2007 in review: Pakistan December 30, 2007

None more bleak

Plenty happened in Pakistan cricket in 2007, little of it good

Double blow: the loss to Ireland and then the death of Bob Woolmer were a new nadir for Pakistan © AFP

Of the many reasons cricket has thrived and sustained its popularity in Pakistan, one has been its regular ability to provide something positive, something worth celebrating when times have been rough. This year has been among the most tumultuous of the 60 mostly turbulent years of this country's existence, but sadly, cricket provided little respite. In truth, apart from a brief period in September, it only added to the suffocating sense of gloom.

Much happened this year, little of it good. No doubt, it being another year where eras clashed, a new order swapping places with the old, a little caution has to come into any analysis. Shoaib Malik and Geoff Lawson were the men entrusted with the batons Inzamam-ul-Haq and the late Bob Woolmer left behind. But by year's end, questions that emerged towards the end of the reigns of the latter two were being raised over the appointments of the former; of a different nature, but questions nonetheless.

Overridingly, of course, it was because of the dreadful numbers, which hid no truth save that Pakistan were very poor. They won only one Test match from eight (losing four), and a paltry eight ODIs from 23. They didn't win a single Test series, and only one, wholly inconsequential ODI tussle against Sri Lanka in May. Applying spin to those facts is as effective as applying spin against Brian Lara.

The graver problem was that Pakistan, in colours and whites, didn't look like winning anything, and rarely did it seem like any progress was being made, more so once Malik took over. Little of it was directly his fault; indeed had Younis Khan said yes to the captaincy, as many hoped, expected and wanted him to, after the World Cup, Pakistan might have prospered from their first-ever successful, smooth leadership succession plan.

It didn't help either that all of Malik's fast bowlers - Pakistan's one strength - spent more time with doctors than they did bowling. Shoaib Akhtar had a typically infuriating year, and the spectre of injury never really let go of Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul. Like Inzamam before him, Malik never had a full, fit complement to choose from (though his faith in spin in his very first series in charge was both naïve and misplaced).

The other bits that constitute his team's spine also wobbled. Opening remained troublesome, and Kamran Akmal survived another spectacularly poor year behind the stumps, in which every catch he took was a relief. Aggravating the problem, Pakistan stubbornly refused to explore new options in both categories. Danish Kaneria, their leading Test wicket-taker, took wickets too expensively and infrequently for them to really matter. But most worryingly for Malik's own future, questions over his place in the Test side remained unanswered.

It all looked worse, because in hindsight this wasn't really a new era after all. The only major change was the captaincy and perhaps the loss of Abdul Razzaq. There was no major culling. The one sort-of-new face, Misbah-ul-Haq, was actually the most successful, and his second coming arrived during the only real bright spot in Pakistan's year. That a gallant runners-up place at the World Twenty20 was their only highlight, actually highlights just how poor the year was.

Bob Woolmer's death at the World Cup brought to an unfortunate close a phase of Pakistan cricket, at the end of which, ultimately, they seemed no healthier than when it began. But as the year ended, this quasi-new phase already seemed to be stagnating, so that the only real good news from Pakistan's 2007 was that it should be over shortly.

New man on the block
Misbah-ul-Haq. Though calls for him to be made captain by year's end were premature and ridiculous, there can be no doubting his impact. A surprise recall for the Twenty20, he was Pakistan's (nearly) man of the tournament. With an outstanding series in India, he successfully began the job of filling in the largest shoes in Pakistan, those of the other ul-Haq, Inzamam. And he was doing it as unflappably and calmly as Inzamam.

The second coming of Misbah was one among all too few silver linings © AFP

Fading star
Abdul Razzaq. Having once been the most promising allrounder in the world, this year Razzaq only played seven ODIs, in which he was largely ineffective, and no Tests. Miffed at missing the World Twenty20, he retired, joined the Indian Cricket League, renounced his retirement, and was subsequently banned from playing domestic or international cricket. The future is bleak.

High point
As a proper start to Malik's captaincy, the run to the Twenty20 final promised much. Typically, it was conceived in a Shoaib Akhtar controversy, but Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Shahid Afridi, Misbah, and the captain himself represented big gains all the way to the final. Pakistan looked at home with the format and Malik in tune with the game's requirements. But for one paddle, they might even have won it.

