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January 6, 2010

Australia 2009-10

Fear and dread in Sydney

Kamran Abbasi


The drum beats for Afridi's captaincy must be growing louder © AFP
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A thrilling day of Test cricket has ended in dejection for Pakistan fans and deserved joy for Australia. I say ended, but the gloom set in as soon as Mohammad Yousuf put two fingers up to the warrior tradition of Pakistan cricket by setting a field for 800 for 8 instead of 80 for 8. Cricket is all about numbers and their interpretation, and Yousuf misinterpreted the numbers of hope and anticipation for the numbers of fear and dread.

Captains are celebrated when they turn a match with a fortunate bowling change or a clever fielding position. When they fail it is often quite hard to pinpont the decisive moment unless it is an error at the toss. Yet, Yousuf did something remarkable. For a whole session he pursued such a glaringly flawed strategy that he killed Pakistan's ambitions of winning their first Test in Australia since the mid 1990s. He will always be remembered for it: glorious failures are the stuff of legend.

What goes on inside Yousuf's head is something of a mystery. What motivates him? Why does he choose defence when the whole world would attack? As a younger batsman, he would launch an all-out batting assault at the most inappropriate moments. He must empathise with the rash strokemakers in his team because he has been one of them, and was perhaps among them again today. What goes on inside his head that he can blame his lofted drive for Pakistan's defeat, an uncontrolled moment, but seem oblivious to the two and half hours of stupidity that eased the pressure on Australia, played Australia into form, and allowed them a winning advantage?

It is difficult to be too hard on the man. He blames himself enough, he hurts like the rest of us, and he does care. But is that enough to be captain of Pakistan? It is a position that Yousuf has coveted, and believed he was unfairly denied for too long. Sometimes, however, the ambitions of our hearts and heads overestimate the sum of our capabilities. A close observation of Yousuf's captaincy has been alarming viewing during this cricket season, defensive and uninspiring in the extreme, only serving to reinforce the suspicion that he is captain by default. This morning's session was Yousuf reverting to what he knows best at a time of pressure. At such moments are captains judged.

Yousuf remains Pakistan's best Test batsman but the concern is that while the captaincy has delivered a newfound determination to his batting, it may have also made him less prolific. Is this a situation that Pakistan can afford with the national team's poverty of batting riches? Pakistan's problem is that alternatives are few. Younis Khan is out favour and out of love with the captaincy. Kamran Akmal has plenty of problems of his own before saddling him with another responsibility.

Worse still, Yousuf doesn't have enough tactical support among his senior players and his management team. Pakistan captains have never turned to Intikhab Alam for advice, his non-interference is the reason they have always kept him. Even Waqar Younis, wonderful bowler that he was, found captaincy a struggle. Where does a rookie, naturally defensive captain find a mentor in the Pakistan camp? The answer is nowhere. It is every man for himself with the vultures circling for a kill.

Yet is it Yousuf's fault that he was appointed to a post that is beyond his capabilities? That responsibility of course lies with the Pakistan Cricket Board, its chairman and selectors. These are the men, and their predecessors, who have grown fat on the largesse of administrative perks while the cricket team has withered at their whim. When your country's cricket structure boasts a spine of Ijaz Butt, Iqbal Qasim, Intikhab Alam, and Yousuf you probably don't need any further explanation. Who will hold these people accountable?

Pakistan's cricket has been given a false veneer of progress by three factors. First is the excellence of Pakistan's bowling attack, which has developed into a major force over the last year. Second is the emergence of Umar Akmal to add some thrills to a declining batting order. Finally, New Zealand were poor and Australia have been below par too, keeping Pakistan's wobbling enterprise on the tracks.

Nor is it that Pakistan's problems are new or unpredicted: The openers, namely Imran Farhat. The number three position and absence of Younis Khan. A tail that has forgotten how to wag, especially with failures from Misbah-ul-Haq and Kamran Akmal. Fielding and wicket keeping below top international standards. And a struggling captain. That's just about everything except the bowling. These areas of weakness have been obvious too, no stroke of genius to observe that Pakistan could do much better.

