New age January 18, 2008

This might become a regular event

Last year's World Cup plunged India and Pakistan into the world of minnows

Last year's World Cup plunged India and Pakistan into the world of minnows. By the end of the Twenty20 equivalent, redemption was within grasp but the neighbours have followed opposite paths since. India stand on the brink of a phenomenal victory against the world's number one team while Pakistan can't be entirely confident of a convincing victory over Zimbabwe.

In many ways the difference in fortunes is reflected by the difference in leadership. Mahendra Dhoni and Anil Kumble have assumed their roles in reassuring fashion, inspiring more senior and more celebrated colleagues respectively to outstanding performances. India's batting remains strong but the bowling remains raw, hence progress was not a given.

Across the border, Shoaib Malik has flattered to deceive. Pakistan, with out of form unsettled batsmen and injured bowlers, might have more rebuilding to do yet their achievements since the Twenty20 World Cup have still been a disappointment. The best batting order remains something of a mystery and the production line of bowlers might not have dried up but it cannot decide which is this year's model.

Above all, Malik has looked too much of a passenger in his own team. The change that Malik has to make, and he has to make it quickly, is that whatever his form, he must stamp his authority on the team and discard any inhibitions he might have over his leadership role. The biggest regret any failed leader can have is that they might not have done things their way.

The Zimbabwe series offers Malik an opportunity to learn how to command but as some bloggers have pointed out, the captaincy is not a learning role. The fans, if not the Pakistan Cricket Board, will quickly run out of patience. Anything but a crushing defeat of Zimbabwe will be unsatisfactory despite Pakistan's correct decision to blood new players.

Young players might provide hope and sporadic brilliance but the burden of Pakistan's resurgence in international cricket rests on the shoulders of its established players. Malik, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi, Salman Butt, and Misbah ul-Haq must take responsibility for guiding Pakistan to a better future. Misbah apart, responsibility has been an inconsistent trait among these players.

As such, the series should be a victory for Pakistan but its nature is uncertain. Indeed, we will not learn how good Pakistan are during this series although Zimbabwe might expose how bad the hosts can be.

Either way, Pakistan and Zimbabwe better get used to the look of each other. The political upheavals in both countries could mean that these meetings will become a regular occurrence. In that event, Malik might become the most successful captain in Pakistan's history.

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