There is a news item that the Asia Cup scheduled for April in Karachi has been postponed. The ostensible reason is the cricket commitments of both Pakistan and India. This reason is strictly for the birds. Cricket tournaments and tours are organised well in advance and the commitments of the teams are taken into account.
It seems more likely that there is considerable doubt that India would have participated since the Asia Cup was being played in Pakistan. I think that Asia Cricket Council should have gone ahead with the tournament, with or without India. It would not be the first time that one of the teams had pulled out and for non-cricketing reasons. When the Asia Cup had been conceived, it seemed to be a great idea and one had hoped that it would become an annual event and it would be a great boost for the development of regional cricket.
Even though the matter of the Indian team's tour of Pakistan is, by now, a dead issue, the more one thinks about it, the more one is saddened that politics should have been allowed to dictate to cricket so brazenly. What message was being conveyed, what point was being made? That political relations between the countries were far from cordial? So, what's new?
By cancelling the tour, what has been achieved? Will political relations improve which should be the overall objective or will they worsen which, surely, cannot be the aim? With or without the cricket tour, political relations will remain strained and these were strained when Indian and Pakistan cricket teams toured the respective countries in the past.
The tours may not have done anything to bring about a thaw but they did not worsen relations. If anything, on a people to people basis, the tours were a great success. That the Asia Cup should fall victim to this politics is a matter of deep regret. Other teams involved are, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Why should they be dragged in. Besides, it makes no sense. India and Pakistan will be playing against each other later this year in Sharjah.
The PCB is in the process of making preparations for the tour of New Zealand and it is good to see that the tour is not being taken lightly. New Zealand is one of the most improved teams in the game and in Chris Cairns, they have, possibly, the best all-rounder in the world.
New Zealand has come a long way from the days when they were the "flogging horse." They have developed an infrastructure, they have got a high class management team including coaches and trainers. Under Stephen Fleming it has become a team with a great deal of self-belief and national pride. They used to be a team of amateurs, part-time cricketers. They are now a professional outfit and have modelled themselves after the Australians. The Kiwis play their cricket hard, within the letter of the rules rather than the spirit, that is to say, they play to win and are not above using gamesmanship. It will, therefore, not be an easy tour for Pakistan.
It is imperative that Pakistan be at full strength and it is good news that Shoaib Akhtar is now fit but he has been away from the game for a long time. In the preparations, he should be given a complete work-out for he could be the key to Pakistan's success. Playing conditions will be vastly different to what Pakistan is accustomed to though the wickets will not have same bounce than those in Australia and South Africa. But the ball will swing and seam and there will be rain about and it will be the fag end of their summer and it can be cold.
Pakistan will experiment with different teams for the One-day Internationals and the Test matches. This seems to be the fashionable thing to do. But I don't think Pakistan has a pool of talent available. In any case, I am very conservative in my views when it comes to cricket and am a great believer in the theory that if a player is good enough to play at highest level, he is good enough to adjust to both versions of the game. Pakistan has its own examples in Imran Khan and Javed Miandad and presently Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-Haq.
By having two separate teams, you run the risk of weakening both teams. Even those countries that have separate teams, retain the nucleus of their Test side and the same captain. I think it is too early for a team like Pakistan or India for that matter to be experimenting. Besides, the one-day game is no longer a slam-bang affair. It requires technique, the bowlers need to be disciplined, the batsmen need to improvise. Both these skills need experience. And it is a fallacy that the one-day game needs a higher standard of fielding.
The real pressure that was put on the Sri Lankans in their Test series against South Africa was by the fielders, the snapping up of half-chances, contriving run outs out of seemingly safe singles and the sheer brilliance of the outcricket.
Australia and South Africa are the two dominant teams in world cricket. And it is no coincidence that both are top class fielding teams. It is in this department that Pakistan is the weakest. Fielding is not a natural gift. One has to work on it more, than one has to work on batting or bowling. This is the area that Pakistan needs to work on and I mean really work, blood, tears, toil and sweat.
I once advocated that no matter how great a player is, if he is a poor fielder, he is a liability and we should seriously consider dropping him. I am still of the same view.