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February 19, 2013

Pakistan in South Africa 2013

The power of a few good men

Kamran Abbasi
Saeed Ajmal is congratulated by his team-mates, South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 2nd day, February 15, 2013
Misbah-ul-Haq's Pakistan has had success because the senior players are driving the team in the same direction  © Getty Images
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Nobody except Rambo - and I don't mean Pakistan's and ESPNcricinfo's linguistic champion Ramiz Raja - ever won a war in isolation. We overestimate sport if we believe it is genuinely war minus the shooting, but on some occasions we don't overestimate it by much. Perhaps a televised rumble without switch-blades is closer to reality. For many reasons, Pakistan cricket is trapped in a perpetual rumble, its cricketers turning up their collars and striking a combative pose to take on the rest of the world--and just as often each other.

Adversity tends to prompt extreme reactions. Much of the world - and Pakistanis are no exception - expected Pakistan cricket to disintegrate after the calamity of the Lahore shootings in 2009 and the spot fixing scandal of 2010. The players might not have found love in a hopeless place but they seem to have discovered common purpose in an exiled space.

Instead of extinction, Pakistan cricket has adapted and emerged stronger after the cricketing equivalent of an asteroid strike or an ice age. In a variation on the theory of evolution, Pakistan's cricket is an example of survival of the least fit. Many Pakistanis, no doubt, will attribute this great escape to the power of prayer. By whatever mechanism, Pakistan cricket continues to engage, surprise, and fascinate, with no greater example than this year's tour of South Africa.

The upstrokes of these emotional variations can only occur because enough of Pakistan's cricketers, namely the bowlers, have a raw talent that defies environment. Ability, when all external issues are put to one side, isn't really a limiting factor in Pakistan's progress. The problem has generally been one of player development and leadership. Finding one leader has been difficult enough, finding several willing to pull in the same direction - the hallmark of successful sides of any era - is almost unprecedented.

When Pakistan's team has included several leaders, their main purpose has generally been to pursue their own agendas. Pakistan's fastest progress came in the 1980s under the partnership of Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. Imran's popular image is as a dictator but the greatest trick the skipper ever pulled was allowing the King of Karachi a leading role beside him. Pakistan began that decade nowhere and, by the end, challenged the mighty West Indies, a team packed with leaders, for supremacy in international cricket. Imran's Pakistan never managed to topple West Indies, the greatest team I have ever seen, but a world cup win did follow in 1992.

The Imran-Javed axis or Pakistan's teams of the 1990s, which had many leaders but rarely one purpose, are hard for today's aspirants to match for quality. The achievements of the last two years are less in terms of international rankings, but after adjusting for prevailing circumstances you might argue the progress of Team Misbah to be superior. What the current crop lack in technique, especially in batting--even at times in bowling--they more than compensate for in tenacity.

Misbah-ul Haq is the boss but Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, and Saeed Ajmal also contribute to the leadership effort. For Pakistan cricket, which, like the country, has generally fluctuated between iron-fisted dictatorship and disorderly rule, the sight of elder statesmen putting any differences aside and working together for such a sustained period is unheard of. It might even be the magic ingredient for the progress of the last two years?

Novel idea, leaders striving for the same goal: perhaps civil society might learn something from the senior pros of Pakistan cricket? What Team Misbah - the leadership team, that is - has demonstrated is that there is a different way for Pakistan teams to do battle on the cricket field, less divisive, often frustrating, but no less enthralling. They make mistakes, soldier on, and win friends. It is a war of attrition, peppered with blasts of inspiration, and it is compulsive viewing - even in defeat.

Misbah may not have much time left at the helm. Hafeez invariably struggles away from Asian conditions. Younis's career often seems to hang in the balance. Ajmal, in his doosra way, just keeps getting better. Team Misbah, these few good men of Pakistan cricket, have reached the autumn of their miracle. Enjoy it while you can.

Collars up, strike a fighting pose. Who's ready to rumble?

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

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Posted by akb on (February 25, 2013, 14:15 GMT)

PCB should make it a policy that all 3 formats of cricket should have separate teams and even players.What I mean is that anybody selected for T20 should not be part of ODI,s or test cricket & anybody selected for tests should not be included in the ODI,s. This is the only way to address audience of all the formats. Its a general worry that T20 cricket by its huge following is going to destroy Test as well as ODI cricket. Watching T20 cricket seems very similar to base ball rather than cricket.