The first disappointment is that this is not the best of Pakistan that has represented us Down Under in Test cricket. The second is that the selected players, with notable exceptions, failed to put on the show of their lives to win the final day for their country. It's not the defeat but the manner of it that will be etched painfully into the brain of every Pakistani supporter who saw it. Defeat from the mother of all jaws of victory.

The deficiencies in batting, fielding, and wicketkeeping have been analysed to death. Change or improvement is required in all these areas. But the biggest loss that Pakistan has suffered is the loss of leaders on the pitch and in the dressing room. Umar, Mohammad Aamer, and Mohammad Asif deserve other warriors among them, and the top of my priority list would be recalls for Younis and Shahid Afridi. And if Younis is unwilling, for Yousuf is incapable, then the drum beats for Afridi's captaincy must be growing louder.

Would you prefer a coward's death or a warrior's? As I've said before, this is the most critical period in the history of Pakistan cricket. It has to be all not nothingness.

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Posted by hassan on (January 23, 2010, 4:07 GMT)

Now forget about the test series and concentrate on one dayers. I request the selection committee to replace Shuaib Malik and Saeed Ajmal by Sohail Tanveer and Abdul Razzaq. Give them enough time to show their potential. We need good all rounders in one day matches especially against Australia.

Posted by Imran on (January 14, 2010, 10:50 GMT)

It was the worst mornings cricket I have ever seen the 2nd test day 4 and Pakistan had Australia where they wanted them, and for Yousuf to take such a negative approach an have such negative field placings, he has no idea, so dissapionting really fro us UK fans watching late at night, no piont really. Pakistan have so much talent but no one can tell them, they need guidence and help from past pros to say look you can catch, Aamir dropped Ponting on 0 in the first morning of the 3rd test and now he is 137 not out, what a joke Pakistan, dropped catches in every match, why should the bowlers try so hard and then be left deflated, a real joke and a really poor performance, after a poor tour of NZ. Pakistan need some help and need to get a new leader who actally knows what he's doing, please Kamran bhai, can you not have words with someone and sort this out, now in the 3rd test we have no Sami, and have Malik back,get the players contact lenses see the ball better, teach them how to catch

Posted by imran on (January 14, 2010, 10:40 GMT)

Assalaum Alikum brothers and Kamran bhai. I have stayed up all night now for almost 4 days of this second test and I must say a good toss to loose for Mohammed Yousuf, I was shocked when Ponting decided to bat on a green pitch, what happend in the next 40 overs just kept me awake and jumping in and out of my seat at 4am, I was thrilled to see Sami bowling so well and Asif destroying the Aussies. Pakistan bowled superbly and even though, the next morning the Aussies had Hussey and Siddle at the crease, I was thining Pakistan can polish off the last 3 tailenders and then chase 140 for victoey first in 15 years or more, Pakistan took the filed, Kammy dropped Hussey 3 times and Siddle made 35 odd, Yousuf's field setting was astonishing, he had no men around the bat sqare leg at the fence, and set 7 -2 offside feild and let singles leak all morning, awful unconfident captaincy and really dull to think Yosuf had the Aussies on the ropes and had such a negative approach, we need Afridi

Posted by Raza Javed on (January 13, 2010, 22:59 GMT)

The first 2 overs of the 4th day said it all. Soon i switched off the TV as it was 2.40am, and slept. And i knew exactly what to read the next day on cricinfo.com

This is what we expect from the Pakistani team since past 5 years. Feels awful being a Pakistani supporter! I prefer saying nothing to the captain or batsmen, and even the team management (PCB), because their minds work on the songs like Nothing else matters!

Posted by Amjad Husain on (January 11, 2010, 12:57 GMT)

M. Yousuf must go down as the worst captain in Pakistan's history.80-8, 2 possible balls to finish the innings, yet it did not occur to any of he team or the likes of Waqar, Intikhab and Aiqab to tell Yousuf to change the field.What a lousy captain, a 12 year old would have done a far better job.

Posted by Andrew on (January 11, 2010, 8:49 GMT)

Don't know how Raj snuck in - but now that you bring up Sydney tests it was nice to see a visiting team lose without dissent, umpire abuse, racial abuse, somersaulting in front of the Members' Stand, threatening to abandon the tour, or the captain spitting his dummy at the press conference. PAK's self-conduct, unlike their batting, was a credit to them.

