Pakistan could hardly have had a worse run up to the World Cup than their utterly dismal performance in the ODI series in South Africa where in the last two matches they were, for all practical purposes, annihilated. They had one excellent match in which they notched 351 but since the other performances were so vastly below the level of that one, one must conclude that the one which stood alone apart from the rest was a bit of a miracle. Fluke would be too harsh a word.
The most worrying part about the display in South Africa was that the much vaunted element of planning, said to have been going on for the last four years in preparation for the World Cup, seemed totally lacking. Key positions in the team still appear to be undecided with Imran Nazir, who had been out of international cricket for almost two years, back in the side and even finding a place in the World Cup squad on the basis of just one successful innings. Then in the final ODI we saw the opening pair that had been tried in the previous four games being scrapped yet again and Kamran Akmal, who had opened throughout this ODI series albeit with limited success, being sent at number four.
I have not been able to see any cricketing reason for sending him at four; that only made Inzamam drop further down the order at number six and if he is one of our leading batsmen, as he surely is, than he has to be prepared to take on more responsibility than that. It is simply unthinkable that Tendulkar should be batting at number six for India in a one day game.
But to come back to Akmal, the time for experimentation has long passed and if he has been identified as a stop-gap opener, the best option must be to continue with him in the hope that he will get the confidence to finally grow into the role. One has, by now, to accept the quality of the talent available for this spot and all possibilities have been tried. The pattern has been for one to succeed in one game and to follow it up with a long string of failures.
It seems pointless to expect a miracle from the openers at this stage and the best option would be to have identified a pair well before the South Africa series and then to stick with it, for better or worse. The choice of Akmal for the slot given his very poor performance behind the stumps was surprising in the first place and one wondered that even if after such a poor showing the reserve keeper Zulqarnain Haider was not to be given a chance, why take him on the tour at all. And if, for whatever reason, the decision to play Akmal as an opener had been made, then that line should have been held.
Just as Imran Nazir finds himself in the squad on the basis of one good showing, so does Afridi, even though he will not be available for the crucial opening encounter with the West Indies. Afridi’s case yet again highlights the all important point of grooming, which, as this case shows, is not simply a matter of being able to speak English. Of course, cricketers are human beings and liable to react when provoked, but when you perform on a big stage in front of tens of thousands of people, you must be able to take the rough with the smooth.
Cricketers who represent their country should rise a couple of notches above others in such circumstances and to achieve this, I can only reiterate that the PCB will have to take up a role which, it seems, Pakistan’s society and educational institutions have not been able to fulfil.
Among the many mysteries in the selection of the final World Cup squad, the most unfathomable was the one over Kaneria. If he was at all in the shortlist, one is unable to understand why he was asked to return home before the ODI series in South Africa, Pakistan’s last international exposure before the World Cup. Even if wickets may not have suited him in South Africa, he should have been played, given the fact that he has only played a limited number of ODI matches for his country.Regrettably, the case of Kaneria and the utter shambles over Azhar Mahmood, who was picked from even beyond the list of 30 probables to be sent to South Africa, leads one to the inevitable but worrying conclusion that there was no short list. In fact, till the last hour when the squad was announced, apart from a hard core of some six or seven players, the rest of the squad was anybody’s guess.
I do not believe that if the selection committee had really done their work, they could not have done better. In a situation in which cricketing talent seems to be in limited supply, it may well be that the final squad chosen is the best under the circumstances, but the method of arriving at the final squad is not one that could possibly have inspired anyone with confidence in the selection committee.
There are two huge issues that hang over this squad even before they set out for the Caribbean. The first is one of fitness, which centres around Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif, who has had to bear a tremendous burden in South Africa — where again, symptomatic of the general lack of planning, I do not know why he was played in the last ODI when there was already a doubt about his elbow.
Even if all three clear their fitness tests, there is the issue of the dope tests, as the nation waits with abated breath to discover just what Shoaib Akhtar’s and Mohammad Asif’s urine contains. If, heaven forbid, their samples are not clean, there would be a lot more than just traces of nandrolone flowing away with their urine.
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Post InfoThis entry was posted on Sunday, February 18th, 2007 and is filed under General.
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