Posted by Javed Hasan on (February 25, 2013, 6:25 GMT)

Kamran Almal is a far better at both wicket keeping and batting as compared to Kamran Akmal . He is also a great fighter . Why has he been dropped from ODIs and T 20s ?

Posted by akb on (February 25, 2013, 4:41 GMT)

Farhat technically flawed but has the courage. Hafeez a mediocre sort of an all rounder, only fits in T20 & ODI,s. Jamshed shouldn,t have been dropped. Misbah & YK should retire from all sorts of cricket because they play for their survival. Gul no more is what he should be. Afridi on the decline. Rest in the team should play. Pick Harris & Umer Amin & bring a bowler or 2 right handed bowlers. We have to experiment before the next WC. If we do it late we will just ruin our cricket.

Posted by avmd on (February 24, 2013, 23:42 GMT)

To be realistic, glory days of Pakistan cricket are long gone. That Pakistan has raw talent in fast bowling is just a myth . We all saw what kind of attack we played in 3rd test in SA. The skinny teenager is many years away from ienternational cricket and , is that was our bench strenth. We have no replacement for Kamran Akmal. Sarfaraz is miserbale. Misbah and Hafeez failed miseably in their fist real test, both as player and leader. Hafeez, I guess is dilusional, after a shameful perfomance, he insisted nothing was wrong with his technique, which produed only 40 runs in 6 innings. Is this our leader ? God mercy.

Posted by aftab from VB on (February 23, 2013, 16:56 GMT)

Apparently, Misbah is playing according to the pitch conditions instead of playing according to his team strength. It feels like WI sitting out Clark in Faisalabad.

Posted by obaid on (February 21, 2013, 18:49 GMT)

Rehman - I don’t understand why he has been sitting on the bench. Why we underestimate him?. He is way better than all our current fast bowlers. He gives 100% results - see his track record. For me, he should be the permanent member of the team in all 3 formats. PLEASE LET HIM PLAY THE 3RD TEST!!!

Posted by Shahzad Khan on (February 21, 2013, 15:18 GMT)

one thing which this pakistani team is soarly missing, or for that matter all the teams of the world are devoid of( but pakistan used to have it always), is the pride to represent the country and perform no matter what you are faced with. Pakistan had this precious and seldom thought of treasure in its early days within the international arena entry of theirs, which with time, faded away, replaced by professionalism, money, glamour and fame. Now I'm not against all these things, but not at the cost of national pride, the very sense and feeling of representing your country and taking pride in it.they say that you can do miracles only if you keep your basics right.All the technical and professional terminologies come letter, you and your pride and dignity come first, and must always be on top of your agenda.No doubt, Pskistan has the talent to challange the world powers in cricket, but they seem to have lost that very important factor, which keeps the adrenaline pumping.

Posted by Usman on (February 21, 2013, 10:35 GMT)

Saood, thanks for the comment, but i'd disagree with you on this to some extent. We have to keep in mind the crises that our team is going through. That is where you wouldn't get to hear players talking crap about their captain and at the very same time they'd surely wanna stick in the playing eleven. Misbah is very defensive in his approach, as per my opinion he doesn't deserve a place in the team rather is actually a liability at this point. It really is the time for him to step down.

its been coming down to over two years now and there hasn't been a single time where Misbah has proven his ability to be a captain and also his place with in the team. Like its been said.. he is no less than a 'Parchi'.

Regarding PCB, I agree with you completely. I just don't seem to understand their strategies, always made our team go down the drain.

Posted by JavedHasan on (February 21, 2013, 4:08 GMT)

Why has Sarfaraz been dropped ? He is a far better wicket keeper and his batting is also far superior to Kamran Akmal s . Why Pakistan wants the dubious distinction of having the world,s worst wicket keeper for ODIs and T 20s is a big mystery.

Posted by farrukh on (February 21, 2013, 1:29 GMT)

I think sarfaraz kept wicket well. If akmal borthers were keeping imagine how many chances Kallis, Amla and Smith would have been offered. Everybody batted poorly. Why blame sarfaraz. Before droping sarfaraz lets drop hafeez.janshed, azhar, misbah

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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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