Disappointed in the desert
This was set up to be an ideal start to Pakistan’s big year of international cricket. A World Twenty20 victory followed by a Champions Trophy semi-final were better outcomes than could have been imagined six months ago. Yes, the batting remained unpredictable but the bowling combination had quickly established itself as possibly the most exciting in limited overs cricket.
Younis Khan had tightened his grip on the captaincy, ready to build his team for great battles against Australia, England, at some point India, and then in the next World Cup. A fiery and ambitious vice-captain had restated support for his fellow Pathan’s leadership. All Younis now needed was a run of form to add some more clout to his captaincy.
The neutral venue was to the liking of Pakistan, homespun wickets that would encourage form from the most fragile of batsmen. Even the opposition boded well, a team that Pakistan are usually confident to beat.
Yet it all went wrong. Pakistan’s batsmen crumbled, leaving a teenage No. 10 to produce a most audacious innings, show his senior batsmen the art of determination, and offer Pakistan supporters some solace at this moment of disappointment.
The seeds of this defeat, however, were sown on the verandas of Lahore. Pakistan’s selection committee, possibly aided and abetted by their captain, played its usual dirty trick of changing the guard at the top of the batting order.
This seven-year itch is baffling. It hurts Pakistan. Since Saeed Anwar’s departure Pakistan have fiddled and failed with this crucial position. All short-term strategies based on personal likes and dislikes and nothing built to last.
Despite the loss in the Champions Trophy, Pakistan seemed to have arrived at a formula that could prosper, especially on the favourable wickets of UAE: Kamran Akmal to open with an ambitious striker. Instead Pakistan’s selectors, tinkers in chief, changed the personnel and the plan.
The touring party baffled us further by dropping the one major batting discovery of the past year, Umar Akmal, for the flimsiest of reasons. And then out went Mohammad Yousuf, a player whose position in the one-day team I’ve questioned myself but the decider seemed a strange time to switch strategies.
All this confusion does is question the new-found authority of Younis Khan. He remains the right leadership choice for Pakistan but he does himself no favours, in his new powerful incarnation, by allowing baffling decisions of strategy and selection.
Every captain makes mistakes. Yet successful captains are able to call on their personal form to cover their shortcomings. Younis faces a testing time. He strengthened his hand but lost his eye. Pakistan isn’t a country to tolerate a non-contributing captain. On the contrary, it depends on the performances of its captain to set the right example and deliver regular success.
These are issues, issues of selection and form, that Younis must address or his ambition of leading until the next World Cup will become a fool’s dream, his claim to the crown ring hollow. Pakistan cricket needs Younis to succeed. In many ways, the easy part was securing his position. Now he has to show greater skill by retaining it.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here