Malik masters his destiny
The last one-day international mattered little in the grand scheme of cricket but it had become a genuine challenge to Shoaib Malik's authority. Pakistan's young captain revelled in the glow of a Twenty20 near triumph but his time since has been wretched.
On the field, Malik has at various times looked confused, clueless, and catatonic. His soundbites have underestimated the intelligence of his supporters. The whole of the South Africa series was excused by a Twenty20 hangover and the India one-day series has been more competitive in Malik's head than in the eyes of anybody who has witnessed it.
Malik's own form has been a disappointment, as has Pakistan's evidently timid approach under his captaincy. In many ways, the debate boils down to the manner of defeat--and the manner of defeat suffered by Malik's Pakistan has been soulless, an intolerable circumstance for Pakistan fans and ex-players.
Today's Man-of-the-Match award is a relief for Malik and helps him begin to establish his authority. Only rare captains, take Mike Brearley for example, are able to lead an international side without any semblance of form. Since Malik cannot hope to demand the intellectual authority of a Brearley, or even an Imran Khan, his form will be the route to his success as a captain.
That is lesson number one for Malik. Lesson number two is that Pakistan cricket is an aggressive beast, a captain must ride it with attitude to achieve success and satisfy the faithful. Pakistan played with something of a swagger today and it helped bring out the best in its young talents.
These have been tough and slow lessons to learn but let's hope they have sunk in. Furthermore, this series defeat has produced some positive outcomes. Sohail Tanvir has confirmed his status as Pakistan's most exciting young fast bowler and possible allrounder. Salman Butt may have solved one half of Pakistan's opening conundrum, at least in conditions where the ball doesn't move too much or for too long. Sarfraz Ahmed has shown that there is life behind the stumps without Kamran Akmal--and about time too. And Fawad Alam's frenetic energy hinted at why he has become a domestic hero and should find a regular place in Pakistan's one-day team.
Yet one win doesn't eliminate the weaknesses in this Pakistan team. They will have to play with this level of belief, commitment, and aggression to stand a chance against India in the Test series. Malik's best chance lies in the fact that though India might be the stronger team they are flawed too. Whatever happens, Shoaib Malik must realise that the only way to lead Pakistan is from the front and in the face of the opposition.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here