the inclement May weather too. But ask Pakistan about the impact of T20, and their answer will be very different: the shortest format has done more than anything else to improve the standards of Pakistani fielding. 

To understand the roots of Pakistan’s brilliant fielding performance at Lord’s – when they did not drop a single catch and, until a couple of pieces of poor ground fielding on the third evening, barely missed a ball either – it is necessary to understand the impact that the Pakistan Super League has had on cricket in the country.