March 31, 2001

Pakistan must regroup and think ahead

Salahudin Ahmed (Sallu)

Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu)
Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu)
Photo © CricInfo
For more reasons than one, Pakistan's total collapse twice at Hamilton is rather inexplicable. The Pakistanis were in reasonably good nick till they arrived at Hamilton for the final Test of the series. By then, despite Saeed Anwar's absence at the top of the order, the batting line-up had acquitted itself rather well. Yousuf Youhana had stroked his way to a double ton, and Younis Khan as well as stand-in skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq had notched up big hundreds. To add insult to injury, even Saqlain Mushtaq had helped himself past his first three-figure knock in a rather impudent manner. Young Faisal Iqbal too had a couple of fifties to his credit, and Imran Farhat despite his impetuosity seemed to have the stuff to make the grade in big time cricket.

So at Hamilton, once put in, all the Pakistani batsmen needed to do was to continue the good work. But they collapsed on the first morning for 100-odd runs on a wicket, which had a bit of juice for the bowlers. The need of the hour (at least in the first two hours) when the ball was swinging was patience and application. But all the top batsmen fell to poor shot selection, flashing at balls cleverly pitched just outside the off-stump.

The Black Caps were clearly playing according to a plan, and they stuck to it. The wicket eased out a bit, but still had something for the bowlers and yet veteran Waqar Younis, rookie Fazl-e-Akbar and Mohammad Akram failed to make optimum use of the conditions. The two New Zealand openers, Bell and Richardson ended up making their maiden hundreds while Craig McMillan and Stephen Fleming really belted the visitors' attack. To rub it in for good measure, McMillan scored the world record number of runs in an over.

One hoped that Pakistan would have learnt their lesson, and in the second round one expected to see better application. The Pakistani batsmen, however, collapsed again in conditions, which were now anything but lethal. The bowling was pretty ordinary and on the natural turf the ball was coming on knee high, just as it does in the sub-continent. Franklin, who had figures of four for 26, bowled over the wicket and thus had a natural angle but there was no movement off the wicket or in the air.

I really fail to understand this singular lack of motivation to end the tour on a high note. It is always bad to see a capitulation, but it really was more than that. The Pakistanis should have shown some spine.

This comprehensive defeat, and in just three days to boot, discounting the washed out day, exposes coach Javed Miandad's assertion that with a younger lot he could deliver. This is a moment for him to think deep and hard, and come up with some ideas to put the team back on the winning track.

Since Moin's future seems to be hanging in the balance, a word about that. My advice to the selectors would be not to discard him totally. That is if he has to be removed from captaincy, he should not be sacked as a player. I believe that with his experience he could still serve the team. Humayun Farhat no doubt has talent, but should remain as an understudy for a while and learn the ropes. At Sharjah, the youngsters would have another opportunity to play in conditions they are familiar with. I hope Saeed Anwar would be back for the event, and that Shahid Afridi and Imran Nazir are called back. With the induction of the latter two, Pakistan would have fewer embarrassing moments in the fielding department as well.

But, as I exhorted in my previous column too, Pakistan should really be planning for England. The conditions there would be difficult, especially in the first half of the summer, when the grass is greener and the atmosphere is heavy and there is lots of lateral movement. Even veterans find the conditions a bit too much to cope with. For youngsters it might be impossible, especially in batting. I really hope that Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram are back for that series and so are Anwar and Yousuf Youhana. On the evidence of what transpired in New Zealand, without them, Pakistan might find themselves short of enough firepower both in batting and bowling to down England.

Ed: Salahuddin Ahmed (Sallu) is a former Test cricketer, and has served as a PCB selector nine times; his last stint (1999-2000) was as chief selector.