January 3, 2011

Small mercies

As has become routine, Pakistan had another year full of saga and turmoil. On field the results were oddly good, considering

Recent history says Pakistan cricket should operate by the Chinese calendar: 2006 was the Year of Hair; 2007 the Year of Woolmer, 2008 the Year of No Test and 2009 the Year of Lahore. In that line 2010 can only be known as the Year of the Spot-Fix.

Ultimately this year was a dirty triumph for the paranoid. All the creeping growth of rumour and speculation and confusion over the last decade, relentlessly soundtracked by Sarfraz Nawaz, found release in three no-balls in August. Now every slog, wide, no-ball, dropped catch, run-out, loss, win, any and every thing will forever fall under a scanner of revitalised paranoia.

And the spot-fixing scandal didn't just deprive Pakistan of three vital players although the loss of a potential long-term captain and arguably the world's best new-ball pair cannot be oversold. It also pushed Pakistan to the very precipice of cricketing existence.

The PCB's initial reaction to the News of the World sting operation was typical of this administration: a bumbling, incoherent self-denial. Noises were made about conspiracies before outrageously incendiary accusations were hurled at England, a lone ally. It left Pakistan friendless and homeless, and at one stage - make no mistake - suspension of their membership or at least that of their chairman, was a very real outcome.

Since those critical ICC meetings in October, however, the PCB - with much steering from the ICC's reconstituted task force - has pulled itself back a little. Ijaz Butt has stopped talking publicly so much and a raft of anti-corruption and disciplinary measures have been or are being implemented. But as the flight of Zulqarnain Haider shows, calamity is never far. And other, equally grave, problems remain. After the summer's shenanigans, England can, for now, not be considered a home. The UAE remains geographically feasible but logistically and financially not so much.

That there was at least enough on the field to occasionally distract from all the troubles was some consolation. There still wasn't a Test or ODI series win - Pakistan haven't had one of the former since November 2006 and an ODI series win since November 2008 - but there were plenty of moments to reaffirm that cricket without Pakistan would be a less colourful arena.

Test wins over Australia - the first in 15 years - and England in England, a drawn series with South Africa and a semi-final run in an ICC event are fair collections in any year; in one that began with a dysfunctional whitewash, and for the duration of most of which four top players were banned and then three more were lost, it is actually remarkable.

Indeed it is frightening to think what may have been achieved had Pakistan managed to synchronise their bowling riches from the English summer with the batting growth seen later in the year in the UAE. Or if they'd had one Test captain rather than four; or one coach; or one chief selector. It has ever been thus. Most importantly, that strange, uncontrollable collective spirit was still present, evidenced in outstanding ODI comebacks against England and South Africa. After four of the worst years any side could have, there is deep comfort in that knowledge.

High point
It should've come in Sydney in the New Year, but a first Test win over Australia in 15 years was no less sweet when it arrived in Leeds in July. They nearly fluffed it of course but on the first day Pakistan's attack proved itself to be among the best in cricket. Given the regular flux of their performances, however, the result ultimately said more about Australian decline than it did about Pakistani rise.

New kid on the block
Azhar Ali's emergence at one down was as necessary as it was uplifting. Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf apart, Pakistan have lacked men to bat long and stabilise matters but in Azhar they have one. Only five times in 16 innings did he bat less than an hour, and his five fifties have all been patient affairs. His technique just about held in a tough initiation in swinging England and it bore sweet reward on flatter surfaces in the UAE. His arrival made up for the disappointment of Umar Akmal's decline, though Azhar needs a Test hundred to break through.

Fading star
Captaincy, ban, retirement, return, hero, axe - so has gone the strangest year of Mohammad Yousuf's career. At no stage has he looked out of form (and his returning fifty at The Oval was technically the best Pakistani innings on that tour), but in 18 international innings this year he crossed 50 only twice. With the emergence of younger middle-order options, the axing from the Test squad to New Zealand at 36 had a ring of finality about it.

