Pakistan v Bangladesh, Asia Cup, 3rd Match July 17, 2004

A glimmer of Woolmer's benefits



Shoaib Akhtar bowled with less pace, but more control, and took 3 for 30 in 10 overs © Getty Images

At the start of yet another new era in Pakistan cricket, there was a distinct lack of occasion and atmosphere. The details of the match might be forgotten, but the day will be remembered as the beginning of what promises to be, if nothing else, one of the more intriguing relationships in cricket - that between Bob Woolmer and the Pakistan team.

Pakistan's ultimately facile victory over a strangely dispirited Bangladesh side was expected, as were the architects of the victory. It produced but the briefest glimmer of the benefits Woolmer might ultimately bring to Pakistan, but given that it was only his first game in charge, it also revealed some of the conundrums that he must address in the Pakistan team.

There was a sniff of experimentation - you feel it wouldn't quite be Woolmer if there wasn't - in Shoaib Malik's promotion to No. 3. Shoaib Akhtar cut down his run-up, bowled within himself, and looked threatening. But there were also reminders of the impetuosity of Yasir Hameed, and of the worrying ineffectiveness of Abdul Razzaq's bowling.

Hameed's century was, statistically at least, an impressive feat, and his first fifty was accumulated in a pleasant, stylish and confident manner. His second, however, brought to light his limitations. Time and again, he went hard at the ball, bludgeoning and not caressing, as is his strength. Against a more testing attack, he might not have lasted much past fifty. But if his is a problem in realising his vast, unfulfilled potential, then Razzaq's predicament is to rediscover the sting he once possessed as a fifth bowler.

Whatever the reasons behind it - over-exertion, injuries, loss of pace or a combination of all three - the nature of it was crystallised by the first deliveries of his first two overs today. The first, a lazy no-ball, was slapped through the covers for four by Javed Omar, and the second was dismissed by Mohammad Ashraful for another boundary. He remained ineffective on a pitch that should have helped his bowling, and instead of searching for a sixth bowler, Pakistan must now find a fifth one who can safely go through ten overs.

Shoaib Malik's usefulness in the field and as a bowler further clouds the issue, and although the one-down option is interesting in its relative novelty, it was tried and discarded after a couple of matches against Australia before the last World Cup. Whether it is viewed as a long-term strategy or as a spur-of-the-moment improvisation, it seemed unnecessary today and disrupted what can be, in Razzaq and Malik, a lethal lower order. After a solid start, Pakistan's loss in momentum as the last ten overs began was the result of this experiment.

But Woolmer will have taken heart from the performances of the pace spearheads. Fast enough to trouble the batsmen, if not always the speed gun, both looked dangerous, although the quality of opposing batsmen will undergo a dramatic rise after the weekend. Shoaib heeded Woolmer's advice and found some rhythm and reverse swing in his second spell, and looked controlled, while Sami allied movement and pace admirably early on. Inzamam-ul-Haq too played a part, with an effortless and pretty cameo, and although his value to the team as a captain is still uncertain, his value as a batsman is growing - and it has done so sharply since his leadership began.

Drawing conclusions about the team - or the influence of a new coach - after a 76-run victory against Bangladesh is not only unfair, it is futile. The spirit, fight and organisation Bangladesh have shown of late were strangely absent, especially in their batting. While the bowling, with their own Razzaq, did well to pull back Pakistan, the complete inability of their recently strengthened lower order to deal with pace must have been frustrating for the other foreign coach with a little to prove - Dav Whatmore, the former miracle-worker for Sri Lanka who is now trying to do the same with Bangladesh.

Tomorrow should bring another comfortable win for Pakistan, maybe with a dash less rustiness, against Hong Kong. Six points in a tournament from the first game is always a handy start for a new regime, but the entire camp will know that higher peaks will have to be scaled next week. Only then will we witness a further glimpse into what promises to be an eventful relationship.