Pakistan v England: Spot-fixing a blessing in disguise, says Ramiz Raja

By Justin GouldingBBC Sport
Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez
Pakistan have lost only one of their 12 Tests since the spot-fixing affair

Former captain Ramiz Raja claims Pakistan have the spot-fixing scandal to thank for their recent resurgence.

Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir are serving jail terms for conspiring to bowl no-balls during the Lord's Test against England in 2010.

Since that fateful day, Pakistan have won series against New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

"Pakistan cricket was jolted to the core but spot-fixing turned out to be a real good tonic," Raja told BBC Sport.

"People got a shock when these guys were put behind bars. It was a dark chapter in Pakistan's cricket history but that got them moving in the right direction."

Pakistan have spent the last 18 months repairing their battered reputation, and performances on the pitch have gone a considerable way to helping achieve that.

"They realised they had to win all the matches all the time to win back the disillusioned fans and restore credibility," said Raja, the former skipper who will be part of the Test Match Special commentary team for the Test series against England in the UAE starting on Tuesday.

"They learned the hard way. I'm very surprised how quickly they have improved but spot-fixing turned out to be a real good tonic."

Much has been made of England's rise to the top of the International Cricket Council Test rankings, but it is less well known that Pakistan won as many matches - six - as Andrew Strauss's side in 2011.

While Raja claims the issue of spot-fixing is still discussed in Pakistan "every now and then", he speaks with obvious pride when he reports that the country's cricketers are now "making the headlines for all the right reasons".

"I have seen the team progress remarkably well in the last 12 months," said Raja, who played 57 Tests and 198 one-day internationals between 1984 and 1997.

"They may not have beaten the best sides in the world but after what happened to them last year it's a great achievement.

"Pakistan cricket has matured and the players realise the importance of playing the game as it should."

Misbah-ul-Haq, Butt's successor as captain, deserves much of the credit for transforming the side's fortunes, according to Raja, who also points to greater stability behind the scenes at a Pakistan Cricket Board that has often appeared shambolic.

"His captaincy has had a calm influence on the players. He sets good examples and his own game has improved by a mile," added Raja, referring to a Test batting average touching 76 since Misbah's appointment.

"It was an important phase that was handled manfully by everybody - the captain, the board and the players."

Raja echoes the thoughts of England and Pakistan players alike when he predicts there will be no ill feeling from the spot-fixing affair during the three-Test series, although he is keen to stress that will not translate into a lack of competitiveness.

"I don't think the teams will get into the situation where they will punch each other out outside the stadium, but I expect England to be feisty," he said.

"They're the best Test side in the world. They've got their reputation to protect and they won't give Pakistan an easy way out.

"England challenge the faculties. They challenge your temperament and they challenge your ability to be consistent over a five-day period. But I don't think Pakistan will break up easily.

"They have been upwardly mobile and England have beaten the best. That is what people want - competition with the top teams."