As for the reason for the loss, it's not captaincy, catching or fielding - it's the batting. Surely no side in history has ever lost chasing 176 on what's effectively a day 3 track, in the sun, with the ball not swinging, and the pitch playing like a featherbed? They didn't even get close. It's one thing to be bowled out when the pitch is cracked and the ball darting along the ground but this was unheard of.

Posted by Mian Muhammad Shah on (January 10, 2010, 13:19 GMT)

Defeat from the mother of all jaws of victory; well said Kamran. Well it was quiet obvious when Yousaf was selected as captain, with all respect to his batting ability only on his day, he is person who can't control his personal flawful running and strategies and adding to his miseries has been handed over the ever increasing burden to lead Pak team. I think good cricketing minds and performers should be incorporated into PCB; from top to bottom, young blood with wise heads should be added. I would say that the present are old for the job as it requires prompt actions. On captaincy I would recommend Younas as Test captain while Afridi as ODIs and 20 20 team; long term chance should be given but must be held liable to the PCB on each and every actions that lead to disturb the cricketing craze in the country. PCB, please don't follow mindless retired Pak cricketers like big saif & Qadir etc but do make a strong system through which the selected players should be coming to the mainstream.

Posted by Faisal Wahab on (January 10, 2010, 13:02 GMT)

There is another confusion now in the news that Kamran Akmal is saying that he is fit and raring to go into the hobart test with new zeal, and to forget the past which was unforgettable and unforgivable. He says that captain Yousuf is backing him, then why PCB sent Sarfraz Ahmed to Australia as his replacement wk. I have no doubt that this is player power which is harming pakistan cricket, and this should end pretty soon otherwise, performances like sydney will be coming in England later this year, or wherever Pakistan team plays tough oppositions. PCB should enforce its rules more strictly. My Question is that why PCB appointed kamran akmal as vice captain, when they know his past record as wicket keeper, and sending a second wk on NZ tour was totally a waste, as sarfraz was sent back from NZ tour. Mohammad Yousuf is a defensive captain, like so many past pak captains. He takes advise from kamran akmal, and if you dont play akmal in hobart how the captain is going to manage his team?

Posted by M.Tahir from springfield illinois on (January 9, 2010, 21:43 GMT)

Can someone please tell the idiot Inthekab to just keep his mouth shut,asking for different teams for 20 20 / one days/tests...and being critical of the shot selection of the only real batting talent we have(UMAR AKMAL).Does someone have to remind the absent minded Inthekab that wickets were falling right and left in front of umar akmal and he could'nt have adopted any other approach but to score.On the contrary Yousuf the batsman who scores at a snail's pace in one dayers(which is one of the reason he was omitted from playing one dayers)was hitting the ball like he was playin 20/20.Both of them have BIG BALLS to talk about shot selection.All yousuf had to do was just hold one end and let umar do the scoringand take pakistan home.But no u see he had to show off his "elegant style" that everyone talksabout and I personally think he did'nt want to look like 2nd fiddle if umar wold get all the runs.Please bring Afridi as captain as I believe in dying like a tiger than a jackal.Khuda hafiz

Posted by Faraz (the first Faraz on all of Kamran's blogs) on (January 9, 2010, 17:54 GMT)

it is our batting, wicketkeeping and captaincy that failed us (like it did in NZ series)

Sami was the main reason, Aussies lost their confidence in the 1st innings, Asif cleaned them, Gul and Kaneria picked up the slack in the second innings but even with our "frail" bating lineup, things could have been much easier, had Hussey, and Watson were not given repeated repreives in the form of dropped catches.

I am calling for the heads of Kamran Akmal and Misbah specifically AND Yousuf to be sacked immeidately as captain. Next, Umar Akmal should never be in fielding in slip, point or gully region - extra cover position to make brave stops!

Next Test: Asif should be given a break for the one-dayers and go in with Sami, Aamer, Gul and Kaneria - Ajmal should never play in a test match ever again!

Afridi should be recalled as captain for all forms T20, Test, One-Day cricket. Fawad Alam should replace Misbah and Faisal be given another chance.

Shoaib Malik should be asked to open with Butt

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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