January 8, 2010

Pakistan puzzle, Dhaka squib

How did it all go wrong for the visitors in Sydney this week?

Australia may find themselves in occasional strife and at the receiving end of jibes that have long waited for the moment, but they are not in decline. The Ashes may have been lost, and remember, there was a generation that didn't know what that meant, and India and South Africa may have moved ahead on a slightly dodgy ranking system, but there is still much fight in the dog, as Pakistan have discovered. Shorn of match-winners and with a captain currently not matching the high standards he has set, Australia must seem vulnerable. But they have gone back to doing what they do best: scrapping for every run and putting a price on their wicket. At any time these are admirable virtues.

These are also qualities that define Australian sport. When you have a solid system, when work ethic is largely non-negotiable, when athletes follow a fairly robust process, decline is unlikely to be as dramatic as the one West Indies suffered. Pakistan, on the other hand, must be kicking themselves for letting a great opportunity go by. You beat good teams when you compete over the entire duration of the match; Pakistan discovered that you can be ahead on points but still lose on a knockout.

Admittedly their tactics against Michael Hussey and Peter Siddle were hugely inexplicable, but 176 should have been achievable against a rookie quick, a spinner still finding his way in international cricket and not destined for greatness, a promising but underachieving new-ball bowler, and a genuine quick only just back in form. But Pakistan have always been more about talent than about steel and it was the latter quality that was needed here. You sensed that the result that eventually arrived was round the corner.

About a year ago there were indications that, for the first time, Pakistan weren't throwing up the kind of explosive talent they seem to store in their belly. Since then Mohammad Aamer has arrived, and he is here to stay for a long time, and Umar Akmal will be one of the better players in their history. Only six matches old, he is already the second best batsman in this team. But when talent is not backed by a reverence towards work ethic, it loses its way pretty rapidly, as another fine player, Mohammad Asif, discovered before he was hauled back from the precipice. One day I want to know what players from Pakistan seek from the game, because a lot of them sell themselves very short. I sometimes fear too that the Pakistan Cricket Board is a bit like the Indian Hockey Federation - happier with the perks of the job than an intense desire for the greater good of the game.

One day I want to know what players from Pakistan seek from the game, because a lot of them sell themselves very short

Hopefully there are a couple of opening batsmen among the many uncut diamonds that are strewn there, who they can stick with. Every great team in world cricket has used a top pair of openers as the base from which to mount an attack. West Indies, with Greenidge and Haynes; Australia, first with Taylor and Slater and then with Hayden and Langer; and if you want to go further back, with Lawry and Simpson, Barnes and Morris, Woodfull and Ponsford. Perhaps only the fine West Indies team of the mid-sixties, which had 10 excellent players and someone to open with Conrad Hunte, would be an exception.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, where the home side has made definite gains in 50-over cricket, a one-day series rather weak in conception is battling along. For a start, India play Sri Lanka for the zillionth time - the players must start thinking they are old classmates now, but worse, the matches are being played in an atmosphere where the conditions dominate the game. That can never be good. I know cricket is all about overcoming conditions, but those must be similar for both teams. Where the toss is half the match, you cannot have good cricket.

Indeed, this series would have been the perfect experiment for a one-day game played over two innings of 25 overs each. Both sides would have bowled in dry conditions and then both would have had to bear the brunt of the dew. And since, ideally, an innings must resume from the score at the break, the wet ball would probably have been used against lesser batsmen, thereby further minimising the effect of the dew.

And so, chances are the cricket is going to be more interesting in Australia and South Africa than in Dhaka.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • D on January 11, 2010, 17:38 GMT

    I fully agree with Harsha, the tri-series in Bangladesh is purely a waste of time plus more torture for the bowlers on the dead pitches. India Vs Sri Lanka is almost a joke now, if teams keep playing against each other with such alarming frequency the interest is gone both among the fans as well as the players. Aus Vs Pak Sydney test was fabulous match inspite of the bizarre result. Pak deserved to win purely for the wonderful bowling of Sami and Asif in the first innings which I feel will be the best test bowling day of the year, it was way better to watch than the nightmarish ODI at Rajkot and the dull ODI's being played out in the tri series. Pak have a lot of raw talent that just has to be nurtured properly, I wonder how Imran Khan views the Sydney debacle. SA vs England have been playing a delightful test series, Dale Steyn's scorching spell to Collingwood on Day 5 of the Capetown test was a treat. Really it seems now to watch quality cricket we have to look outside of Asia.

