February 19, 2000 was a day of deep depression for Pakistan's One Day Cricket, when the visiting Sri Lankan team completed the clean sweep of 3-0 over a new look Pakistan team at the picturesque Gaddafi Stadium Lahore. The debacle spread a wave of gloom over millions of enthusiastic cricket lovers in the country. As I was passing by a group of senior players and officials at the end of the match, one of them remarked, "Pakistan's cricket is buried today under tons of rotten soil" while the other retorted, "Had the Sri Lankan players not pinched all the stumps as souvenirs of their fabulous victory, I would have burned one and presented the ashes to the Pakistan Cricket Board's newly established museum".
The disenchantment was caused because commencing from Pakistan's defeats in the Carlton and United Series in Australia; the country has lost over a dozen ODI's in a row. The disappointment also stemmed from a general feeling that with some of the senior players ousted the Sri Lanka team did not have the semblance of its pre-World Cup strength. Never before, the Pakistan cricket had suffered from such prolonged phase of humiliation. The bad mood of the Lahore's ardent cricket lovers could be judged from the fact that at no stage during the day the Gaddafi Stadium had presented the look of a packed house. One could spot the empty spaces even when some of the gates were opened to public in the afternoon. Similarly there was no rush to cause pushing and pulling at the gates, something unusual for a one day match at Lahore. The team's dismal performance Down Under and the defeats at Karachi and Gujranwala had virtually destroyed the Lahorites' enthusiasm.
Saeed Anwar who replaced Wasim Akram as Captain for the series won the toss and elected to field first. In his second stint as captain, he had done the same at Karachi and Gujranwala and failed to achieve a victory. The game started with the cheers of a small crowd. Taking advantage of an easy paced wicket the visitors amassed a fighting total of 241 runs. Even without the much-trumpeted Shoaib Akhtar, Pakistan had a fairly good bowling attack but for its waywardness and lack of support from the fielders, the bowlers received a good amount of thrashing from Marvan Atapattu (77) and Jayawardene (43). Abdur Razzaq enjoying the honour of being the man of the Series for the Carlton and United Trophy, however, maintained a good line to grab 4 wickets for 36 runs.
Despite the inclusion of three youngsters i.e. Younis Khan, Faisal Iqbal and Shahid Nazir in the side, the pundits of the game thought that the team still had atleast half of dozen stalwarts capable of achieving the target. Unfortunately the batsman including some seniors could not desist from the old habit of throwing away the wickets. Skipper Saeed Anwar being the highest scorer with 30 runs, the team lacked application. It appeared, as the players did not possess the will to fight and achieve a victory. The team collapsed for a paltry score of 137 runs in 39 overs, gifting a 104 runs victory to the islanders. Sri Lanka had already clinched the series by defeating Pakistan in the first two games at Karachi and Gujranwala. A Victory at Lahore was only essential to raise morale of the team, to provide a glimmer of sunshine to a depressed nation and to stem the heartbreaking rot of shameful defeats.
The visitors from Pearl Island commenced the series of 3 ODIs with the first match at the National Stadium Karachi. Sri Lanka usually considered to be a fascinating one day combination and drawn the crowds from all parts of the city to fill up the stadium. Disappointed with the repeated failure of some senior players during the tour of Australia, the PCB had chalked out a policy of trying the upcoming youngsters in the one-day matches. While Imran Abbas, Younis Khan and Yasir Arafat were the debutantes; Shahid Nazir had staged a comeback.
After winning the toss skipper Saeed Anwar put the visitors to bat. The series thus started with the change of Pakistan's captain, the change of team's composition and the change of strategy from Wasim Akram's choice of batting first to Saeed Anwar's fancy for fielding first. The change in strategy showed how the two top players were diametrically inclined towards the opposite poles. Exploiting the conditions to their advantage, Sri Lanka piled up a huge total of 274 runs. Marvan Atapattu played an enthralling knock of 119 not out while skipper Sanath Jayasuriya scored an impressive 54. Shahid Nazir was the most successful bowler with 3 for 58.
In reply Pakistan was all out for 245 runs in 48 overs. While Aamer Sohail celebrated his return to the game with a useful 47, Younis Khan a new comer (46) impressed the crowd with some elegant a shots. Pakistan lost his match by 29 runs, many observers of the game accusing Saeed Anwar of squandering an ideal batting opportunity. The fact, however, remains that the visitors humbled Pakistan on account of their excellent bowling-fielding combination. It was the visitors' first victory at Karachi in five visits.
Gujranwala was the next venue where Pakistanis needed to fight their hearts out to square the series. They failed to do so because the habit of losing had perhaps ingrained in them rather too deep. On a wicket tailor made for batting Skipper Saeed Anwar again offered its first use to the visitors, who made a capital out of fit by piling up another impressive total of 263 runs. Skipper Jayasuriya (65) and Marvan Atapattu (57) played brilliant innings. The inaccurate and wayward Pakistan bowling had allowed the visitors the liberty to achieve such a big total.
Pakistan commenced its inning as casually as ever losing the first three wickets for only 50 runs on the board. Both Saeed Anwar (17) and Aamer Sohail (23) were caught in the square leg region playing awfully loose flying shots. All hopes then rested on Yousuf Youhana (68) who was playing with immense confidence but he also could not resist the temptation of hitting an unwarranted shot, thus throwing away the most valuable wicket. Wasim Akram who came in to bat at number 9 raised some hopes of recovery by playing an exciting knock of 36 that contained four glorious sixes but could not possibly make up for the follies of the earlier batsmen. Pakistan was all out for 229 runs thus frittering away the chance of squaring the series. Skipper Saeed Anwar had no explanation but to concede that Pakistan had lost to a better team. It is the most common and the most courteous cliché used on such occasions.
With a miserable performance Down Under followed by a whitewash at hands of Sri Lanka on home grounds, Pakistan cricket appears to be down in the dumps. It needs sensible but not revolutionary measures for its resurrection. The team has a serious attitude problem. The bowling strength that used to be its forte is no more so. The bowlers need to learn maintaining the requisite line and length adding more penetration to it. Striving to achieve speed at the cost of accuracy is suicidal. While the field placing which remains the sole domain of the captain and the bowler in action needs lot of improvement, the fielders also need to more agile and alert. On account of above weakness our team gives away 20-30 undesirable runs per inning that become the source of our defeat.
Our batsmen need to apply themselves and develop the habit of concentration and staying at the wicket. Presently they are too rash in their approach and behavior in the field. Isn't it shameful that in all the three matches our team failed to play its full quota of 50 overs? Since the World Cup 99, Sri Lanka is not counted among the top teams of the world while Pakistan has to carry its mantle of "Runners Up" till 2003. Our poor performance, however, shows as if the ghost of Australia is continuing to haunt our team.
(The author has been the Secretary of the Pakistan Cricket Board twice followed by a 2 years stint as Media Advisor of the Board. He is a prominent sports writer with over 1000 articles purely on the subject of cricket to his credit)