Saturday, August 12, 2006

Pakistan Cricket - Brawns without Brains

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another thrilling encounter between Pakistan and archrivals India. Pakistan has been playing some exceptional cricket of late and are the out-and-out favourites to win this vital clash. Their ace quickie has been bowling exceptionally well and has single-handedly taken Pakistan to victory in many a recent match.
The lightening fast bowler is the biggest threat to India and they must be hoping to see him off without losing too many wickets and here he comes, steaming in from the pavilion end and …… he’s been dispatched for a boundary on his very first ball.

(Halfway through the match)

The Indian team is well and truly on top at the moment. The Pakistani spearhead hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations today. He has gone for plenty and is still wicketless but Pakistan “seems” to have no other choice but to persist with him.

This is a typical Pakistan match, when the captain and the coach devise a fail-safe strategy before the match and as long as things go as premeditated, Pakistan can never lose the match. This strategy though is the only thing that the captain takes with him onto the playing field. Normally the strategy is quite impeccable and provided things go as planned, you can put all your money on Pakistan. But the problem arises when the stars decide to take a different path. So fifteen overs into the match, the captain suddenly realizes that nothing is going as designed but then, the captain neither has a ‘plan B’ nor he can think of one there and then. Consequently, in most cases, the captain just sticks to his original plan or desperately makes such irrational changes that the savvy viewer is left spellbound.

We’ve been hearing for ages that what Pakistan needs to match the likes of Australia or South Africa is a good cricket infrastructure but I beg to differ. A better infrastructure is definitely going to help by giving the captain a better set of players to march onto the field but then what. There has to be somebody who knows the art of getting the best out of the players that he has.

Cricket is a profound ‘science’ in itself and it’s not an ordinary man’s job to tackle the subtle twists and turns the game offers. The captain not only has to be an exemplary leader but he has to understand the nitty-gritty of the sport as well (that is of course in addition to being a great cricketer). Lately, Pakistan has failed to find the right man for the job. This is something that has hurt us ever since Imran Khan left the team in ’92. Maybe he set the pole of expectations a bit too high for his followers to surmount.

Wasim Akram is probably the only successor to Imran’s throne who came close but then he was lucky in the regard that he always had a superb group of players at his disposal. The umpteen other captains we’ve had since lifting the world cup have failed to deliver as a leader. The only other person in this epoch who showed some signs of the requisite killer instincts was Aamir Sohail who handled the team exceptionally well in his short stint as captain. One can not forget that match against Sri Lanka in Singapore when chasing a modest 210 runs, Jayasuriya hit the fastest ever half century to post 100 runs on the board in under 10 overs. Pakistan was down and out but Aamir Sohail didn’t lose hope and used his bowlers remarkably well to successfully defend the timid score.

The likes of Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq along with a host of others have not been up to the scratch. They have failed to handle crunch situations and have succumbed to pressure time and again. The real test of a captain is to lead his side when the opposition is on top and the players are underperforming and these are the times when most Pakistan captains have failed to deliver.

But it’s not only the captains who are to be blamed for not having enough ‘brains’ to go with their ‘brawns’, the problem starts above them in the hierarchy with the selectors and the administrators.

It seems that the selectors have got the basic idea wrong. The criterion they seem to adopt while picking a player from the domestic level is probably the number of wickets taken or the runs scored by him. At first blush, this idea doesn’t seem absurd at all because it’s the runs and the wickets that count at the end of the day but it’s not always the best player who makes the most runs or bags the most wickets. Also, if one is to choose a player based only on statistics and numbers, why do we need selectors at all. The selectors are supposed to be ultra-cricket-savvy-souls who can judge, or sense, the ability of a player rather than his performance. They are supposed to judge a player based on his technique rather than the medals he has garnered.

Even after the selectors have made their selections based on whatever criteria they use, they don’t back them up. They give most players a run of only two or three matches which is never enough. One might ask the dear selectors that if you’ve selected someone and if you’ve deemed him suitable enough to play at the summit level, you must put some faith in him and must give him a reasonably long run to allow him to prove his mettle without bearing the fear that one or two bad performances can mean an end to his international career. He must be given ample time before the selectors admit that they’ve made a mistake in judging him and he was better off playing at a lower level.

I remember seeing Rahul Dravid and Marvan Atapattu in their early days. Neither of them could make it to double figures in their first few matches but their selectors had faith in them and today, they are two of the most dependable batsmen with the best of techniques. Had Atapattu been a Pakistani, I presume he’d have had only 3 or 4 international matches to his credit.

So, it seems that what Pakistani cricket needs the most is a few cricketing brains; people with profound cricketing acumen who can add the ‘brains’ to the profuse raw talent that the Pakistan team is brimming with. Hope we get some soon.

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