  • kishore on January 10, 2010, 0:40 GMT

    Cool metaphors. And thsi time they are apt for Pakistan. Too little discipline for Test cricket, which is and will be the dominant proving ground for world class cricketers versus the also rans.

  • praveen on January 9, 2010, 17:37 GMT

    The current Pakistan team is one of the weakest of all pakistani teams.Iam sure it will struggle even to beat Bangladesh.When the bowlers do well, the batsmen let the team down & vice-versa.They donot have a quality match-finisher like Dhoni or Yuvi.Their batting lacks the much needed aggression.Wicket Keeper Kamran Akmal must be sacked immediately.The only positive that Pakistan can take from the recent past is the emergence of UmarAkmal,a promising young talent. Strike Bowlers like Kaneria have been let down by players like Kamran Akmal who dropped even the simple catches.

  • Syed on January 9, 2010, 17:11 GMT

    Pakistan's problem is talent also, not just steel. Especially in batting and fielding. Batting is due to not much batting talent available. When most of you specialist batsmen are averaging 30 or below! with no real replacement then statistically you should expect more incidences like sydney, dunedin and srilanka. Three failures to execute the victory in 8 test matches. 20-20 is one exception where pakistan seems to specialize at the moment and strong nerves comes naturally. Fielding problems are due to lack of culture of athleticism in the country and also the facilities. Geo political conditions are not helping either. What needs to be done is to promote sport(s) and have trust that we have enough sporting talent in the country that if provide and encourage sporting activity at every level we will find world class athletes not just in cricket but in many other sports. As a reaction to sydney defeat we should demand that board to develop hundreds of grounds across the country

  • Saleem on January 9, 2010, 17:09 GMT

    Thank you Harsha for your objective comments on pakistan and its woes! Your analysis is succinct and true - PCB is the culprit, and to an extent the captaincy but that too is the creation of PCB. Is it sensitive enough to know that it must leave the podium in view its incompetence and lack of knowledge!

  • Warrick on January 9, 2010, 16:52 GMT

    It is remarkable that Aus gets no credit for winning the game at all. If you believe the comments here, they could have sent out the Coogee Under-14 Girls B Team and still beat Pakistan. Guess Aus didn't take the field, bowl any balls, take any catches, or field anything at all.

  • Bobby on January 9, 2010, 4:25 GMT

    Guys come on..... this is just another sports, why so much of hype and analysis. The good team wins on any given day. I do feel sorry for pak with its current circumstances, but they gonna over come it. I believe Pak selection committee and board probably is always steered by the "bhai-bhai" culture rather than on merit basis.

  • Ashwin on January 9, 2010, 3:14 GMT

    Agree with ILoveTestCricket

    Instead of playing a meaningless cricket, particularly given injury hit SL and against BL and given that Indian Bowling is suffering so much, all the topflight players should have been made available for the knockout stages of Ranji trophy.

    It would have been a fine contest of established top order batsmen versus fresh young fast bowlers.

    Would have been fun watching Mithun, Vinay, and Aravind v/s Sachin or Zaheer v/s Dravid, Utappha, Manish in the finals.

    Young Karnataka bowlers would have learnt a lot just by playing against Sachin and young batsmen would have tasted the aggression of Zaheer.

  • Parthasarathy on January 9, 2010, 2:50 GMT

    A small but with wonderful words, this article touches many facts of cricket in current era.

    Australians 'work ethics' to be very much appreciated. Also, good pitches would bring interest to watch plays between any teams. Thanks for writing these two.

  • Anneeq on January 9, 2010, 1:32 GMT

    We need a whole restructuring from the very top!!! We need to do an English football league style where, we have major towns of Pakistan in different divisions, where the bottom three are relegated etc. I dont just mean Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Islamabad either all major towns need to be involved like Toba Tek Singh, Gujr Khan, Mirpur etc. Having teams where people play for their home cities is more appealing to the normal people than having your 'Khan research Lab' and 'PIA.'

    Politics needs to be taken away from cricket too, we shouldnt have Asif Zardari calling the shots for the PCB, he has more pressing stately issues to deal with. Also we need to get a grip on this fielding above everything else. It really does need to be emphasized whatever domestic format we choose. We are lagging far behind everyone else now in that!! We need to concentrate most of our resources on that, batting and bowling standards will improve thru competition but fielding needs special attention.

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