India v Pakistan, 4th ODI, Gwalior November 15, 2007

A series lost and nothing gained

Pakistan lost the series today, to Tendulkar's majesty, but for all intents and purposes, it was the uncertainty and instability around the team since Shoaib Malik's captaincy began, that lost it for them

As a batting side, only two positions are fixed in Pakistan's line-up: Younis Khan at one down and Mohammad Yousuf behind him © AFP

Behaving like a twenty-something when you're actually 34 is frowned upon in the real world. In sport, of course, it is craved, especially if Sachin Tendulkar insists on playing the burden-bearing, pressure-free behemoth of his youth. In which case very little can be done about it.

There shouldn't be any shame in being eclipsed by such an innings, even if it is the losing of a series. Pakistan lost the series today, to Tendulkar's majesty, but for all intents and purposes, it was the uncertainty and instability around the team since Shoaib Malik's captaincy began, that lost it for them.

Replace the shame with real worry and concern instead for Pakistan's march in to a new era has now officially become a stumble. The worry is not over losing a series or two, for that would've been acceptable had something even a little solid, something a tiny bit concrete emerged from those losses about how this Pakistan team will shape up in this new age.

But since May, over the course of 12 matches, what has emerged? No clear vision, no sense of planning. Captains are expected to impose a way, a personality when they begin: how does Malik want his team to play, what does he expect from his seniors, how does he fit into those plans? None of those questions seems to have been answered since he took over.

As a batting side, only two positions are fixed in Pakistan's line-up: Younis Khan at one down and Mohammad Yousuf behind him. Above and below those nothing is set. In those 12 matches, Pakistan have shown only haste as tasteless as OJ Simpson's last book, already using eight different opening pairs and seven different players.

Considering the troubles they have had in recent years, one of the first priorities you would've thought would be to bed in one pair and give them an extended run. Three pairs have been tried in this series alone. So to no great surprise, there has been only one fifty partnership in those 12 matches - the one between Imran Nazir and Salman Butt in Abu Dhabi against Sri Lanka - in the very first match under Malik.

Pakistan are fortunate the two Ys are in such touch for without them, as Graeme Smith observed last month, they are regularly up a creek without a paddle. Shahid Afridi has batted in three different positions in India, Kamran Akmal has opened and played No. 8: flexibility, as Malik wants, is fine but there is a difference between that and simply not knowing what your best batting order is, as appears the case presently.

Injuries and absences to bowlers have been out of his control admittedly but it hasn't helped Malik and Pakistan that they haven't been able to bring Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul and Mohammad Asif together for even a Twenty20 game. Even in matters in his control, like giving Rao Iftikhar Anjum an extended run, Malik has fluffed. Anjum was Pakistan's best bowler over five matches against South Africa as well as today, yet he sat out the last game after just two poor performances.

The uncertainty is everywhere. Vice-captaincy is often lambasted as a dud role, but most sides are happy with sticking to one, no matter how nominal the role. Pakistan have had three in those 12 ODIs. Akmal didn't drop a catch today, a source of pleasant surprise given he had dropped at least one in each of his last five matches. His form has been poor before too, but instead of trying out another keeper, Pakistan bizarrely and blindly insist that Akmal is second only to Adam Gilchrist.

But the most vivid impression they have left through this series is of a disparate bunch of individuals, not fractious, but just not glued together. Occasionally players have sparked something fantastic, but there doesn't appear to be a direction. That fizz, that unique Pakistani mirch (spice) has been absent, leaving a very bland taste in the mouth. An appalling over-rate has showed up their sluggishness.

The situation isn't by any means unsalvageable. Even his predecessor, that most inert of leaders, Inzamam-ul-Haq, brought this team together. However he did it, it worked for a brief period, so there must be hope with Malik. Young leaders of Pakistan have rarely been given the time and crucially the support they require. Malik seems to have both these precious, rare gifts. But in that time, he has to announce himself, take his team by the collar, give it a kick up the backside and give it some semblance of shape and direction.

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Zaigham on November 18, 2007, 18:57 GMT

    I really agree with 'Isaacking'. Its pretty obvious that psycologically Shoaib Malik is still feels the pressure of having senior team mates. If we contrast it with todays match, where his team mates were quite young, we could notice a team captain, a leader playing on the field. Though he is a great all rounder but unfortunately under these conditions i really believe it will take sometime to see a great captain with in him.

    I am dying to see this team playing together: Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal, Yonus Khan (c), Mohammed Yousuf, Shoaib Malik (vc), Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Muhammed Sami, Umer Gul and Muhammed Asif. I would hope to see this happening soon. Good luck pakistan!

