Pakistan in Australia 2009-10 January 18, 2010

Pakistan's fielding caught in a time warp

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

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.

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

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Omar on January 20, 2010, 22:58 GMT

    Hi Osman. As usual very thought provoking article. This is my second attempt at feedback, first one got ignored! My concern is the lack of education of the team. We keep trying to compete at top level with such poorly prepared players, who for the most part, probably can read or write English. It's not something to laugh about or take carelessly. We are competing in an international sport with highly equipped technology. This game does allow the think tank of the team to support the captain on field (unlike many other sports). The fact our players do so well, it's remarkable and they should be lauded. PCB and the academy must ensure that education of it's players happens, esp the young ones and they must be groomed to be true ambassadors. It empowers confidence and equips them with tools to counter challenges in a calculated way. Talent is only part of the story. If we're looking for another Imran Khan, we should look for the complete package.

  • Faraz on January 20, 2010, 4:30 GMT

    I agree with Mr. coeurlion but then its wishful thinking. No where is sports more politicized then in Pakistan. They would never make Imran Khan the whip master cause of political reasons. They cant hide behind the lack of test cricket. Dont e have catches in one days and 20-20. This is all crap. Every ones accountable and so are they. Ask for an explanation,cut their pay checks. Is nt this is what happens to any one who does not perform. And shame on PCB or even offering players for IPL. Forget IPL and concentrate on Pakistan.

  • fahad on January 19, 2010, 21:58 GMT

    I think we should ban our team from playing any top level cricket, except for perhaps T20. This humiliation and heartache is the last thing that a battered country needs...

  • Munir on January 19, 2010, 11:19 GMT

    Let's say it was poor fielding or batting or laziness, but still it was positive for the image of the country. let's not forget where and what kind of currant condition of their inside coutry they are coming and what kind of news from the country is coming from. it's so easy to criticize there performance and talk about only cricket. they are playing to make a difference in the mind of media or peoples back home that there's still some thing different to listen and watch and bombs ok. so my dear cricket writers or born geneses. i'm also not happy about the loss or black wash in these three tests of pakistan cricket team but i'm very happy that it shows that atleast peoples have some thing else to talk in the country. so be fair and have kind heart give positive advice and not try to be so much killer writer. just give them some time to gether ther mind. i'm glad that pakistan team is playing, and wish they perform sooner then later at test level as much as they are able of. thanks.

  • Nadeem on January 19, 2010, 6:08 GMT

    I think we should do a few simple things 1) put a complete ban on anybody but the captain do any talking (never read any comments from any other country's manager or coach) 2) persist with one set of players for at least 10 to 15 tests at their set batting and/or bowling orders before making any changes (If you choose 11 complete jokers and let them play for some decent period of time they will develop some understanding while running between the wickets and some skill to stay and play) 3) for God's sake, if you can not change the domestic set up to make it competative, at least make some green top seaming strips and make sure anybody selected for tests have enough scores on his resume from the matches played on these surfaces and if none of that can be done then STOP PLAYING CRICKET - BAN IT

  • Richard on January 19, 2010, 4:51 GMT

    Even as an Australian supporter, I have read many comments by fellow cricket lovers from Pakistan. The anger, frustration and sense of betrayal is palpable. And rightly so! From those comments, I have gleaned that the current team is a symptom of a much greater malaise. FWIW, here's my 2 cents worth. Make Imran Khan CEO of the PCB, give him far-reaching powers and a 5 year mandate... that is to resurrect Pakistan cricket, from grass roots to elite level. He can hire what assistants he requires... if they be foreigners (eg. Lawson), then so be it! Make it clear that NOBODY'S position is safe. Merit, talent, passion, excellence and performance should be encouraged and rewarded. Do not perform... you're gone! I may sound naive, but there is an old saying "a new broom sweeps clean". Desperate times need desperate measures... from the comments I have read and the Pakistani team performance, times are desperate. I personally do not want to see Pakistani cricket consigned to oblivion.

  • Sanmeet on January 19, 2010, 4:20 GMT

    Pakistan should hire your services, you are an intelligent man who they are lacking to run their affairs!!

  • Mubashir on January 19, 2010, 4:00 GMT

    Pakistan will Bounce Back............. INSHA ALLAH

  • sohail on January 19, 2010, 1:30 GMT

    Once again, brilliant commentary.

    Three types of changes are needed First are strategy-tactical from fielding to field placement. Most commentary is convinced that this needs to be modernized, ie from the heroic to the scientific. Second is the capacity for belief. If the comfort level is losing, then that is where the team will be comfortable. A sports psychologist or any type of therapist would help team members change their thought patterns, and when panic does set in, have patterns of thought to reduce panic (from deep breathing visualising winning just focusing on the next run, ie moment by moment instead of focused on the future). Or someone to jar the comfort level, create a new pattern. Third is the brain-mind-body connection ie visualizing winning, visualizing catching, hitting, ie training the body prior to practice to succeed. Most professional teams use all three approaches. Without them, it doesn't matter how many heros are on the team ...

  • Imad on January 19, 2010, 0:11 GMT

    Mr. samiuddin, yes all pakistani fans are very frustrated right now. But you do need to realize that Pakistan hasn't been playing any test cricket for a while now. Now if u add to that an inexperienced side, it makes for a mediocre combination.I know the fielding was very poor. But keep in mind that fielding in test cricket is not easy especially when u have an inexperienced team without much recent test exposure. One more thing we need to keep in mind is that the last time we won against australia was in 1994. Naturally the side isn't used to closing games. You pointed out that the leadership was timid. Again, Mohd. Yusuf is a new captain with a roster that changes every test match. For the board to expect this side to perform even at par, it needs to make sure that Pakistan plays a good number of series under one captain and a relatively stable roster.

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