April 9, 2003

Opposition in Sharjah tournament not all that hot

I must admit that it is not easy to concentrate on cricket, much less enjoy it while a brutal war rages in Iraq. Still the show must go on. So far so good for the new-look Pakistan team. But Sharjah was never going to provide a real test. It's a friendly environment and the nature of the opposition in this particular tournament is not all that hot.

But the main idea is to re-build and there appears to be little doubt that there is more cohesion, more spirit in the team. This generally happens with a new team. The skill lies in the ability to sustain the exuberance. Not only is the team new but also the management.

There seems to be a general approval about the re-building process and the virtues of youth are being extolled even by those who themselves set a bad example by hanging around when it had become apparent that it was well past the time for calling it a day.

The key is going to be providing some security to the new players. They need to be given a long run and though we should monitor their performance carefully, we should accept that there will be some false starts. But what needs to be avoided is the sense of smugness that some kind of revolutionary change has taken place in our cricket thinking.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has experimented with a new-look team. When Kerry Packer arrived on the scene, like Pied Piper he was able to take away the best players.

Packer had made it clear that he would make the players available for national duty but so incensed were the various cricket boards with the players who had 'deserted' to Packer that they gave these players the boot. In the end the prodigals were received back and they dined on the fatted calf.

I think it is wholly wrong to portray the axed senior players as some sort of villains. To wholly blame them for the World Cup debacle is manifestly unfair. The senior players per se were not a part of the problem.

The re-building process should be de-linked from the poor performance of the team in the World Cup. Rather, we should take the stand that we would have proceeded with the re-building irrespective.

Re-building is an attempt to acquire a bank of players so that there is a greater pool of players available for national duty. There seems to be no need to follow the political pattern of debunking previous leaders.

On the contrary, these senior players should be actively involved in the re-building. Most of them rendered distinguished service to cricket. There is an irony of sorts that to date in the Sharjah tournament Pakistan has needed the contributions from Abdul Razzaq, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana and Rashid Latif to see them through.

Once South Africa pulled out for wholly untenable reasons, the tournament seemed less competitive. And it was generally expected that it would be a Pakistan-Sri Lanka final. But Zimbabwe had other ideas and it is Sri Lanka that had to take an early flight back home.

Sri Lanka has looked jaded and a troubled team. Usually, it gives the impression of being a happy team. On his return from the World Cup, Sanath Jayasuriya had resigned as captain but his resignation had not been accepted. Now he has resigned once again and may have played his last match as captain.

I have absolutely no idea about the internal politics of Sri Lankan cricket but can only guess that something is not quite right. There was some palaver about the selection of the team. Kumar Sangakkara was initially dropped but re-instated in the team as a specialist batsmen. He showed his detractors, if there were any, that he was not amused and he slammed two hundreds on a trot.

Sri Lanka too has been unlucky. Chaminda Vaas has had to go home without having bowled a ball, a sprained ankle and Dilhara Fernando was nursing a stiff back. But more than that, I don't think that Muttiah Muralitharan is in his best form. He still remains a bowler who commands respect but I may be wrong, and I hope that I am, he seems not to be taking wickets.

Muralitharan did not have a particularly good World Cup and at Sharjah he has had only modest success by his standard. I am wondering if he has fully recovered from his shoulder injury.

New Zealand is proving to be a difficult team. It walked out of a tour of Pakistan because of an unrelated bomb blast at an adjoining hotel in Karachi.

Then it refused to play in Nairobi and forfeited the points (and I hope will be made to pay a financial penalty as well) and now we learn that it is monitoring the deadly pneumonia outbreak in Asia before deciding to tour Sri Lanka later this month.

As far as I know there have been no cases of this pneumonia in Sri Lanka though there have been few cases in Canada. If there is any health hazard, it would apply to all teams taking part in the tournament.

Actually it should be the other way round. Since the New Zealand team is scheduled to fly to Colombo via Singapore, there is danger that the New Zealand team may become carriers of the mysterious virus.

I think that the New Zealand cricketers need to grow up. They have to live in a world that the rest of us do. If they are constantly feeling threatened, they should pull out from international cricket until they are satisfied that the world has become a safe place.

It will, unfortunately, have to be a long wait. Somehow the New Zealand players think nothing about brawling in night clubs but they are terribly concerned about security.

I think if there is any health hazard, I imagine that the Sri Lankan government would be aware of it. But somehow New Zealand does not seem to 'trust' home governments. They prefer to deal with their own independent sources.