March 13, 2002

Pakistan need to do some honest soul-searching

What a hiding Pakistan took and but for the weather, the match might have ended inside four days. No excuses please, not even the horrible decision against Inzaman-ul-Haq. Sri Lanka played total cricket and the commitment was so tangible, one could almost touch it. Not so Pakistan who looked out of sorts and in the words of P.G. Wodehouse "if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled."

Waqar Younis has denied reports of disharmony in the team and I am glad that he has done so and although one should not read too much into body-language, the Sri Lankans seemed to be enjoying themselves, there was a stoop to the shoulders of the Pakistanis. One obvious reason for this could be that the Sri Lankans were winning and the Pakistanis were on the back-foot, throughout the match.

Great pains were taken to prepare the wicket and because some grass had been left on it, it was described as a green-top and the expectation was that the ball would fly about. I don't think one can change the fundamental character of a wicket by leaving some grass on it.

In the end, it was a typical Gaddafi Stadium wicket which got slower, with the occasional ball keeping low and to no one's surprise Muttiah Muralitharan was the bowler of the match while our own Saqlain Mushtaq was turning his arm over, along with Wasim Akram, for PIA in the one-day competition.

Wasim had not been picked by the selection committee because it was not satisfied about his fitness but Saqlain was in the squad and was, therefore, dropped by Waqar and his think-tank. This meant that Pakistan had decided to go into a Test match without a specialist spinner and in this particular case, one of the best spinners in the world.

Both Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi were played more for their batting and were not seriously bowled. I found Saqlain's omission particularly surprising as the Sri Lankans have so many left-handers including Kumar Sangakkara who scored a double century.

The Australians have stripped the captain of any say in the selection of the playing eleven. I am not in full agreement with this because a captain is the one who is held responsible if things go wrong and should have a say in the playing eleven but in a home series, it should be the selection committee who should decide the playing eleven, giving due weight to any in-put from the captain and the coach.

The Pakistan attack lacked variety. Saqlain would have provided it and I don't think the Sri Lankans would have made 528, if he was in the team.

The Pakistan cricket public is disappointed but there was some good news as well, the best being the return to form of Inzamam. As the cliche goes, form is temporary but class is permanent and it was only a matter of one good innings before the confidence would return to this burly Multan batsman, among the best in the world.

He was out for 99 to a decision that seemed almost fiendish, a no-ball plus too high plus missing leg. I don't know whether it would have altered the result of the match, it seemed too far gone but those of us who were in Auckland for the 1992 World Cup semifinal saw Inzamam pull out Pakistan from a deeper hole and who knows, he could have steered Pakistan to the safety of a draw?

Inzamam has had a lot on his mind lately, the health of his father which is of urgent concern to him. But his return to form could not have come at a better time with New Zealand's tour of Pakistan confirmed.

Mohammad Sami bowled with a lot of heart, a hat trick being the reward of his honest labour. He seems to be a quick learner and I noticed that he had shortened his run. Shoaib Akhtar too bowled well and seemed fully fit which is good news.

Afridi was run out in the first innings, a mix-up between him and Younis Khan but he batted with determination in the second, a calm innings by his standards but a very good one.

He was deceived in flight by Muralitharan but better batsman than Afridi have been bamboozled by the Sri Lankan magician. But batting remains the main worry and though there is no Muralitharan in the New Zealand attack, there is plenty of high class bowling, as well as batting.

Pakistan must forget this Test match, its overall performance being eminently forgettable and become a settled team as Sri Lanka was. Sri Lanka came with a plan and stuck to it, Pakistan, on the other hand, chose to play it by ear. Having lost the toss and been put in, the batting just folded and no one was able to stay long enough to take charge.

There was some poor shot selection which at this level of cricket shows a lack of application and an inability to differentiate between Test and one-day cricket. Compared to the Sri Lankans who seem to enjoy their fielding, the Pakistan effort in the field made it appear as manual labour. But where we were decidedly better was in the bowling of no-balls. The Sri Lankans bowled some 60 no-balls in both the innings, the Pakistani bowlers were more disciplined. They bowled far fewer. This is not comfort enough.

It's not quite back to the drawing board but the Pakistan team must have a session among themselves and do some honest soul-searching. Why should there be this perception that a wholehearted effort was missing, that the team appeared to be stuck in second gear?

I still rate Pakistan among the best Test teams in the world. And as far as the PCB is concerned, it has gone an extra mile to support the players. The players have never had it so good. There should be some reciprocity from them.