By Imran Husain
It couldn’t have been simpler on 30th October, the mathematics were dead on. And yet Pakistan cricket suffered one more resounding blow. They made it look so easy in throwing away six wickets for just 17 runs – that too with plenty of overs to spare and absolutely no pressure. And, while at it, they looked like complete buffoons.
At approximately the same time, on the other side, the fourth of five ODIs between India and Australia was being played and everything was just breathtaking. The Aussies thrashed the Indian bowling to reach 351, George Bailey making 150-odd in around 100 deliveries. And the Indians bludgeoned the Aussie attack to make the runs in style, with Dhawan and Kohli rattling up big hundreds. This has been the trend in all the four matches thus, 700 hundred plus runs recorded every match. And in the fifth completed game out of seven too! It has been riveting. Cricket has been the huge winner. I only wish I had watched more of that rather than focus on the Sharjah catastrophe.
Okay. I am not comparing the current Pakistan, India or Australian teams, but I cannot ignore that the approach to the game is completely different. Pakistan is a technically and mentally battered side. It requires a revolution as I have repeatedly written. And all we get is tinkering and pronouncements from would-be reformers who at best were good cricketers and never did a stroke of intellectual work all their lives. Nawaz Sharif dabbled in the game, with umpires lending a helping hand; he even managed a shot against some visiting side, again with a little help from friends. His choice of the board chairman, now and during his previous term, is pathetic.
For me the most pitiful sight was the video clip of Misbah literally tearing his hair out pacing in the dressing room. And he had every right to blow his cool. He has been callously let down, not once, not twice but innumerable times. And the South Africans made it look like snatching candy from a baby. All said and done hats off to Misbah! It has to be a very brave man, with an iron temperament, to lead these jokers out time and again.
The tragedy is nothing will change while Islamabad and Gaddafi Stadium continue to play cricket in the corridors of power rather than letting the game be played on the field. Which sage is this that has designed the structure of the Pakistan team to have six batsmen and four bowlers, with the latter not having an idea on how to hold a bat – forget scoring runs. There are those who will argue that Afridi was the seventh batsman, but that’s a complete hit and miss.
Reviewing the configuration of the other world teams, yes, the Pakistan cricket lacks an all-rounder, essential to all formats of modern cricket. For now, Hafeez is the natural choice. It isn’t important where he bats, even No 7 is ok. He gives you the choice of a fifth bowler, which again all formats require. But the quest for another genuine all-rounder must have priority. And Pakistan’s lower order must have sufficient time at the nets in order not to look like I would have facing the bowlers they are required to. It’s not that our bowlers cannot deliver at 140kph plus, it’s just that they don’t bowl at the tail-enders in the nets so they are not exposed to anything like this and fold like dominoes when tested.
Instead of a positive constant, the team drowns in consistent negativity. The moment the South African score crossed 150, I said to myself it’s getting past the ‘doable’ factor. Why, because this team is unable to muster 175 runs chasing in any form of the game. People hang on to a once in a while performance or a handful of selective performances and expect miracles. This is not the ideal benchmark. Proper teams are selected on averages, on track record. We select on big names, faces and some allegedly ‘historic’ performances. Players are recalled without any valid justification. No particular set of performances while they have been out of the team. Right now all these factors are being questioned and there are no viable answers.
Teams study opponents, plan strategies and then implement these. Against Pakistan, SA is very effective. A case study is Khurram Manzoor: Big 100 on Day one of the first test and the next morning he exhibits vulnerability at the moving ball outside the off stump, a Pakistani malaise. He drives a few uppishly and gets away at first but they persist and finally get him right there. That is the first time. Subsequent three innings they got him within the first few balls, exactly the same way. It was a perfect execution. And no one apparently told him, watch it they are ‘on’ to you. Or if they did he ignored them completely proving he is a glutton for punishment. Either way like Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed, he is ‘done for’ unless he digs deep for a cure. Because the other teams are penciling this in as we speak.
TV channels, comprising of basic nonentities sprouting so-called wisdom in deadly earnest are jabbering on about the coach and the pros and cons of foreign versus local. Look when we talk of a player being talented after he has been in and out of the team for ten years there is something seriously wrong. No coach can do anything unless there is self-help.
Talent forms the first aspect of ‘arrival’. During subsequent consideration, ‘potential’ to succeed takes priority. So a new player comes in who is ‘talented’ and has the ‘potential’. Once he is in the fray that talent must deliver the potential. There is, however, a time limit. No one can remain perpetually talented and thus a rookie. We have a countless number who form this last category. The talented player must achieve the potential and beyond to reach star status.
Small example, Wasim Bari had talent. Muzafar Husain saw him in a match at Cantonment Public School, Karachi and called him to the nets. Seeing the potential he selected him for Karachi and replaced two national wicketkeepers Abdul Qader and Naushad Ali. Bari reached his potential and went way beyond. That is the way it happens. Not ten years of being ‘talented’. This is a waste of potential and time, for both player and selectors.
Victory in the Friday match was a terrific boost. But again the batting scored the barest number of runs to keep the team in play. It was the bowling that was again brilliant. Perhaps this is one limited remedy but based on chance at the toss of the coin. Don’t chase, put on enough runs to pressure the bowlers into getting the opponents out. Someone asked on Facebook what would happen if the Indian batsmen and Pakistani bowlers were in one team? The answer to that brings a smile!
The court decisions with regard to elections of the PCB have generated excitement and adrenaline among a myriad of candidates vying for elections. Among those are some outstanding cricket players, even stars, but it’s the wrong job they are seeking. A cricketer player can at best train or coach a team, that too if he is equipped to deal with psychology, technique, fitness and allied stuff. He cannot be a natural administrator without knowing the “Ps and Qs” of that side. It’s not unfair to ask the question of these would-be leaders what their achievements in their personal life outside cricket over 60 plus years have been. Because surely, as an administrator or CEO that must be a major criteria when interviewed or elected to the job.
But the real remedy lies in a complete overhaul. In building three teams of equal stature and letting these provide a platform for selection. God knows we have the talent, only that the talent does not have access to opportunity. And run the PCB as a corporate entity. Let the players and teams be the assets and the business side be a separate division. Corporate entities don’t have elections; their boards hire the best man for the job. To quote a friend, “In the case of the People vs. Pakistan Cricket Team, the prosecution rests”.