Captaincy April 21, 2008

It's a record Shoaib, but not as we know it

Shoaib Malik's Pakistan have set a record of successive wins in one-day cricket. A few more home series against sub-standard opposition - before the ICC Champions Trophy - and the record will be unbeatable. This is a Pyrrhic victory made possible by the decimation of Pakistan's international itinerary. To compare Shoaib's captaincy with Imran Khan's is unworthy.

Indeed, the decision-making during the series has created plenty of controversy. Why were the new batsmen given little opportunity to play a substantial innings? Why were the new bowlers under bowled?

A series against Bangladesh - one that has been easily won - would seem an ideal opportunity to develop young players but not, apparently, in the minds of the current decision makers in Pakistan cricket. Yes, you can only beat the opposition presented to you. Yes, a record is a nice-to-have and a source of much welcome cheer. But why is it the development of Pakistan cricket that suffers at each turn?

On a positive note, Salman Butt and Mohammad Yousuf made as merrily as they should have, with Salman's application an encouraging omen. Shahid Afridi maintained his form as an influential wrist spinner. Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul were important returnees. But I was most fascinated by the easy actions and pace of Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz. Bangladesh batted poorly but these two looked to have considerable potential, and it was disappointing that we saw so little of them--even in games that they were picked for.

This reluctance to properly test new players has become something of a feature of Shoaib's captaincy and betrays an insecurity and inexperience that bodes ill. If you can't take risks when you have outplayed Bangladesh then your captaincy will struggle to break free of its inhibitions.

Worryingly, Pakistan's reluctance to properly examine its newer players has left the opening batting slot unresolved. Who opens with Salman Butt remains unclear, and anybody who thinks Kamran Akmal can fill that role on more testing tracks is sadly mistaken. Indeed, a new keeper would have relished the opportunity to challenge Akmal, but Sarfraz Ahmed was completely ignored.

With Younis Khan's mood swings eroding confidence, Pakistan's bowling once again looks more optimistic than its batting. And if we chant the unholy trinity of opening partnership, middle order, and wicket keeper, we find that it is the same lament that Pakistan cricket has been singing for years. How to correct this triad of failings seems to be beyond the wit of those in charge.

No number of manufactured records will mask these fundamental failings.

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