March 20, 2000

Karachi Victory - A Morale Booster for Pakistan

Pakistan's glorious victory over Sri Lanka in the 3rd and final test at Karachi brought to an end, our team's losing streak of matches, also providing some relief to the cricket lovers from the long spell of gloom and disappointment. It also proved that our team was quite capable of reviving its form to humble the opponents. Its vital needs were the favourable conditions created through good management, motivation, raising of morale and fighting spirit plus other administrative factors. Given the same, the inherent prowess of the team, not only came to surface but also rose high enough to make it a winning outfit again.

The Pakistan team always boasted of its outstanding bowling strength. Except for a few occasions it did reign supreme. It was the repeated collapse of batting that became instrumental in our defeats. A remarkable transformation took place towards the end of the series. A team that commenced the first test at Rawalpindi with an inning's total of 182 runs ended up with 421 runs in the 2nd inning of the last test.

As a keen observer of the game I always maintained that the Pakistan cricket team was basically a very talented outfit. Whenever it failed to perform well, the reasons behind the debacle were more like mismanagement, low morale, lack of fighting spirit, infighting between the players, the causes other than potential and capability of the team. It was the prime function of the people sitting in the cozy and comfortable offices of the Cricket Board to eradicate these maladies, but they generally did not care. The understanding of these factors and the rapport between the players and the officials remained lacking. For some time now it is showing the signs of improvement .

A solitary win at Karachi cannot possibly restore the prestige that we lost on account of more than a dozen humiliating defeats during the recent past. Though it would be unrealistic to expect a magical boost up of our performance, the victory has atleast enabled us to walk with our heads high. It is also likely to take some pressure off the minds of the players and help them in shedding the complex that evaporated the in energies and confidence to perform well.

Let us not forget that the series against Sri Lanka started in the back-drop of our team having returned from Australia after suffering a defeat, with alarming effects on its morale and efficiency. With their nerves completely shattered the players were demoralized. The violent criticism from the public and the press put salt on their wounds, dissipating their energy to rock bottom. They had no vigour left to face the visitors from Sri Lanka. Since the debacle Down Under had occurred on account of a combination of factors, the change of captaincy at this stage was not a right step.

Something positive that emerged from the decision was the revival of Waqar Younis, a great bowler made to sit on the fence throughout the tour of Australia. Though people accused skipper Wasim Akram for ignoring him deliberately, I consider it a management failure. Why were the other team officials and the PCB itself acting as silent spectators when the giant speedster was being victimized? It did a lot of harm to the team.

The negative aspect of this decision was the choice of the new captain. A good leader is the one who can motivate his troops for the tough battle ahead. Saeed Anwar was beyond any doubt one of the best batsmen in the game but he had never distinguished himself as a brilliant leader. The mandate of captaincy was entrusted to him once before, which he surrounded voluntarily. Let it be understood that every good player cannot be a good leader. Having been tried once, the burden of captaincy should not have been placed on his slender shoulders, especially when the team was almost in dis-array. The results were obvious. Not only that he flopped as captain, the responsibility rendered him physically unfit for the important tour of Sharjah.

The series against Sri Lanka though lost by Pakistan was, however, a useful exercise for restoring the form of some old players as well as discovering the new ones. Inzamam who was a constant failure in Australia emerged as a hero. Apart from a sparkling inning of 138 and sadly missed century (86) at Karachi, he also played some prolific innings earlier, even once running out of partners. Yousuf Youhana was a mixture of success and failure while Shahid Afridi once again proved that he could be a good test player if properly handled.

Among the debutants awarded the coveted test cap, Younis Khan justified his selection by scoring a century under extreme pressure at Rawalpindi and a highly valuable 61 at Karachi. Atiq-uz-Zaman who kept wicket at Peshawar in the absence of Moin Khan did well and will mature with experience. As for the fast bowler in-making Irfan Fazil, his exposure to test cricket was rather too pre-mature. Though he managed the wicket in each inning, he received hell of the beating for being wayward. Being the test player is the great honour. Tests cap should not thus be wasted on bowlers who cannot even bowl straight. The selectors must watch the boys in the nets or in the field rather relying on figures appearing in the newspapers. In view of atleast half a dozen speedster waiting in line, the youngster will have to work really hard to establish himself.

The recall of Javed Miandad as coach and the appointment of Moin Khan as captain have certainly contributed to the improvement of the team. The conduct and behaviour of the team in the Karachi test was far superior to what the boys displayed during the earlier encounters. There was a definite boost up in their morale and fighting spirit. The actual level of resurgence will, however, be known by their performance against India and South Africa at Sharjah.

In the end, let us not lose sight of a historical fact. By winning the Karachi test against Sri Lanka, the Pakistan team has maintained its golden tradition of not losing a test match at the National Stadium Karachi. Whether one believes in records or not, it may be psychologically true that the spirit generated by the pride of not loosing at Karachi contributed to our team's good performance. The National Stadium Karachi emerged as a test centre 1954-55. Out of the 34 matches so far played at the ground, Pakistan has won 17 while the remaining 17 have been drawn. The Pakistan team thus, enjoys the distinction of not losing a test at Karachi. Let us see, how long can we maintain this unique honour.