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The entire Pakistani nation takes pride in their cricket team being “unpredictable”. One can be happy about winning a match from an unfavourable situation, but cannot be upbeat about losing a match from a favourable and strong position. When both get accepted as being “unpredictable”, that is likely to impact on the psyche of individual players and the captains

Photo Source: The Express Tribune

D. Suba Chandran
Professor
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

Pakistan lost the fifth and final one day cricket match in Australia on 26 January 2016 at Adelaide. Australia had already won the five matches one day series (4-1), and white washed Pakistan in the three match test series held earlier between 15 December 2016 and 7 January 2017. Barring the single win in Melbourne on 15 January, Pakistan had lost all but one of the eight matches it played in Australia during the last seven weeks.

Australia is strong team, especially at home. But, this team led by Steve Smith had its own problems when the series started. It has more new comers, especially batsmen. The batting line up that won the matches for Australia was inexperienced and almost unrecognizable. Despite, Australia succeeded in winning test matches with a huge margin (except the first test match at Brisbane in December 2016).

What went wrong with the Pakistani test and one day teams in Australia? To be fair to Misbah, Pakistan’s record in Australia since 1999 in the test matches was dismal. The last three series (1999-2000, 2004-2005 and 2009-2010) that Pakistan played in Australia were a complete white wash. However, this team (both test and one day) has few problems that would link to the larger problem with the Pakistani Cricket back at home.

Missing Bowlers: Where is the famed Pakistani Pace & Spin? 
Pakistan has always been known for its fearsome pace attack since the days of Imran Khan. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoib Akhtar followed. All four could win the matches independently on their own; as a team, they were lethal and un-battable. The above was complemented by spin bowling – both off and leg, by some of the legends in Pakistan’s cricketing history - Abdul Qadir, Saqlain Mushtaq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi. Between the above Greats - pacers and spinners, Pakistan also had fast bowlers such as Aqib Javed, Umar Gul and Mohammad Sami; they provided support and on a given day will totally change the direction of the match with one or two spells.

Pakistan’s present team lacks the above, especially pace bowlers. Perhaps, that is the reason they could do well in the recent matches held in UAE but could not repeat the same in Australia. The spin friendly turfs helped Pakistan overcome the declining pace bowlers in UAE, but the problem was exposed in Australia.

Consider the three test matches Pakistan played in Australia. Australia had to bat only five times to win all the three matches. And only once, Pakistan could take all ten Australian wickets, that too after the latter scoring 420 plus runs in the first innings at the Gabba in Brisbane. Australia’s scores in the three matches (429 & 202 for 5; 624 for 8; 538 for 6 and 241 for 2) would underline the inability of Pakistani bowlers to take wickets. In the three test matches, the Australian bowlers managed to take 59 wickets, whereas Pakistani bowlers could take only 35 wickets.  

The five one day matches followed a similar pattern. Australia’s scores in the five ODIs include: 268 for 9; 220 all out; 265 for 3; 353 for 6; and 369 for 6. And the only match that Pakistan won in the series was the second one, when it succeeded in capturing all the ten wickets. The other four one day matches were lost, as Australian batsmen scored more than 250 in all the matches (even crossing 350 in the last two one dayers!)

Clearly, Pakistan has a bowling problem today, a segment that won matches and series for the country in the past. 

Imran Khan, Waseem Akram, Inzamam ul Haq and Shahid Afridi: Where are the inspiring Captains?

Besides the pace bowlers, Pakistan also has a Captain problem.

Since the days of Imran Khan, Pakistani cricket team had a series of captains, who were extremely known for grooming and nurturing the young talent, or simply lead from the front with their individual performances.

Imran Khan undoubtedly was the greatest – for he led the team from the front with his batting and bowling prowess; but he was also a great leader in nurturing the next generation. He started a long line in pace bowling – with Wasim Akram, Waqar Yonis, Shoib Akhtar. This line seems to be broken now. 

Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz may have the talent; but needs the nurturing, mentoring and tutoring. The fact that Mohammad Amir got carried away by the lure of money and had to face international suspension (and even a jail term) would prove the lack of mentorship. A strong captain would not have allowed Amir to stray; unfortunately, Salman Butt was not a great one; and in fact was the primary culprit in the entire case.

Equally important is leading from the front in the field, especially in a foreign soil. For young players, in front of a foreign crowd, it is important that the captains talk to them, give the necessary confidence and boost their morale, especially when things are not going well. Misbah certainly is not a talking captain. Even more, it is important, that the captains perform with bat or/and ball and boost the confidence of young ones. A comparison between Misbah and Steve Smith in the test matches, and a similar one between Azhar Ali and Steve Smith in the one day matches will reveal the differences between captains of the two sides. Though Azhar Ali batted well in the test matches as a player, he could not take that form forward as a captain during the one day matches.

This is where Imran Khan, Waseem Akram, Inzamam and Afridi count. They would turn the matches upside down with their brilliance. And lead from the front, thus providing the much needed confidence and competition for the young players.

Back Home: Do the Cricketing System need an overhaul?

Pakistan cricket also has a problem with its Board.

This is a larger question facing not only Pakistan, but also other cricket playing countries in South Asia. Except for India, the other countries face serious issues with domestic structure to make the sport competitive, and also the basic infrastructure to build players and nurture talents. Cricket Australia (CA) has understood the importance of both the above; one could see the results with Australia’s domination of contemporary cricket.

Unfortunately in South Asia, Cricket structure has become a business, led by non-cricketing brains. Though India is slightly ahead, the Lodha Committee process will reveal the nature of problem even within the BCCI.

For Pakistan, an added disadvantage is the lack of international exposure within home. Unfortunately, the prevailing security situation in Pakistan has greatly impinged on its Cricket as well, with most of international teams reluctant to tour. Sri Lanka was willing to step in, but the attack on the Sri Lankan Cricket team in 2009 has left a huge question mark over teams even from South Asia, that have a better understanding and appreciation of the security situation. Added to the problem is the nature of India-Pakistan political relations, that impinge on Indian team visiting Pakistan.

Not only for international cricket, even domestic tournaments are being affected by the security situation. It is unfortunate, that the Pakistan Super League (PSL), its equivalent of the Indian IPL has to be played outside the country.

Playing international teams within Pakistan is essential to boost the morale of players, especially emerging and young ones. In front of a home team, they will be able to make better impact; not only for the emerging players, but also for those established ones, who are going through a lean phase, playing international teams at home, will boost their statistics and thereby their career as well.

The Unpredictable Tag: Time to get rid of?

Finally, there is an attitude problem as well.

The entire Pakistani nation takes pride in their cricket team being “unpredictable”. One can be happy about winning a match from an unfavourable situation, but cannot be upbeat about losing a match from a favourable and strong position. Taking a risk to win a match and reckless throwing away a game are not the same. When both get accepted as being “unpredictable”, that is likely to create an bad attitude on individual players and the captains.

A team need not be predictable, but has to be consistent. All great teams in their heydays were consistent – the West Indies then, and the Australians now. The Indians are attempting to become consistent. And this has to transform into all three formats – test, one day and T-20. And players should be capable of adopting to different formats; the team composition cannot be totally different, especially the captains.

Finally on individual discipline. This has been a curse of the Pakistani team in the recent years, affecting the performance of the entire team. If a trend is set that one could get away with any tantrum and even ill doing, it is bound to affect the entire team. So was the handling of the players by the Board. The return of Mohammad Amir after being proved of betting and malpractise, did raise shackles within the team. So was the numerous stories related to the Akmal brothers. 

Especially with Younis, Misbah and Afridi about to leave the field soon, generation next has to fill in and take over. 

Hansie Cronje despite being a successful captain could never get back to the playing eleven. So was Azharuddin in India; though he was accepted as a politician, the board never got him back into the Cricketing fold. 

If the Pakistani cricket team has to achieve greatness again, it has start from the basic attitude.

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