What 2011 holds
The World Cup is the biggest challenge, and if they can continue the run in which they have reached at least the semis of the last four ICC events, it will be a win. Thereafter, a first tour to the Caribbean in six years brings with it the possibility of a drought-breaking Test and ODI series win. Worryingly there isn't much else on the calendar after that for now.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2011, 7:59 GMT

    2011: the year of the "BUTT's"

  • Richard on January 4, 2011, 1:51 GMT

    @Imran Dada & just_chill_chill-I feel so sorry for all the Pakistan fans out there. They must feel betrayed by the PCB and some of their players. Having the PCB investigate corruption is akin to the police investigating allegations of brutality by it's officers, and their actions are like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while the ship is sinking. If I were a Pakistani I would be beyond furious at the state of affairs. It's got to the point where a complete clean out is required but who is to do it?

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2011, 21:27 GMT

    This year probably marked one of the worst loss for pakistan - loss of trust from its fan base. Many followed pakistan cricket closely and admired the talent and their performance, in spite of the nonstop circus around them. However with latest match-fixing saga, they lost many fans for good (like me). I have reached a point where I just dont care about the anymore - and that indifference is probably worse than the anger.

  • Prahlad on January 3, 2011, 21:25 GMT

    Good article. The country that produced Imran, Wasim, and Waqar could have again boasted a great new fast bowler. One of the most important events to look forward to in 2011 is whether Mohd. Amir will return to the fold. Even if he is tainted by the affair, his on-field skills should burn bright for long enough that we might forget, and even forgive.

  • Cool on January 3, 2011, 19:35 GMT

    @ Imran Dada : Agree with you completely boss. Right now there are just too many thugs and loose characters playing for Pak. THEY MUST GO.

  • Atul on January 3, 2011, 18:28 GMT

    I am an Indian and miss pakistan a lot... This is pne team who has produced endless number of geniuses.. only admin has curbed them... In fact sa and aus going to field some of pakistan born player now. Teams in Canada , HK and US are full of pakistani player..Its in blood..

    Pakistan will be strong once again...they just need good adminsistration who will also create healthy political environment at icc and bcci.

  • Dummy4 on January 3, 2011, 17:54 GMT

    Pakistan cricket will be better off if it takes one time hit of getting rid of all tainted players and administrator.

  • khurram on January 3, 2011, 17:50 GMT

    @nadeem:dear vetori's statement is not about that. he was saying it a initialy this tour was ment to be 2 t20's 5 odi's & 3 tests & they changed it for other reason. they changed it for WC as this will be last serie for both teams to get ready & this series wil finish jut 8 days before Wc. vetori was mentioning that . this series was sheduled for past 2 years. he meant extended games.not whole series.

  • Hammad on January 3, 2011, 13:27 GMT

    Nice article .....it says all about the events and happenings of Pakistan Cricket last year. Spot fixing needs to have its middle stump uprooted(WILL SOMEBODY CALL SHOAIB AKHTER OR WILL WAQAR DO THE TRICK).Whatever the case may be these young and talented lads who are uneducated and are from backward areas like Aamer ,Asif and Umer Akmal will indulge in these activities if there is no one to control them. They are talented , as I always say that Pakistan has the best talent in the world in terms of Cricket and we never hesitate in wasting it. Now you have Umer Akmal .... They say Pakistan has a weak batting line up , and what the 19 year old does , He goes to Newzealand in his First test match and smashes a ton.What else you need.We HAVE or should I say HAD the best young fast bowler in Aamer who took two consecutive 5 wicket hauls in test matches .The youngest ever to take 50 test wickets and what we did , We lost him.

  • varun on January 3, 2011, 11:17 GMT

    Paksitan has enough pedigree to best any team in any format, even with the recent loss of its players to spot fixing. Though it is sad to see such things happening to a talented bunch of cricketers, enough blame lies with its cricket administration that it is sinful to point the fingers at the cricketers alone. The adminstrators through their own short sightedness fail to understand that with lack of cricket, the cricketers are looking to supplement their meagre incomes by other means like spot fixing. The worst part of this is that PCB has no plans to stem the rut, and look to its primary function of promoting cricket. Lack of cricket exposure to the international players let alone the domestic ones are going to be the cause of the demise of cricket in the country. Sadly, this course looks imminent if PCB does not get its act right, to pull its cricket out of a hole that it has dug itself. Its typical of ICC not to help PCB see its erroneous way.

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