February 21, 2000

Pakistan: Ways to galvanise our cricket team

Lt. Col (R) Shujaud-Din Butt

If cricket is known for its glorious uncertainties, our team is even more notorious for its unpredictability. In the recent Test Series and One Day International Tri-Series in Australia Pakistan's performance was simply pathetic. It is no disgrace to lose against a team of the caliber of Australia but Pakistan was expected to give a decent fight which never materialised.

Prior to the Tri-Series Pakistan lost all its warmup matches against rather weak opposition which triggered off alarm bells regarding poor team work and lack of unity and cohesiveness. But suddenly the trend reversed and its performance improved considerably particularly against India winning all but one game. But against the Aussies our team proved to be fragile and even brittle.

There is indeed a need to analyse the reasons of our team's inconsistency and unpredictability. In my opinion there are inherent shortcomings which need to be set right sooner than later if we want to develop into one of the top class contenders far the next World Cup. Let's consider them as under:

Change of captaincy

Captain of a cricket team is like a field commander whose leadership qualities have tremendous bearing on the team performance. Therefore his appointment should be made after a great deal of deliberations. Having done that, he should be accorded full backing or support of the authorities and given sufficient time and opportunities to show his worth and produce the desired results. But unfortunately this has not been happening in our case. In fact we have become notorious for constantly sacking or changing our captains. This policy, whatever be the reasons, has caused immense harm to our performance as well as our reputation for being unpredictable.

The sacking of Wasim Akram or castigating the team which reached the finals in the last World Cup was indeed a sad reflection on Pakistan's attitude towards defeat which surprised the entire cricketing fraternity of the world for such a harsh, callous and unwanted treatment of a team which peaked upto the finals in the last World Cup. In fact the team deserved a hero's welcome.

Team revamping

Nowadays there is a constant clamour for a wholesale rebuilding of the team. There may be some justification to make a few changes. But the change must not be made for the sake of change. However, it should be resorted to only where considered absolutely essential. Any senior players who are in the twilight and are not performing upto their usual potential consistently should be replaced if a better, young and suitable replacement is readily available. It will be an exercise in futility to keep changing the replacement. Besides, the changes should be made in phases and not to indulge in a wholesale "slaughter," otherwise we would be faced with the similar situation as the current West Indies under Brian Lara, or the 1962 Pakistan team which toured England under Javed Burki. Just as Lara's team is faced with constant humiliation and ignominy, Pakistan's new look team was simply massacred in England.

Lack of discipline

Being a professional sport, cricket is played continuously. Therefore physical fitness and mental tenacity for playing all the year has assumed great importance. Regular and clean habits of hard work and balanced diet and proper rest are essential ingredients for physical efficiency and mental tenacity. In addition, there is a need for disciplined batting, bowling and fielding to improve one's battle worthiness and enhanced performance.

Disciplined batting means properly planned innings without losing concentration; never to throw away one's wicket by playing frivolous or extravagant shots or unduly chasing the moving or swinging "ball" outside the off stump. Gone are the days when ODI Cricket was considered wild slogging and slashing. In both the forms, the occupation of the crease is still the supreme requirement. Quick singles, doubles and three's interspersed with boundaries in a planned manner, have put more demands on physical and mental robustness.

Disciplined bowling means greater emphasis on accuracy in line and length while attacking the stumps to avoid being penalised for wide balls (in ODI games) and to avoid wasting energy with wayward bowling away from the stumps on either side of the stumps which allows the batsman to settle down. Make the batsman play each ball is still the golden rule while bowling accurately with good line and length, strictly in accordance with the field placings is bound to bring reward.

Similarly, fielding nowadays has acquired greater relevance particularly with the introduction of the brief genre of the game. As a result the standard of fielding has vastly improved particularly the Australians and South Africans have attained superlative standards leaving Pakistan miles behind. Ground fielding and catching ability have been the bane of Pakistan team. Inconsistent batting among the top order batsmen and wayward bowling are the other kinks which need great attention. With proper coaching, constant practice and inherent desire of our players to emulate the Australians and South Africans to acquire excellence in fielding will make tremendous improvements and consistency in Pakistan's overall performances. While on the subject of fielding, the Coach must make positive efforts to bring about improvement in the slow reflexes of our boys to enable them to show better results in the slip positions and close-incatches.

Quality bowling has been Pakistan's forte since the early days, particularly the fast bowling in which we have excelled throughout. But this advantage has been compromised at times due to wayward and short pitch bowling as well as poor slip catching ability. Determined hard work and constant practice with the help and guidance of a coach, can go a long way to overcome this weakness.

Improvement of reflexes

Pakistan's preponderance of fast bowling is offset and neutralised due to slips and close-in fielders who are sloppy with slow reflexes. Unless fielding is considered as a vital independent department like bowling and batting we will never be able to achieve the high standards of fielding.

There are quite a few methods to bring about improvement in human reflexes. There are innumerable exercise for the eyes and rapid body movement which can bring about improvement in reflexes. Training manuals contain graphic description of these exercises which could be mastered through rigorous training rituals.

The latest technique to improve reflexes and body movement is called REFLEXOLOGY or ZONAL THERAPY which calls for thorough rubbing or massaging of the toes and the fingers regularly for about five to ten minutes. After getting the initial guidelines the individual can do it without the help of a masseur. However it is incumbent upon the coach/trainer to develop and enhance the players physical fitness and mental tenacity by using all the means and appliances. It will not only help in improving their fielding but will also make them better bowlers and more reliable batsmen.

To conclude, therefore, it is emphasised that if the PCB officials, the players and the coach/trainer can put their act together in the light of the above discussion, there is every possibility that the team can become an efficient fielding, bowling and batting outfit and finally develop into a more consistent and reliable team.