Pakistan v South Africa, 2nd Test, Lahore, 4th day October 11, 2007

Malik feels the heat


'To go into a must-win Test with only four bowlers, two of whom were spinners, was, in the charitable words of Graeme Smith later in the day, an interesting selection' © AFP

An ex-captain was asked recently about Shoaib Malik's ascension to the captaincy. The true test of it, he said, will come during the course of a Test match or a series, and particularly when he loses. "When you have to gee up the team after a bad loss," he said, "getting the team together will be the toughest part."

Malik passed his preliminary tests in Abu Dhabi and the Twenty20 World Championship. He has shown himself to be a proactive and intelligent captain, keenly attuned to the demands of shorter games. That he is already comfortable and secure in both the shorter formats undoubtedly helps.

But Test matches? They bring with them their own little and large peculiarities. There's so much time - too much in which to think, sometimes - so many different ways to approach a situation, strategies to implement, different rhythms and moods to contemplate. This is a different test altogether, not given readily to leadership by rote or formula. And until he became captain, Malik was not a certainty in the XI.

Two Tests is far too early to be drawing conclusions on any leadership but some observational banter is valuable. A caveat or two first: South Africa are a far superior side to Pakistan. Three Test wins out of four over the last year says it, and if they win tomorrow, a fourth will do so loudly.

Further, losing Mohammad Yousuf (for the first Test) and Shoaib Akhtar (to both) to factors beyond his control robbed him of two impact players. Having a farewell foisted upon him as Pakistan looked to level the series here was also a bit much, for it further upset the balance of the team.

But in any case, the balance was skewed to begin with and here Malik must shoulder responsibility. To go into a must-win Test with only four bowlers, two of whom were spinners, was, in the charitable words of Graeme Smith later in the day, an interesting selection.

"We always knew if we spent good time in the middle, those two seamers would carry a lot of strain and that is what has happened," said Smith. Mohammad Asif's elbow injury meant he didn't bowl more than four overs in the second innings and Umar Gul bowled only four this morning.

That left only two spinners, one in his second Test. Well as Danish Kaneria and Abdur Rehman bowled today, their role was solely to control the flow of runs. And generally when that situation arises in a Test, it is because trouble is looming. When Pakistan really felt the lack of bite was when South Africa were 259 for 7 on the second morning and no one to finish them off.

The world is not out for him, much as he seems to act as if it was, and captaincy wasn't forced upon him, it was offered

Pakistan's strategy, their mantra, for this Test series - with spin we win - was Malik's. He made that clear at the very start and he must acknowledge now it was faulty. Pakistan captains have more say in selection and pitches than most others, so by default some blame goes his way.

Taking the new ball after 90 overs and handing it to the spinners was surprising, partly because it is so rare, but in his and the spinners' defence, it worked for runs still had to be ground out thereafter. South Africa didn't set a target of 500 by tea, as they were likely planning though to call that any kind of victory is stretching it.

But Malik's manner all through suggests he is feeling the pressures of it. Granted it is difficult to be proactive when a contest is slipping out of your hands the way this one has, but what is captaincy if not difficult? Pakistan have rarely looked so lacking in spirit and energy, even during Inzamam-ul-Haq's poorer days.

Details apart, this Test has mirrored the preceding one and Pakistan, with Younis Khan rampant, are familiarly placed. Lose by a heavy margin and reactions will be strong, a situation Malik's demeanour at press conferences has done little to assuage.

The world is not out for him, much as he seems to act as if it was, and captaincy wasn't forced upon him, it was offered. The decision was not lambasted, only greeted with understandable caution.

Now on the final day of this series lies an opportunity. Twice in three innings Malik has batted as a leader. If he can do it again, when and if he is needed to, Pakistan can save this Test. The world then might start looking a slightly better place.

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Omeir on October 12, 2007, 7:28 GMT

    Personally Shoaib did a good job as captain. In the previous match they fought back well to get them out for 450ish and in this match SA were 259/7. If catches are dropped on surfaces like these, there is little one can do. Considering the role spinners from both sides have played i think 2 spinners were the ideal choice. Nitini took 1 wicket in the previous test and that too the last wicket of the match. Having 3 seam bowlers would have been a greater blunder. But on the contrary i think we should have had a 90+ mph bowler to rule out the pitch from the equation.

  • Imran on October 12, 2007, 3:25 GMT

    Shoaib Malik has failed miserably in his first test series as captain. As a young captain, he should have seized the initiative and led from the front by promoting himself up the batting order, especially when the openers have consistently failed. How can he expect to command the respect of a young team if he bats at No. 7 himself (by which time the game is often lost, as in the first tests match). When will Pakistan learn that mediocre spin (the likes of Kaneria and Rehman) has not won us a match for many years, and that we need to continue to rely on pace. This match was an unkind reminder of the days when the likes of Mudassar Nazar and Aamer Malik would open the Pakistan bowling. Why? What we should have done was prepare hard wickets, pick 3-4 seamers (Gul, Asif, Sami, and Sohail Tanvir) with maybe 1 spinner, and have gone into a "must win" match with 5 bowlers capable of taking 20 wickets. And drop Salman Butt (test avg 29), and pick Yasir Hameed (test avg 36, ODI 39) instead!

  • Ali on October 12, 2007, 2:27 GMT

    Shohaib Malik is an interesting selection for captian to say the least. He is young and positive, but not a smart strategist. His flaw is his inexperience and when you are captaining pakistan, you have the world on your shoulders. Malik is not the root problem, the selectors come first and then the management and then the players. Pakistan for too long has had poor management, downright stupid selectors who pick players on talent alone. The players that do manage to stick around are super talented but lack direction and consistency. That is where the management has failed. Look back at when Wasim Akram was in charge, players were respectful of one another, worked hard and had the fire in them making their opponents fear them. Pakistan will always have superior fast bowlers and gutsy batsmen, the question is will they have fair selectors, good management and good team spirit.