  • M on November 18, 2007, 8:01 GMT

    i thnk we should find a better opening pair i think imran nazir is a very good batsman but sometimes he does not play responsibly but if we give salman butt and imran nazir a long run for about 10-12 matches they will start getting some confidence and start building partenerships they are only going to get better as well as kamran akmal has to be replaced ASAP he has had too many chances to prove himself he has failed on most occasions we need some new blood SARFRAZ AHMED about yousuf not being a team player if he does not play like he plays we would not score too many runs he stops his wicket and plays sensibly. if he palys and tries to hit it out everytime there is a big chance of him getting out. so he has to anchor his wicket and score with singles and doubles and some time the odd boundary and about our bowlers they have been doing a real good job but we have to get akhtar, sami, asif and gul to see how the opposing team. and malik is the goign to be a great captain he needs time.

  • shankar on November 17, 2007, 17:23 GMT

    The observations are too pessimistic. Salman butt and Misbihul haq were really excellent . Yousuf and younis didnt do bad either by the law of averages. Malik Kamal and Afridi could have done better. At least three of the first five have to perform well to keep a winning chance. This did not happen because they did not want it and that is cricket. This has happened with India too and with many other teams. I feel that it is their bowling department which has lost its teeth.Shoaib is accurate but his an over rated player. Most of hisballs above 144 kms looks to me as deliberate chukking. An occasional deliberate chucking cannot be found out by testing. Recall the confession of Chalrlie Griffith. Umpires do not want to call during a match. Umargul looked only a shadow of what he is capable of. Anjum did well. The comments about Inzumamul Haq was un warranted.

  • Abdul Muneer on November 17, 2007, 14:35 GMT

    Apart from technical qualifications, I think leadership qualities is a prerequisite and the most important factor for a sucessful captain. Sorry to say but I cannot see any of the ingredient in Malik. I suggest to pakistan selection committe not to waste time in experimenting but to lay a solid captain selection formula without any prejudice.

  • Amani on November 17, 2007, 12:33 GMT

    Firstly, I'd just like to comment on kika's comment, what a loada` rubbish? I'd like to see you do any better as opening batsmen for Pakistan see how you can do, Taufeeq Umar has had an awful start to the Pakistan first class season with three ducks in 4 matches. Afridi at no. 8? He'll either score you a quick 30+ in a few balls or get out, what's the problem in that? He's no use at 8...

    This is a comment from a 14 year old, read it before you write, ok?


  • zahaib on November 17, 2007, 11:27 GMT

    i think malik needs to either send one of the more experienced players to open or persist with himself coming in. You've got to face the newball upfront with your best batsmen and get on with the challenge. i mean you look at all the better teams in the world and they have their best batsmen coming in to open, take india, south africa, australia and even srilanka for example. putting up under-confident guys against the new ball is just preparing them for furhter failure..!

  • Tariq on November 17, 2007, 6:57 GMT

    we really welcome Mohamed sami to come back in the side but why Afridi is dropped from the test squad? He can be better than Abdul Rahman. Afridi is 3 dimension where as Abdul Rehman is only a bowler & diffcult to be impresive against Indian batsman. By adding Afridi Pakistan can play with 3 fast bowlers & 2 spinners also that will help our batting. I think Afridi should be the part of team otherwise team will missed the aggression. Please convey this to selectors not to drop Afridi from the Squad, in my opnion, he can be wicket taker against Indian team not Abdul Rahman.

  • Stud on November 17, 2007, 3:56 GMT

    Hi, There is so much hoo haa about nothing. Osman, i expect you to be more responsible rather than writing just to get comments and create controversy. Just because Pakistan has lost to india, it seems that the pakistan team is groping in the dark. You can't win everyday. The team showed solid fighting spirit by chasing >320 in the 2nd ODI. Shoaib is a good captain, he needs some direction in high pressure situations. For any pakistani captain playing in India is the highest pressure. Only one thing i would like to echo from Salman Butt, find your 2 best openers and stick with them. Everyone is given time to settle except the openers.

  • Abhijit on November 17, 2007, 1:14 GMT

    I think that Pakistan take things too easily. If you look at the match in which Salman Butt got 129- Butt wasn't trying to smack out of the ground when Pakistan needed 46 off 29 or something like that to win, he was just taking the singles. The only person who I think is trying is Younis Khan. He is accelerating at the right time and I think it was because of him that Pakistan won the 2nd ODI. They should push Sohail Tanvir up the order, because when he bats, he is swashbuckling. Yes, Mohammad Yousuf is playing well, but he just takes his own time. He seems to want to improve his stats more than win the match for Pakistan. I think Sarfraz Ahmed should replace Kamran-it's no good playing a injured player. Sarfraz is also a good hitter, as far as I have heard.

  • neeraj on November 16, 2007, 21:28 GMT

    I am Indian fan, but even I think this article is a little harsh on the paks. They have a state of emergency at home; how concentrated will they be on cricket? Also, the games they lost were played well, but India played better. Dhoni has been a superb captain, making things different for the paks. I'm sure game five will be interesting; maybe some more boom boom from Afridi, and Praveen kumar might play

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