Is this Pakistan's best?
Like Dr Who in a few weeks time, Ricky Ponting's team is regenerating. Unfortunately for Australians the regeneration process to the next all-conquering form is taking longer than the few seconds that the Time Lord requires and much longer than previous cricketing regenerations. You might even begin to regard it as a decline.
Inevitably Australia will bounce back but until that happens there is a window of opportunity to defeat the best cricketing nation of the last two decades. Australia are now third in the Test rankings, a drop that isn’t caused simply by a freak defeat. Moreover, Australia are struggling to despatch an experimental West Indian team. In their pomp the result would have been a 3-0 whitewash.
Have Pakistan wasted an opportunity with the selection of their touring party? Here are ten questions for the PCB. You might want to add some of your own.
1 What’s happened to the PCB’s relationship with Younis Khan? What an outcome that within six months of delivering a World Cup for his country, Younis does not even have a relationship to speak of with his cricket board. “We haven’t heard from him so we aren’t selecting him,” is the hapless verdict of the PCB. These are the symptoms of a shattered relationship, the two parties aren’t even speaking. While the PCB will blame Younis, it’s hard to imagine that the Australian, English, Indian, or South African cricket boards would have allowed such a situation to arise however truculent their captain.
2 What’s happened to Younis Khan? Are we really supposed to believe that the Pakistan captain has gone underground and nobody knows his whereabouts?
3 What is the logic in selecting Mohammad Yousuf as captain of the one-day team? It was an ideal opportunity to further test Shahid Afridi’s leadership skills.
4 Why haven’t Pakistan drafted in a senior batsman to replace Younis Khan? Younis is experienced in Australian conditions and has succeeded there. He has a Test average of over 50, acquired in a decade of international cricket. Without him, Yousuf is Pakistan’s only established top-level batsman. That’s too much pressure on Yousuf, and too much pressure on Umar Akmal in his first year of international cricket.
5 What’s being done about Pakistan’s top order problems? It’s hard to imagine that Khurram Manzoor and Imran Farhat are likely to flourish in Australia. If many thousands of fans can see it why can’t Pakistan’s selectors? These are not fine judgments, are they?
6 Can Yousuf be persuaded to bat number 3? It’s the key batting position. His country needs him. To his credit, he played it well in Wellington. Will he do it in Australia?
7 What is Intikhab Alam’s role? Is the coach doing his job? Is the coach doing anything? Two Pakistan captains, both great players, have said that they liked to have Inti as coach because they could do exactly as they wished in training. In other words, Inti doesn’t do any coaching in the modern sense. He umpires the practice sessions but little more. Is this the way to make Pakistan compete with the best? Pakistan have many young players with limited experience of cricket of any kind. They need guidance. Waqar Younis' appointment is welcome but what is Inti's role?
8 What’s the purpose of Shoaib Malik? He began life as an off-spinner, a Saqlain Mushtaq clone. He was also an incredible fielder. He now bowls little after problems with his action, and his catching was depressing at Wellington. Shoaib made himself into an international batsman but he isn’t a natural batsman and will never be world class. Pakistan cricket has invested a great deal of its ambitions in Shoaib but where is the return on that investment?
9 How long can Pakistan’s excellent bowling be expected to save the team from humiliation? The pressure does eventually tell on all cricketers. And if one of the frontline pace bowlers is injured or loses form are we really expecting Abdur Rauf to step up to the mark?
10 Is this a squad that properly represents the best talents of Pakistan? Some fans will instinctively and patriotically jump to the defence of the cricket board and the current squad. But we should be asking ourselves whether or not this is acceptable management of Pakistan cricket?
Soon Pakistan will enter the fray with a superior bowling attack to the West Indies but worse fielding. Like Pakistan, West Indies depend on a few key batsmen to carry less accomplished Test performers. But Australia’s team looks beatable after many years and this opportunity may not return in a hurry, not even as soon as next summer.
The victory at Wellington was a joy, and won mainly by the bowlers. But the danger was that it would create a façade that all is well with the current selection strategy. That danger has materialised. The facts are that Pakistan bowled excellently in Wellington, as they have done all tour. They fielded abysmally, as they have done all tour. And the batting was mostly poor, as it has been all tour, with the exception of the vigour of the Akmals and some application by Yousuf.
Meanwhile, New Zealand have generally been poor, with the exception of Shane Bond and some heroics from Ian O’Brien. Their batting has been even worse than Pakistan’s. Ian Smith advocated at least 5 changes in the batting line up after the dismal performance of his countrymen in Wellington.
Australia, of course, will never be so generous. They will punish Pakistan for any fielding lapses, and particularly exploit any top order flakiness. They will also target Pakistan’s best bowlers to shatter their confidence. New Zealand, by comparison, is a carefree stroll.
Is the PCB really serious about the development of Pakistan as a major cricketing force?
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here