Pakistan’s cricket opera

These are testing times for fans and followers of Pakistan cricket.

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Published: Fri 17 Oct 2014, 11:48 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 9:44 PM

Those familiar with the history of Pakistan’s national side, never mind the format (Test, one day or the 20 over abbreviation), might feel the need to remind the rest of us that nothing seems to have changed. The bench has talent aplenty, individuals show precocious technique, there is ample will to win, but somehow, and far too often, it fails to click.

Before the third one day international was played in Abu Dhabi, the third of the series, an optimist may have reasoned that the season of spectacular batting collapses had been left behind. The dismal numbers, going back to the second one day match against Sri Lanka, read - 6 for 41, 7 for 55, 5 for 47, 10 for 89. Until the end of the 49th over of Pakistan’s innings in Abu Dhabi, we would have agreed that the era of mercurial individual performances standing amongst the ruins of innings had been put behind Pakistan. But the 50th over reprised the sorry tale and Australia won by a run a match that was Pakistan’s to lose.

What, for the umpteenth time, went wrong? To set the obvious aside, it wasn’t the confusing opera about captaining the side, with Misbah-ul-Haq standing down (and sitting out the match) and Shahid Afridi filling in. They are, as cricketers go, as unalike as chalk and cheese, one slow and circumspect but usually solid, the other fiery and brimming over with competitive aggression, but thoroughly unreliable. Their contrasting temperaments and approach to the game is in many ways the image of the way cricket is organised in Pakistan.

No, the maddening inconstancy with Pakistan’s cricket is not brought on solely by the players and their ways. There is the Pakistan Cricket Board — whose relations with players has over the years been anything but constructive — and its method of team and player management which can only, fairly, be called deeply puzzling. Afridi, who can be a stellar player on his day, said so obliquely this week: “We get nothing more out of it than pride and honour; seldom do we get bouquets but more often brickbats.” Brickbats from fans he is used to, it is the stinginess with bouquets when jobs are done well that rankles with even the veterans.

Setting matters right can begin with listening to what is being said about Pakistan’s state of cricket at home. Public opinion, which has made clear to the Board after every new embarrassment on the pitch, is that there are too many coaches bearing fanciful titles who draw heavy salaries and perks, that the grassroot cricket academies have largely failed to unearth new talent that can serve Pakistan into the future, and that the Board’s management is unsustainably top-heavy.

Pakistan may well arrive at World Cup 2015 with the best captain and team under the circumstances, the circumstances being typically confused and murky. That will be according to script, as will the memories of a famous victory in 1992. Critical but optimistic, Pakistan cricket’s fans will expect that four months from now, when the campaign begins, their team will burst gloriously through confusion to lift the cup one more time.



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