January 15, 2010

Michael Jeh

What ails Pakistan

Michael Jeh

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Salman Butt was involved in two mindless run-outs in Hobart, instances which highlight Pakistan's poor out-cricket and how badly it lets them down © Getty Images

Forever, since cricket began, players from the Asian countries have been labelled wristy, mercurial, mystical, whippy and many other superlatives that attempt to describe their unique styles, as distinct from the non-Asian countries. These generalisations were probably easier to make some twenty years ago but many of them no longer apply. Players like Jayasuriya, Wasim Akram, Virender Sehwag, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Shoaib Akhtar and a host of others have shown off techniques, physiques and styles that defy those typical Asian sterotypes, positive and complimentary though such descriptions were meant to be.

On the flipside, Asian cricketers used to also suffer from the perception that they were a bit unathletic, had poor throwing arms and often did not do the basics as diligently as teams like Australia and South Africa were renowned to do, almost to the point of being boring. Right until the point when it paid dividends – often at the most unexpected instant.

Watching Pakistan’s openers starting off comfortably in pursuit of Australia’s 519 in Hobart, my cricket-crazy six year old son observed that the batsmen weren’t running as hard as the Aussies usually do. Piqued by his naïve analysis, I started paying more attention and found that he was absolutely spot on. Nothing major, nothing catastrophic, just little things like turning blind or running with gloves in hand or dawdling on the first run. Nothing catastrophic until day gave way to Evening Horribilis for the visitors, when they lost Mohammad Yousuf and Umar Akmal to ridiculous run-outs. On a flat pitch where a player of Yousuf’s technique would have been virtually impossible to prise out, he found a way to dismiss himself. A few minutes later, Akmal joined him, another victim of not doing the simple things correctly.

It got me thinking… India and Sri Lanka have now moved beyond those basic stereotypes when it comes to doing the basics. Their fielding and running is generally no different to the other international teams, although their fast bowlers are still a bit cumbersome in the field compared to the Steyns, Johnsons, Andersons, McGraths etc. But generally speaking, both India and Sri Lanka do the little things with all the professionalism and attention to detail that you come to expect from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and England.

So why then does Pakistan still continue to make basic errors, time and again, game after game? Their ability and skill is on par with anyone else in the world but they seem to give away 10% in all the facets of the game that don’t actually require much more than discipline and habit. As desperately disappointed as I was to see those two wasted run-outs today, it made me wonder why they still seem to make these basic errors. It cannot be a lack of ability. The stunning T20 triumph in England and impressive, albeit erratic ODI performances, just proves that when they are on song, Pakistan can mix it with anyone. What amazes me is why these performances are so variable? You look at a team like Zimbabwe in their prime 10 years ago, when the Flowers, Strangs, Whittals, Heath Streak and Neil Johnson were regulars. What they lacked in sheer grunt under the bonnet, they made up for by consistently making up for their inadequacies by doing the basics right.

The opposite is true for Pakistan. Even in the field, when it comes to backing up or saving the odd single or catching the sitters, they make difficult things look ridiculously easy at times but so many of the basics are ignored. Is that merely a function of them being a bit rusty because they haven’t played much cricket recently? What happens in domestic cricket in Pakistan?

I have never seen the domestic system in operation so my question is a very genuine one. Is the focus mainly on the batting and bowling skills, to the exclusion of the other, less glamorous aspects of the game? Even when South Africa were isolated from international competition for so long, their cricketing basics were on par with world’s best practices when they returned, so that alone seems to be a poor excuse if there is a viable domestic structure in place.

Is it because the outfields in the formative years of playing the game, not always lush cricket fields but, laneways, beaches and other uneven surfaces do not lend themselves to diving? Why did Akmal not dive to save himself tonight? Can you imagine De Villiers, Hussey or Collingwood not diving full-length to make their ground? Had Akmal done that, it would just about have saved his skin (metaphorically, not literally). So what explanation do we have for this lack of instinct when it comes to these simple things?

Watching these last three Tests, it is clear that Pakistan’s skills are the equal of any other nation. Man for man, they compete in pure cricketing terms except when it comes to those little ‘one percenters’. It’s all over the park – fielding, running, stealing singles, backing up, throwing, catching technique and tail-enders slogging indiscriminately. Desperation. Discipline. Detail. Nothing that can’t be fixed with minor adjustments. Little things but they all add up to a significant deficit when compared to a team that plays with brutal efficiency, squeezing every ounce of performance out of seemingly lost causes, as Australia proved in Sydney.

If a six-year old boy can spot these things merely by watching the telecast, surely it must have attracted the attention of the coaches throughout Pakistani cricket? I can’t explain it but considering I’ve backed the draw in Hobart, I’m hoping that some Pakistani brilliance will emerge these next three days. If not mercurial Pakistani flair, at least some reliable Tasmanian rain might just save my bet!

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by M KHAN OF LONDON on (January 31, 2010, 19:28 GMT)

ARROGANCE! LACK OF EDUCATION! SELF IMPORTANCE! TO WORK ON SUCH LITTLE THINGS IS TO BELITTLE ONESELF! BEING SATISFIED WITH A DAYS BRILLIANT BOWLING! (RATHER THAN TEAM PERFORMANCE)!

Posted by mqislam on (January 27, 2010, 2:01 GMT)

What a great article. Very simple observation that a 10 year old boy can see, but not Pakistan coach or management. No one in the last 40 years saw that from Pakistan, can not be true. They knew that they are loosing games from winning positions, only for for panic and resulting poor shots or dropping simple catches or poor field placement. I think these players and managements have poor perception for the games. They are more interested in getting a position somehow in the team or in the management. They really do not care if the team wins or looses. If that be the case, someone like Imran Khan or Javed Miandad or Wasim Akram or Wakar who were very successful cricketers would come forward very strongly and do something about it. I saw hundreds of comments written in blog of Mr. Abbasi, but no response from the management. May be they will listen to this one. Because this is written by a foreigner who really feels for Pakistan cricket. What a patriotism by Pakistanis.

Posted by Nasr Saeed Shaikh on (January 25, 2010, 22:35 GMT)

Spot On my friend. Real pity, we always rely on mercurial talent and flair too often, thats why in bilateral series we fare poorly when mainly away from home but turn the cards in well, the bigger stage. I think cricket needs a team like Pakistan, but to be honest the fielding and basic out-cricket is a left lot to be desired. Room for lot of improvement.

Posted by Asad on (January 25, 2010, 17:45 GMT)

Asad from USA

Pak team - looks like an ordinary domestic club team... No planning / strategy / poor fielding as usual.... Modern cricket is a Total Cricket... If anybody fails to perform well in all the dept. in couple of series - simple drop him & bring young blood for U19. Its time to change coach too. Need to appoint a Fielding coach... Everybody should be accountable -- from top to bottom (including management).

Mohammad Asad from USA.

Posted by Reverse Swing on (January 19, 2010, 16:54 GMT)

Well, no rain for help and no mercurial or semi mercurial performance, just plane bad. They did lost series even before it started in their minds.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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