Champions Trophy September 18, 2009

Champions Trophy a truer test of Pakistan's progress

Pak Spin has been taking a break, gathering itself for a season of cricket. In the absence of cricket, the controversies that regularly engulf the Pakistan team usually escalate. Now this may just be the natural order of things. It may be trouble makers in the media. It may be players, ex-cricketers, officials, or politicians with a career to promote or an axe to grind. I've chosen to stay out of those zones of misery for the past month. I've also been taking a break. Sometimes bloggers need to give everybody a break as well.

But cricketing matters are now genuinely upon us. The Champions Trophy is generally lambasted as an irrelevance, an unwanted dessert after a binge meal. Pakistan cricketers and fans will not share that view. For Younis Khan's team, this tournament matters. It will be a barometer of Pakistan's rehabilitation as a serious international cricket nation.

We were all surprised and delighted by the T20 victory and its manner--and rightly so. But the subsequent tour of Sri Lanka showed that the longer formats require greater readjustment. This is no fault of Pakistan's players. External circumstances have robbed them of series after series of international cricket. Their domestic structure and cricket board infrastructure is unsuitable to deliver the preparation that is required to compete at the highest level. For the World T20 Champions, the Champions Trophy will be a stern examination.

Nonetheless, there are many positives for Pakistan going into the tournament. They have a fullish season of international cricket planned, which is unlikely to be disrupted. A season that will include contests against Australia, England, and India is always mouth watering for Pakistan supporters. Important ICL players have been welcomed back. As has Mohammad Asif, whose selection will invite controversy but acute interest. And Pakistan are beginning to assemble a settled nucleus of players under a leader who is in full command thanks to the T20 victory--a sharp contrast to the start of the last Champions Trophy.

Indeed, Younis Khan has set his side the right objectives: winning a World Cup and a Champions Trophy. These are tough challenges. A 50 overs match is a much less forgiving examination than a T20 encounter. The summit of Test cricket is further off still. Still, these one day milestones are exactly what Pakistan should be aiming for.

Achieving one of them this time round will be tough. Pakistan have traditionally performed badly in one-day cricket in South Africa, the 2003 World Cup disaster being a perfect example. Pakistan's players, as good as they can be, remain short of top level cricket. And their usual slow start will not be tolerated as there are no minnows in this tournament. The tough matches are immediate.

Although anything can happen in a short snappy one-day tournament, Pakistan will be pushed to win this one. Supporters will, however, expect the team to be competitive. The label of World T20 Champions will bring some pressure but hopefully some pride too. For me, we're at the beginning of a new era for Pakistan cricket. It will be a nomadic, often difficult time, but it is a period that will require wise leadership, long-term strategies, and a large supply of patience.

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