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'No silver lining for Pakistan'
Pakistan's whitewash down under, Ponting's vulnerability, and why India start as favourites against South Africa (11:12)
February 1, 2010
The Tony Greig show
'No silver lining for Pakistan'February 1, 2010
Pakistan's tour of Australia
Imran Khan's recent comments are correct - the involvement of politicians in cricket in Pakistan is definitely not in the best interests of the game. In any event, one would have thought that the politicians have enough on their plates and would allow cricketers to run cricket but that is far too much to ask. Until such time as the next Imran turns up, Pakistan cricket will continue to be inconsistent. This is especially sad at a time when security in the region prevents Pakistan cricket lovers watching their team play at home. I would like nothing more than to single out a few Pakistan players and praise them for putting up some fighting performances against Australia, but sadly they were totally outgunned by an Aussie team that is no longer what they were a few years back. The sad aspect of all this is that having got to know this group of cricketers quite well, like those before them, they are talented and a lovely people but they are caught up in a system which for all sorts of reasons does not consistently bring the best out of them on the field.
I am often asked who I think should captain this Pakistan team? Should it be Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi or someone else, perhaps someone young and fresh? To be frank, I have no idea. All the above have been given a go. My suggestion would be to stick with the incumbent as long as he is doing enough to justify his place in the team and wait for a younger player to emerge. India did this and came up with MS Dhoni. South Africa did the same and came up with Graeme Smith. Both Dhoni and Smith are strong characters and both have proved that they are also wise enough to do it their way and not be dictated to by anyone.
It's hard to knock the Aussie performance because despite injuries to Brett Lee and Ben Hilfenhaus, their bowlers have done the business. This is because of the very healthy domestic programme. There are plenty of bowlers in Australia desperate for the slightest opportunity. Shane Watson has had a wonderful time opening the batting and his bowling has also improved. Nathan Hauritz, who looks an average spinner, is making us all sit up and take notice because he keeps taking wickets. The middle order has been a little shaky and Ricky Ponting, for the first time in his career, is showing signs of vulnerability. So while the Aussies look beatable it's a credit to Ponting and his team that they have bounced back from their Ashes loss and are still winning.
Ponting's future is becoming a serious talking point in Australian cricket circles. He was named the player of the decade and while I found it very hard to separate Ponting, Jacques Kallis and Muttiah Muralitharan, there is no doubt in my mind that Ponting was by far the best and most dangerous batsman in the period. He has been very dependent on his favourite pull and hook shots and for the first time in his career has been exposed in this area. There is no doubt he will now have to handle a barrage of bouncers from every team he plays against, especially when he first comes in, and at his age its hard to change the way one plays. If he doesn't get over his hook and pull yips, it may be that Ponting will pull stumps sooner than anticipated.
Watson has had a wonderful summer and it's come about thanks to his batting and, in particular, the way he has taken to opening the innings. This in turn has had a positive effect on his bowling and his fitness. There is absolutely no reason why he should not emerge as one of the top players in the world. His bowling is still under the microscope. He has learned how to use a reverse-swinging ball but still lacks natural swing, but having said that, he is improving fast. All I want from Watson is to see him do it with bat and ball in next summer's Ashes battle. If he delivers the way he has done this season, he has a chance of being as valuable to Australia as Kallis has been to South Africa.
England's tour of Bangladesh
The decision to allow Andrew Strauss to have a break rather than lead his team to Bangladesh is mystifying, unless England are thinking of dumping him as captain and want to see how Alastair Cook handles the job. That I find hard to believe because Cook has not proved beyond doubt that he has the opening spot nailed down. Strauss, on the other hand, is the first batsman selected, captain or not; and let's face it: batting and fielding at first slip is not exactly back breaking work. It may be that the England selectors have taken the attitude that it's only Bangladesh. I hope this is not the case because if all teams took that attitude Bangladesh will never develop the way they should. India did the right thing of sending a full strength team to Bangladesh, and I see no reason why England shouldn't do the same.
India's tour of Bangladesh
Prior to India's tour of Bangladesh, Virender Sehwag, for some strange reason, found it necessary to belittle the Bangladesh team by calling them mediocre. Totally unnecessary, and what's more his comments were proved to be wrong because despite India winning the Test series comfortably, they did on occasions experience a few problems against a Bangladesh team that is just starting to gel. Let's not forget that India are the No. 1 side in Tests at the moment.
I have always been an ardent supporter of Bangladesh cricket and their promotion to Full Member status. If cricket can't nurse Bangladesh into becoming a force in the game there is something drastically wrong. Bangladeshis love their cricket and that, combined with the fact that the country only gained independence in the seventies, and then endured a period of famines, natural disasters and widespread poverty, as well as political turmoil. The restoration of democracy in 1991 has been followed by relative calm and economic progress. We are talking about a young country that has a huge population - Bangladesh is the seventh most populous country in the world and is listed in the so called "The Next Eleven" - countries with a high potential of becoming one of the world's largest economies in the 21st century. That alone is a strong indication that it won't be that long before Shakib Al Hasan and his team will definitely be able to mix it with the best.
Rather like Australia, the time is nigh when India will have to bid farewell to senior players who have become part of the furniture. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have all been great players and can't be far away from calling it a day or being moved on. Such a move is usually a little easier to make if young players are banging the door down but this doesn't seem to be the case. Mind you, it never does until someone gets the chance and takes it with both hands. But the headlines that follow are usually sensational and invariably comparisons are made with the greats who have retired. Only time will reveal how well or badly Indian cricket has prepared for life after their middle-order stars. It is worth noting that Australia have benefited from the advent of Twenty20 cricket, where youngsters have been given a chance to show what they have in their respective lockers. Some of these youngsters are now very much on the minds of Aussie selectors - the same may well happen in India.
Mickey Arthur resignation
Like so many cricket followers, I was surprised to hear that Mickey Arthur had resigned. There is no doubt that Graeme Smith and Arthur made a good team and the South African results are proof of that. I have stated on numerous occasions that South Africa should be very proud of the way they have managed to retain standards while also dealing with the enormous changes that have taken place since Nelson Mandela's African National Congress swept to victory in 1994. One got the feeling that Smith, Arthur and the selectors understood what they had to do to appease the powers that be, while at the same time doing their best to keep the team competitive. One can only assume we were wrong because the resignation of Arthur and the wholesale sacking of the selectors is a clear indication that CEO Gerald Majola is under serious pressure from above to get transformation moving a little faster. Arthur would have been sacked if he hadn't resigned, and now we will have to wait to find out what Majola's instructions are. Political manoeuvring is behind these changes and one can only hope that South African cricket does not degenerate into the sort of chaos that one tends to associate with those cricket nations whose cricket boards are dictated to by politicians.
South Africa's tour of India
South Africa will now face the all the challenges that come with a tour of India, and if they are to succeed they will need to be settled and focused. They will also have to play well to win. India has a balanced attack, and there are already calls to produce spinning pitches and in so doing blunt the South African pace attack. It would be a shame if this happens, because Indian turners are usually slow and therefore not conducive to attractive cricket. The perfect pitch is fast, bouncy and also has turn. Any decent spinner will confirm that a combination of bounce and turn is better than slow turn alone. Beating India at home has never been easy and so I expect them to win. The battle between Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and the South African quick bowlers will be fascinating, and it could just be that the winner of that battle within the battle wins the series.
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