Low point
Getting knocked out by Ireland was low enough, but the death of Bob Woolmer after it threw Pakistan cricket into depths unseen (and it has seen some). That the loss of one of cricket's true devotees was so keenly felt by the entire cricket world, and not just Pakistan, was of little consolation.

What does 2008 hold?
Some pretty tough challenges, not least of which might be - at least currently - to host international contests. If and when the situation stabilises, however, the toughest challenge in cricket comes knocking in the shape of the first Australian tour in a decade. Thereafter, the Asia Cup and the ICC Champions Trophy beckon, and a tougher initiation as captain Malik will not find. Any progress at all, from this year, would do nicely.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • e on January 1, 2008, 16:47 GMT

    I think that pakistan will be very good in the coming year. The training camps would help the team alot. I think that malik should be VC and Youins should be Captain. good luck to pakistan!

  • Fayyaz on January 1, 2008, 7:11 GMT

    The Pakistan team plays cricket but do not really understand the game. We play just on instinct and talent, but are immune to being taught either strategy or professionalism.

    I saw Woolmer bring neither strategic brilliance to the team, nor did he improve the basic things coaches should: running between the wickets or improved fielding.

    Lawson talked about bringing mental toughness but he has already filed in my book: he insisting on playing Sami in the first and second tests in India, after he averages over 50 runs per wicket in Test cricket (!!!) and failing yet again in the First Test. If Lawson, as a former Australian opening bowler can't get the fast bolwing picks right, how he he provide any strategic insights?

  • tohfay on December 31, 2007, 19:15 GMT

    Now that Imran Khan is not running for elections maybe he can jump in..better yet, what if Persident Musharraf takes the captaincy ;-)

  • Ali Shan on December 31, 2007, 5:33 GMT

    I think 2008 should be nice to Pakistan team. Because Pakistan batting is not really effected in the after the retirement of inzamam-ul-haq as misbah-ul-haq is playing very nicely at the moment. Pakistan have lost the last test series because of their poor bowling as all of their main bowlers(Umar Gul, Mohammad Asif) got injured before the tour or during the tour (shoaib Akhtar And Mohammad Sami). If all of their bowlers got fit then i think Pakistan will be force in the cricket world.

  • Umair on December 30, 2007, 20:57 GMT

    Dear Osman! Your criticism on pakistani team is well justified. Their performance has exactly been the way you highlighted but lets not lose faith in our young guns. Pakistani team has wonderful talents, they just need to be polished and someone who can do it for them. By losing great established players Pakistan has dropped into the developing stage, but lets give them time to develop. Malik might be a lazy captain but he is an extra ordinary player, and yeah Younis should have taken the captaincy a bit earlier. He is a magnificent team player and he can do the job. I believe that day is not very far away when everyone else would look bleak in front of the Pakistani young lions.

  • R. on December 30, 2007, 12:37 GMT

    Well, I don't know how far it is true, but I read a newspaper report saying that the PCB is looking to select a "young" vice - captain. According to the report, potential candidates are Akmal and Afridi, both of whom aren't in the best of form, so this shows you the bad state Pakistan is in.

    Perhaps the PCB would do some good by making Malik the VC and Younus the Captain, now that he is willing to do it. This would give Malik some exposure to the responsibilities, and yet he won't have to direct the team performance.

    As for 2008, I think Misbah will do well, and Kamran would perhaps get some good form, but, just like for WI, I hope that they have a good year, because they have so much talent, but it is going to waste without proper man-management. Mr. Lawson, I hope you read this, and I hope you would try to take a leaf from what WI has done to SA and try to inspire some performances like that out of your charges! :)

  • Shahzad on December 30, 2007, 12:25 GMT

    I dont expect much from Pakistan team unless Shoaib Malik is the captain. He is not good enough to lead an international team. He doesn't know how to lead from the front. How to back up his players & how to use the players in the certain conditions. He has a very defensive & coward approach. He doesn't bat in the top order & also bowls very rarely. He also lacks self confidence & doesn't have the ability to judge the conditions. So I think if Pakistan has to do better they must change the captain at 1st instance. My choice for the captain is Younas Khan.

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