The Pakistanis in South Africa and Zimbabwe, 2002-03

Neil Manthorp and John Ward

The most notoriously unpredictable team in international cricket stretched even their own extremes on this tour. In Zimbabwe, they were allconquering. In South Africa, many of their performances were bad enough to be laughable, yet somehow they produced a single day of brilliance, scoring 335 for six at Port Elizabeth to inflict South Africa's heaviest oneday defeat.

But Pakistan still lost that limited-overs series 4-1, and the two Test matches in South Africa were so one-sided that in a different sport they would have been stopped early. The bowling was routinely tired, and the batting - barring that one rousing day and two gritty but hopeless efforts by Taufeeq Umar in the Second Test - uncommitted. In general, Pakistan were depressingly uninspired. Their form in Zimbabwe on the first part of the trip, when they swept the board against a side wracked by injuries, most importantly to their captain and inspiration, Heath Streak, seemed irrelevant: their humiliation by Australia just beforehand did not.

Even to the naked eye the Pakistani team lacked cohesion and harmony but, in case anyone doubted it, the tour was awash with stories of infighting and argument. Wasim Akram, inevitably, was involved in most of them, and his decision to return home after the one-dayers was greeted with relief among some of his colleagues. The camp was clearly split. Shoaib Akhtar, one of Wasim's acolytes, expressed his contempt for management and team spirit during the First Test in Durban. Having decided he was carrying a knee injury and unable to play, Shoaib revelled in the attention of Durban's big Asian population, boogieing the night away in carefree fashion at a Bollywood extravaganza. Certainly beats bowling 20 overs a day in the heat.

Throughout this disintegrating mess, the captain Waqar Younis remained outwardly calm, but he was clearly resigned to having little influence and even less control. Damage limitation seemed to be the main priority, which led to a highly conservative approach to selection: Pakistan entered the opening Test with just three bowlers plus an all-rounder, with disastrous results, and still fielded only a four-man attack in the Second Test at Cape Town. This time, South Africa piled up 620 for seven, and the bowlers' futile and exhausted efforts were rewarded only by a whopping fine - 100% of the match fee - for a slow over-rate. Had a team ever emerged from a Test so utterly empty-handed?

By way of partial explanation, Pakistan's coach, Richard Pybus, revealed that some members of the squad were "mentally and physically exhausted" and had spent as few as five days at home during the preceding six months. But the end result was a heartless, soulless and headless display that was unworthy of Pakistan's proud reputation and history.

The series win temporarily lifted South Africa over Australia to No. 1 in the ICC Test Championship, which prompted two reactions: ridicule from most countries, particularly Australia - given the freshness of Australia's back-to-back series wins over South Africa - and a decision by the ICC to review the method by which Test-playing countries were rated.

Few people believed that South Africa were the best team in the world. But you can only beat what turns up, and on this occasion the South Africans - then excitedly anticipating the 2003 World Cup - did so with an unusual sense of exhilaration.

Match reports for

1st ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Durban, Dec 8, 2002
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2nd ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Port Elizabeth, Dec 11, 2002
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3rd ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at East London, Dec 13, 2002
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4th ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Paarl, Dec 16, 2002
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5th ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Cape Town, Dec 18, 2002
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1st Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Durban, Dec 26-29, 2002
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2nd Test: South Africa v Pakistan at Cape Town, Jan 2-5, 2003
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Gauteng Invitation XI v Pakistanis at Alberton, Feb 1, 2003
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Gauteng v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Feb 4, 2003
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Easterns v Pakistan at Benoni, Feb 6, 2003
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4th Match: Australia v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Feb 11, 2003
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14th Match: Namibia v Pakistan at Kimberley, Feb 16, 2003
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23rd Match: England v Pakistan at Cape Town, Feb 22, 2003
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28th Match: Netherlands v Pakistan at Paarl, Feb 25, 2003
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36th Match: India v Pakistan at Centurion, Mar 1, 2003
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Match reports for

Tour Match: Zimbabwe A v Pakistanis at Harare, Nov 4-6, 2002
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1st Test: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Harare, Nov 9-12, 2002
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2nd Test: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Bulawayo, Nov 16-19, 2002
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1st ODI: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Bulawayo, Nov 23, 2002
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2nd ODI: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Bulawayo, Nov 24, 2002
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3rd ODI: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Harare, Nov 27, 2002
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4th ODI: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Harare, Nov 30, 2002
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5th ODI: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Harare, Dec 1, 2002
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41st Match: Zimbabwe v Pakistan at Bulawayo, Mar 4, 2003
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© John Wisden & Co