Putting things in perspective
by Silly Point

Player:Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, Javed Miandad
Event:Pakistan in Australia 2004/05

DateLine: 17th December 2004


Bob Woolmer and his Pakistan team are well and truly under the cosh. Not only are Australia pummelling them on the cricket field but at home the press, with some help from ex-coach Javed Miandad, are also joining in.


Clearly some of the criticism is warranted but may be misdirected. In the first innings at Perth apart from Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam-ul-Haq, all the other top order gifted their wickets away. Younis Khan, having played sensibly for his 42, inexplicably played the kind of shot reserved for the last over of a one-day game. Abdul Razzaq followed suit and it was left to fast bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami, to restore some semblance of respectability and put to shame the Pakistan batting.


Earlier, Imran Farhat did what we have come to expect from him - 2 nicks through the slips, one gorgeous drive for four and then a soft dismissal - all in the space of about 20 balls. At least his partner, Salman Butt, looked solid till undone by Michael Kasprowicz. Inzamam appears woefully out of touch - bowled in all three outings on tour - and Youhana - we are eternally waiting for the vice-captain to come good when it matters.


But led by Miandad, much of the criticism has been aimed at Pakistan's English coach, Bob Woolmer. Yet readers will remember the countless times that Miandad, as coach, absolved himself from any blame by stating if the players did not listen to him what was he to do! In that I agree with Miandad and so must Woolmer but instead of sympathising, Miandad has relished in criticising Woolmer.


But how can senior players like Younis Khan and Abdul Razzaq justify playing those shots? How, as a man who has played almost 100 Tests, can Inzamam explain that he still is unable to run his bat through the crease? How as vice-captain can Yousuf Youhana field with such an absence of basic cricketing common sense? It is incorrect to blame the coach in such circumstances and the schoolboy mistakes made by the players reek of their own lack of responsibility. But it is also in these areas that Woolmer needs to tighten up.


He has placed a considerable amount of trust in his team and with the exception of a few players this trust is not being adequately reciprocated. The Australian tour will separate the men from the boys very quickly and those not standing up should find themselves out of the team. It is essential that Woolmer look beyond the 15 players he has so far persisted with. If the current crop does not have the capacity to learn from their mistakes it is time to find those who do have the desire to learn and the will to succeed. The PCB has given the players all the support that could be expected - the finest coach in international cricket, a professional support team and the stability of central contracts. It is time the players themselves begin shaping up or shipping out.


Nevertheless, Miandad continues to play to the gallery by claiming that the 'laptop' coach does not understand the culture of Pakistan cricket. But it is this very culture that has today brought about a decline in cricket in Pakistan. In the past, Pakistan, like the West Indies in the 70s and 80s, had been able to rely on a stream of audaciously talented players. Unfortunately, players of the calibre of Wasim Akram, Saeed Anwar and Waqar Younis come once in a generation and now that they have retired, Pakistan finds it no longer has the luxury of relying purely on talent. If we continue to rely on the old culture of coaching we may well go the way of the West Indies.


In contrast consider the successful example of India. Maybe John Wright didn't understand the culture of cricket in India when he joined the team in 2000 but what he did understand was that it was essential for Indian cricket to change that culture and bring in a culture of professionalism, with the stress on hard work, fitness, modern techniques of coaching and mental toughness. Today they are clearly the second best team in the world with a powerful batting line up, quality spinners and a good, young pace attack. Their second string is also strongly showing the overall depth of India’s cricket. Pakistan must follow suit and by taking on Bob Woolmer they have taken a big stride in the right direction.


There is also a mis-perception that all that the current Pakistan team needs to become world beaters is some fine tuning. Miandad has gone on record to say that there is nothing wrong with the boys implying that it is entirely the fault of the coach - an about turn from the situation when he was coach.


This image of Pakistan being amongst the best teams in world cricket today is perpetuated by the general press - the countless times we are told Pakistan has an excessively talented team and were the selection better or the coach different or the hierarchy reined in, etc we would be ruling the world. Let me provide a couple of examples of how we have managed to lull ourselves believing in the inflated ability of our players.


At the ICC Awards in England, the Pakistan contingent felt hard done by when Irfan Pathan received young cricketer of the year rather than Yasir Hameed. Even more one-sided were the comments of one fan who stated proudly on a website that Imran Farhat and Yasir Hameed were in fact better players than Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid respectively. Irfan Pathan, by all accounts, is an outstanding prospect - a talent that may even one day match that of the great Wasim Akram. Yasir Hameed in contrast looks distinctly mediocre at present. As for Hameed and Farhat being better than Sehwag and Dravid....there is no comparison.


But putting aside superficial nationalistic sentiment and looking at the team with detachment it is clear that the current Pakistan team are not the team they are often made out to be.


Currently, more or less the best possible crop of players has been selected for the tour of Australia but they look hopelessly out of depth against the Australians. Put up a joint Pakistan-Australia team and you will find that with the exception of possibly Shoaib Akhtar and Inzamam-ul-Haq, no other Pakistan player would deserve a place.


Let's push this a bit further. Put up a joint Pakistan-India team and you are still likely to have only Inzamam and Shoaib in the team. Yet, back home, the Senate Committee continues to debate why Pakistan lost to India. Australia and India are both more talented and more professional outfits than Pakistan at the moment. Considering this, Pakistan have done exceptionally well against India over the last few months. But against Australia avoiding a 3-0 whitewash will be an achievement and we should certainly not start as anywhere near favourites when the India series begins next spring.


The current state of cricket in Pakistan is not something that is the outcome of the last year or two even. It is the result of years of neglect of the domestic game. In this sense the stress being put on the domestic and grassroots level by the PCB is possibly the most important long-term service that can be done for the general health of cricket in Pakistan.


But at present the fact that so many teams in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy have collapsed in the batting department does not necessarily point to the quality of the wickets - it indicates a much deeper malaise - that batting techniques have deteriorated to the extent that a wicket with a bit of pace and movement has local batsmen at sixes and sevens. After all the fact that Pakistan have been bundled out in Perth does not mean that the wicket is poor - just that our batsmen have not developed the technique or mental strength to cope with the conditions.


Miandad also states that cricket is a passion in Pakistan and that fans demand quick results. But the fact is that sadly, there are no shortcuts to success. It has to be worked at and earned and it will be hard work as much as talent that will see Pakistan develop as a team. All this will take time and will involve highs and lows. Pakistan cricket will need to stay focussed and maintain continuity. The fans will need to have some faith and patience.


John Wright took 4 years to build a strong Indian team. Duncan Fletcher even longer to bring England back into contention for the Ashes. Even Bobby Simpson took years to turn Australia's fortunes around in the mid 1980s. Woolmer needs an equally fair chance with the Pakistan team.


It is disappointing that Javed Miandad has decided to criticise Bob Woolmer and the team because he of all people will know what a Pakistan coach has to deal with. Moreover, the timing of the criticism is particularly disappointing - just as Pakistan prepare to take on the world's strongest team at a venue where they have lost heavily on each occasion. Kicking a man when he's down is unsporting and Miandad's comments are unlikely to serve any constructive purpose.

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2004 Silly Point)