Pakistan's fielding caught in a time warp
The broad point is often made in Pakistan that the world seems to be passing the country by. The extent of it can still be debated, but that the cricket world has long since left Pakistan behind cannot be.
This series, in the eyes of evolution, has been man grappling ape, mobile phones battling message-carrying pigeons. Australia, even this lessened, beatable Australia, has been at least a civilization ahead of Pakistan. There is not a cricket-playing country in the world as backward and as resistant to not just modernity but simple, natural progression as Pakistan.
This retardation pours out from their every pore, but it fairly gushes out when it comes to fielding. No side in the world is worse than Pakistan in the field, absolutely no side. It isn't just that they drop sitters, or are slower and stiffer in the field than the beings of a cemetery, though dropping nearly 30 catches in six Tests is bad enough. They were the last side to pick up as basic a fielding skill as the slide, or the outfield relay throw. And even now they do them with all the ease of a couple on a blind date. Nobody hits the stumps with less frequency than them.
This is science, but not that of rockets. Every side in the world has bettered itself as fielding standards generally have gone up from the 90s. It used to be a deeper scar across the subcontinent. But the breadth of change across India has been vast and it has taken in fielding; Bangladesh - a child of the 90s - has never been bad to begin with; Sri Lanka have made the biggest, most impressive strides.
Pakistan? On their best days they have remained as poor as they have been always, on their bad days they have gotten worse. If someone were to write a tour diary of Pakistan's last three trips, to Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Australia, it wouldn't be much different from the earliest such diaries Abdul Hafeez Kardar wrote in the 50s, replete as they were with accounts of endless dropped catches, written off as if they were somehow collateral damage in the great battle to be a good Test side. That's how little they have progressed over fifty years; mind you, no system of governance has been settled upon in that time, so what is fielding?
This team management's response, day after day, dropped catch after dropped catch, has been Luddite-headed and revealed an old, passé vision. 'What will a specialist fielding coach do? The same thing we are doing. This is a grassroots problem.' What Pakistan does in its fielding and catching drills is actually very little other than throw up high balls for players to catch and standard slip-catching routines. They don't think much more is necessary. So devoid of new ideas have they been that they were passed on a fielding routine indirectly by an Australian official, which it is believed, was the first time they had even practiced something different in months. It is broke. It needs fixing.
It is also widespread. When was the last time a Pakistani tailender transformed himself as did Jason Gillespie or Ashley Giles? Shoaib Akhtar did it for about six Tests in 2005-06 but anyone else? What Peter Siddle did in Sydney, none of Danish Kaneria, Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif are likely to do.
Pakistan had two men in the 70s who so helped transform the art of running between the wickets: Javed Miandad and Asif Iqbal. Yet now they produce some of the worst, most inert runners. The two run-outs in Hobart pole-axed their reply, but the malaise goes beyond just bad judgment and indecisiveness.
Pakistan's batsmen are consistently the least likely to turn ones into twos, or twos into threes, and this is the bedrock of smart, modern batsmanship. There will always be one, two, maybe more, who do not ground their bats properly when running in, or those who don't back up at all as the bowler comes in. Who does that anymore?
Members of Pakistan's entourage have painted a picture of incoherent team meetings at the start of a day or in session breaks, random and ill-planned. Subsequently, Pakistan have been at their poorest when they needed to be at their sharpest. Both openers were dropped in the very first session of the series in Melbourne; Mitchell Johnson took two wickets in the first over of the last morning there; Nathan Hauritz took two wickets in an over soon after tea on the last day in Sydney; Ricky Ponting was dropped on nought on the first morning in Hobart; Peter Siddle took the key wicket in his second over on the final morning here; three-nil and all through the summer Pakistan have not identified key sessions and moments. These are sins of uncaring, unthinking, lazy minds.
The leadership was timid, the batting limited and Australia declared four times out of six against a bowling attack that is supposed to be Pakistan's strength; yet no stronger taste is left in the mouth as that of this vast, debilitating unmodernity, which inflicted a whitewash upon Pakistan itself. It is charming when they win with all this or push sides close, because it is a retro throwback to the times when talent and laziness could still win the day. But they lose more often because of it and it is infuriating.
On the fourth morning in Hobart, Intikhab Alam gave some catching practice to Kamran Akmal, regular stuff with one throwing a ball at a crouched, slow Intikhab who would open the face of the bat and edge to Akmal. He managed to give about five catches to Akmal, out of maybe fifty. The scene was everything, and nothing about it was right.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo