South Africa 2010 November 1, 2010

Razzler dazzles Pakistan back to life

Pakistan fans have been feeling like punching bags, taking one heavy blow after another

Pakistan fans have been feeling like punching bags, taking one heavy blow after another. A few have even revoked their support of the national team, although true fans wouldn't do that, would they? Admittedly it has been hard mustering enthusiasm for Pakistan's cricket and its cricketers. Shorn of its best bowlers, depleted of batsmen of any substance, and betrayed by butter-fingered fielders, the Pakistan cricket team has cut a pathetic figure across the globe. A previously uplifting pursuit, replaced by the upper-cuts received by a punching bag.

Enter Abdul 'Razzler' Razzaq, a prime specimen in the tragedy of Pakistan cricket, a player of rare ability and a victim of wanton neglect. Razzler's thunderous century against South Africa in Abu Dhabi came at a moment when even the most hardened supporters had begun to despair. Was there anything of merit or joy in the current Pakistan team?

In 2006, I watched a Pakistan practice session in London. Bob Woolmer was beginning to grapple with the technical issues in Kamran Akmal's glovework. Waqar Younis was overseeing the endeavours of the pace bowlers. Eventually Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq emerged, side by side in the practice nets. What followed was not entirely professional although it was great viewing. Afridi annd Razzaq embarked on a spontaneous competition to smite the bowlers as far as possible. My money was on Afridi but the Razzler won by a clear distance. On form, no ground can hold his power and we were reminded yesterday of his rare ability to hit far, hard, and handsome wherever the ball lands.

Go back further to 1999 and Razzaq is Pakistan's No. 3 in the World Cup final at Lord's. He is a mere teenager facing Australia, the strongest team in the world. Pakistan lose, of course, and Razzaq does nothing special but in the tournament he has done enough to suggest an allrounder of genuine substance has been unearthed.

Over a decade later Razzaq's career has really gone nowhere other than some memorable cameos against India and Australia. Some blame rests at Razzaq's door, for a bowling career that waned before it even waxed and no real progression from his block or blast approach. Sanjay Manjrekar revealed on Twitter that Inzamam-ul Haq, Razzaq's frequent captain, described him as only having a first and a fourth gear.

Yet Razzaq is a perfect example of how the Pakistan Cricket Board has failed to develop cricketers for over a decade, and he is one of the most high-profile victims. Players of genuine ability keep emerging but their transition into resolute international cricketers never occurs. That transition has at least two pre-requisites. First, a country's cricket structure from domestic cricket to international cricket must have coaching systems that are capable of overseeing that development. Second, and perhaps most importantly, there has to be some logic and consistency about national selection policy.

It is this second point that Razzaq himself has identified as the curse of his career. "I always play a match as if it is my last," he says. Uncertainty creates insecurity, and a distracted player will struggle to perform optimally at the highest level. The Pakistan Cricket Board needs to take note.

Now Razzaq has shown that he has something special to offer Pakistan cricket as a match-turning batsman in limited overs cricket. How often that happens will have as much to do with his temperament as with the policies of the PCB. As a batsman Razzaq could play another five years, perhaps more? Anybody who watched Razzaq's desert blitz will have been thrilled and bemused in equal measure, bemused at how that natural ability has been squandered.

But most of all, Pakistan fans will be grateful to the Razzler for unexpectedly lifting their spirits and reminding them of why they love their team in the first place. Let's hope Razzler's dazzle also lifts the team to halt a dangerous decline in its cricket. We've all had enough of being punching bags.

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