March 8, 2001

A new-look Pakistan faces the Black Caps

The Pakistan cricket team's tour of New Zealand, did not take a bright start. Instead the boys gave the team management, the planners at the Pakistan cricket Board (PCB), and the cricket lovers back home, lot of anxious moments culminating into the tension of an unbearable velocity. For no justifiable reasons their prowess and performance slumped to unimaginable depths.

Alternating victory and defeat in the One-day internationals ultimately losing the last one, after having piled up almost a winning total of 285 runs, was one of the most miserable showdowns of Pakistan's cricket history. As it was not enough, there came a shameful defeat by an innings, at the hands of a junior team in a side match. No doubt, the team deserved to be relegated from the 4th to 6th position in the international ranking.

Ups and downs may be a part of the game but such a steep fall by an outfit comprising of a galaxy of super stars and some very brilliant youngsters was, neither normal nor easy to be relished by those whose heart and soul is submersed in the depths of Pakistan's cricket. The reasons almost shrouded in mystery, have to be identified from alleged `rift in the team' vehemently denied by the PCB and the usual fairy tale of `players plagued with injuries'.

Considering the choice between not challenging the integrity of the Board and the quality of team's management on one side and the `volcanic conditions' that the team may perhaps be facing on an apparently easy looking tour on the other, one has to draw his own conclusions. One thing is, however, sure that such a wholesale change in the team never took place before.

Whatever the reasons, the system requires suitable changes and reforms. Half the team declaring itself physically unfit all of a sudden, is not normal nor is the award of test caps to 4 youngsters in a match, how brilliant they may be. Such a drastic move can upset the balance of a team. The upcoming youngsters are inducted in the side in ones and twos and not in hordes. Similarly the seniors-turned super stars are the `treasure chest' of our cricket. They neither deserve to be discarded in lump sum nor in unprecedented haste.

There are instances when some outstanding cricketers were discarded and ultimately destroyed at the altar of some one's ego. The same is true for many talented youngsters who were exposed to the hazards of international cricket too prematurely and were lost to the game forever. If we are lucky in possessing talent in abundance, we are too liberal in wasting it too. A sensible-cum-justifiable balance needs to be maintained.

The induction of youngsters has surely given a good start to Pakistan's team in the 1st test at Auckland but the effects of their performance will only be known at the end of the 5th day. Though the team lost 2 wickets with only 52 runs on the board, the unbeaten 5th wicket stand of 132 runs between Younis Khan (91*) and Faisal Iqbal (42*) that brought up the first day's yield to 270 for 4 was certainly a very impressive finish. The way young Younis Khan is exercising command on the situation, notwithstanding the two vital chances that he offered, he seems to be destined for his 3rd century in test cricket.

Playing on a portable pitch is a unique experience for the Pakistan team. Kerry Packer was perhaps the exponent of lifting the turf from one site and installing it at the other as a part of his World Series Cricket a quarter century ago. The behavior of the track at Auckland so far, indicates that the system is working wonders even today. Appearing to be a batting track, if the two teams are successful in mounting big totals, the test will end up in a draw.

Though Imran Farhat (23 in 68 balls) and Misbah-ul-Haq (28 in 88 balls) played subdued innings, Yousuf Youhana scored a brilliant 51 in 67 balls. The youngsters making a debut in test cricket had to be cautious, especially in view of the unknown behavior of the pitch. Except for Daryl Tuffey, the other bowlers did not pose much of a problem to the batsmen.

With perhaps too much of international cricket played at Auckland, the spectators appeared to have disappeared in the wilderness of other activities. Still the venue produced enjoyable cricket for those present at the ground and the millions who saw the game on television. Unless a collapse occurs and provided Younis Khan continues his belligerent run spree, Pakistan is likely to end up with a big 1st innings total.