  • Raza on October 11, 2007, 20:31 GMT

    Shoaib Malik has shown ingenuity and on-field charisma in the shorter version(s) of the game. When it comes to tests, however, he's a debutant. For someone who could barely hold down a place in even the one day team, it's a giant leap of faith to entrust him with the test captaincy. Karachi showed him to be a fish out of water. One wouldn't be so bold as to call for his head, but a little more grooming would have been preferable. As per selection, the problem wasn't necessarily the composition of the bowling attack, but more the penetration of the bowlers available. What extra seamer were we going to use? Rao? Steady, but not about to run through the South African batting. Sohail? Only the freakish nature of Twenty20 can support a freakish bowler like that. We need Shoaib back, I don't care if he massacres the rest of team (if Shoaib was at Thermopoly, the movie would have been called "1"), he's too good to be shunned.

  • Syed on October 11, 2007, 18:56 GMT

    He has not played in enough Tests to be made Captain of a Test side. It seemed he was hoping for things to happen rather than planning the course of an innings while fielding especially. I support him however since there is no one else better. I don't know what the politics in our team and administration is but we need a better balance in the team and stop using tried and tested (and failed)players. In every team, as cyber sultan said, there have to be an allrounder(not part time bowler). We did better when Aamir Sohail was there. Also Mudassir Nazar before him. Instead of using the same openers from a group of 5, we need to look for a youngster who opens and bowls and groom him.History suggests that our heroes have started early and learned in the Tests playing against quality bowling, not in our 1st class. We do not expect anything from our openers anyway. Whatever they make is a bonus.young guys with sharp reflexes should be made to open eg Saeed Anwer, Mohsin, Rameez, Majid in past

  • Mohammad on October 11, 2007, 18:32 GMT

    Shoaib Malik can bat well on flat tracks like ones prepared in Karachi/Lahore, or ones for one-day or 20/20 forms of cricket, but what happens when the wicket offers movement, as it often does in Test matches in England, Australia, SA. He had a hard time putting bat on ball against McGrath in Australia-it is not just he was not able to score runs, but the manner in which he was beaten. How can such an inadequate batsman be offered Test captaincy? Part of the reason slow pitches were prepared, it seems, is that our own captain and vice-captain (Waqar Younis has pointed out Salamn Butt's technique will be exposed under swinging conditions) cannot bat against a fast moving ball which so far Pakistani batsmen have been able to handle quite well. Inzamam, M. Yousuf, Younis Khan, and before that Ijaz Ahmed, Salim Malik, Aamir Sohail, proved their mettle by scoring runs against very good bowling attacks and in conditions that helped fast bowling. Shoaib Malik is simply not in the same league.

  • James on October 11, 2007, 17:12 GMT

    I think the important comment has been made several times previously by several observers - it is too early to tell!

    No test captain should be judged to any significant degree after just two tests. Especially when those tests have come at the end of, quite frankly, a hellish 12 to 14 months. Vaughan didn't put together a world-beating test team overnight - give poor Malik a chance. And I mean a real chance, not a half-assed chance the media sometimes tend to give sportsmen and women.

    (That being the case, I do agree he has made one or two tactical errors, but experience is the name we give to disguise our mistakes - and lets face it, we all make mistakes from time to time.)

  • Jamil on October 11, 2007, 17:01 GMT

    The general theme ringing out from the article is that it is too early to judge Malik's credentials as captain. However, I have seen enough positives in his captaincy to give Shoaib Malik my full support. His role as captain and his performances with the bat in the Twenty20 cup have to be commended. Osman, you are a respected and mature journalist. You state in your article that Malik was not a certainty in the playing XI for tests and then you slate his strategy. Give the dude a break, he is learning the game and role of captaincy in tests. Even the best strategists get them wrong on occasion and if Pakistan had won the first test we would be commemorating Malik as a genious. In both final days of the SA tests Pakistan could have drawn and even set themselves up with a slim chance of victory. It is our batsmen who have let us down in this series. What puzzles me is that our tailenders like Rahman could come out and contribute with the bat, why not our top or middle order?!

  • Nimra on October 11, 2007, 16:35 GMT

    I am absolutely satisfied with Shoaib Malik's captaincy considering the fact that it is his first Test series as captain!!He did do some mistakes in the 1st test, but he did learn from them as well and did not repeat them in the 2nd test! I think Malik has a great potential to become a very good captain and get the team on winning track.Having said that, I believe there are some areas where Malik needs to improve.But we should all support our young,new captain and we just need to give him some time.

  • Hameed on October 11, 2007, 16:19 GMT

    True. It is too early to judge. But again frankly speaking I am not seeing a TEST CAPTAIN in Shoaib Malik. The way he handled the bowling and field settings, he has a long way to go.

    I should say that let us handle the test captaincy to Mohammed Yousuf and let Malik do it for the shorter versions of the game.

    Most important, pakistan selectors needs to learn more cricket. What were they thinking when they selected just two seamers to bowl in a match were a possiblity of 90 per day? No part time bowlers. Test team should have 4 front line bowlers and 2 batmen who can bend their back to send down at least 10 - 20 overs a day. In olden days they used to call them Allrounders. Salman Butt needs to sit out some more time learn batting. Kamran Akmal is bad keeper. An average bat. I would say it is time to give Sarfraz Ahamed or Dulkarnain Hyder a chance.

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