Heartening performance in Sharjah

Dear Reader,

I'd like to share some thoughts and feelings about Pakistan's new team and the happenings during our first outing at Sharjah last week.

Based on Pakistan's recent performance in World Cup 2003, we went to Sharjah's 4-Nation Cherry Blossom Cup, as underdogs. We were to face Zimbabwe, a Super Sixes qualifier and the two losing World Cup semi-finalists, Kenya and Sri Lanka - all rated above us.

For future team-building plans and giving a rest to out-of-form senior players, we opted for a newer look but talented Pakistani team.

I am indeed proud of the boys for performing so diligently and helping us return home unbeaten from the tournament. We had confidence in the abilities of the youngsters and they have not disappointed us at all.

First of all, I would like to congratulate and thank all Pakistan supporters worldwide for this win. We have been receiving comments and prayers from all parts of the world wishing us to perform well in Sharjah and I hope the results have made everyone happy.

However, we are keeping a close eye on our mistakes too as there is still need for a lot of improvement to become a cricketing power to be reckoned with. Complacency can be our biggest enemy and we are aware of its suicidal nature.

I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to our coach Javed Miandad. His presence lessens any captaincy pressures I have on my shoulders.

Everyone must have noticed the discipline on the field, especially among the batsmen. The way they built their innings, whether chasing or setting targets; everything was done most professionally because of our mentor and coach. His presence at the `analyst seat' encourages everyone, especially the youngsters, to become salient parts of game plans. The sharpness in fielding, again goes to the training sessions we had under Javed Miandad's supervision.

As the captain, I am lucky to not only have Javed Miandad as my coach, but also fortunate to have received valuable inputs from the selection committee chairman, Aamer Sohail. He has a very good insight of the finer elements of cricket. Aamer Sohail played an important role in making strategies for different phases of the games.

One prominent aspect of our performance was the ability to chase targets in two important games, against Sri Lanka and the final against Zimbabwe. On both occasions, we achieved our targets proficiently without any hiccups and with many overs to spare.

The fifties scored by Mohammad Hafeez, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan and Taufeeq Umar during these two target-chasing wins were remarkable efforts.

The explosive unbeaten fifty by Abdul Razzaq in the first game against Zimbabwe can be better termed as the launching pad for our performance in the entire tournament. We were tottering at 203/7, when he hammered his way to an unbeaten 76 to enable Pakistan amass seventy-five runs in the last thirty-five balls. This innings actually put us on the right path towards winning this championship.

In batting, both Yousuf Youhana and Younis Khan came of age, showed complete dedication and accepted their responsibilities of being the anchors and heads of our batting line-up. Among the youngsters, Misbah-ul-Haq and Faisal Iqbal pitched-in with useful contributions.

The revelation of the tournament was Mohammad Hafeez. His well-crafted fifty against Sri Lanka tragically ended with run-out, otherwise he would have gone on for a much bigger innings. His thirty-six against Kenya and his economical bowling spells with valuable wickets at crucial stages has helped us tremendously in drafting our match plans. If he does not fall into the trap of complacency, Mohammad Hafeez has shown the class to meticulously serve Pakistan in the future.

We were struggling a little against Kenya, when Shoaib Malik stepped up up with a gem of an innings, 76 in 58 balls. Shoaib Malik also had a good tour with both bat and ball.

Batsman Naved Latif is a gritty player, but has a few small technical flaws which need to be rectified in nets, before giving him a longer stint at international level.

Like always, there was little help for medium pace seam bowlers in Sharjah, but overall, newcomer Naved-ul-Hasan bowled quite well. He did not get many chances to bat in the tournament, but the way he assisted Shoaib Malik against Kenya, we have see in him genuine all-rounder abilities.

Another find of the tour has been Umar Gul. His beautiful `line `n' length' was unruffled by the presence of top world-class batsmen like Atapattu, Jayasuriya, Sangakkara, Wishart, Grant Flower and others. He bowled with complete confidence, except for one over against Kenya, which hopefully he will remember, so as to improve for the better in the future. God Willing; Umar Gul is going to be a valuable asset of Pakistan cricket team.

Building our bowling line-up for the future required us to try a new spearhead fast bowler. We used Mohammad Sami for this purpose and he did not disappoint us. Sami was not only explosive, but also accurate. He needs to keep working hard on his fitness. God Willing; Sami is going to win many important games for us in the future, just like he did in Sharjah.

Danish Kaneria bowled very well with good control on a good line and length and his variety is quite deadly. Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez ably assisted Danish with their accurate off-spin.

It was nice to see our team manager, Haroon Rashid being very particular about behavioural discipline both an and off the field, which resulted in Mohammad Zahid and Naved Latif sitting out one game. Many feel it was harsh, but please do remember, no player is bigger than the game and as a basic principle of a cricket team, discipline needs to be applied without reservations in order to set proper precedents.

Unfortunately Mohammad Zahid was the only player not to get a game during this tour, but he is very talented, young and will indeed get good chances in the near future.

The next seventy days bring us much bigger challenges; in Sri Lanka against New Zealand and the hosts, and in England against the home side.

We would need to further improve on our recent performances, rectify our mistakes and enhance our talents. We are quite capable of meeting expectations and are preparing hard to face the strong Kiwis, Sri Lankan and English sides.

I am looking forward to all of your prayers, support and encouragement to help us along.

With best regards,

Rashid Latif