New age October 12, 2007

An unfortunate series of miscalculations

It was disappointing to hear Shoaib Malik insist on the righteousness of his spin strategy

Graeme Smith was right: who could have predicted that South Africa would dominate nine out of ten days of this series? The fact they did should add an extra sheen to his team's newly grown beards. On their last visit to Pakistan, South Africa were an obnoxious bunch mislead by their captain. There was little to choose between the teams other than the speed of Shoaib Akhtar.

This time round both teams had left their bad attitude behind. With a touch of bonhomie to complement their skillful determination South Africa flourished. All credit to Smith for a quick maturation.

Without their bad boy, Pakistan's pace attack was more nullified by the spinning tracks than South Africa's batsmen. Sadly, Pakistan had forgotten some home truths about their own dead wickets. First, you require a bowler of express aerial speed to fully exploit the bounty of reverse swing, an Imran, Waqar, Wasim, or Shoaib. Second, Pakistan don't really possess a spinner who runs amok. Danish Kaneria is an earnest soul but he rarely cuts through a top order like Abdul Qadir, Mushtaq Ahmed, and Saqlain Mushtaq did at their sharpest. Third, with only two pace bowlers you tempt injury and long-term damage.

If Pakistan's bowlers weren't great, the batsmen were even less impressive until the final day. This suboptimal display made Inzamam's final two balls the most memorable performance by any Pakistan batsmen throughout the series. Perhaps Inzamam's contribution would been best remembered whatever the effort from his colleagues?

But Pakistan are a Test team with problems. And the biggest perhaps is mindset. It was disappointing to hear Shoaib Malik insist on the righteousness of his spin strategy. What happened to the PCB's promise of livelier tracks? Pakistan's bowling strength lies in pace complemented by spin.

A further irritation was to hear Pakistan constantly claim that they were finding it hard to adapt to Test cricket after the Twenty20 World Cup. South Africa have endured a similar One-day glut to Pakistan.

Worse still, though, was the initial argument that Pakistan had better back spin because why would they choose wickets that suited the opposition's strengths? A mantra of international sport is that you plan and play to your strengths and not in fear of what the opposition might do to you. That was the first in a series of unfortunate miscalculations that ended with Inzi's crazed dance down the wicket to Paul Harris.

Shoaib Malik is a smart young captain and Geoff Lawson is an equally smart and aggressive young coach. Pakistan will learn but they need to learn fast. This dead-track spin-bowling strategy is a fantasy that has never been realised in Pakistan cricket, and with the bowlers that Pakistan possesses it is unlikely to be realised in a hurry.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here