The mysterious and at times irksome element of unpredictability in the character and performance of Pakistan cricket team re-surfaced during the Singapore Challenge finals. The laying of arms in front of the Proteas without a serious fight disappointed the nation to its core. After achieving convincing victories in the two league matches the sudden collapse in the finals was highly shocking. Without causing any aspersions on the players or The Management, one must say that such an act of absolute surrender was unbecoming of a team reorganized, rebuilt and rejuvenated with fresh blood. The absence of fighting spirit in the boys was the factor that distressed and demoralized the cricket lovers more than any thing else.
The Pakistan team entered the championship with high spirits. In the absence of Wasim Akram, Moin Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saqlain Mushtaq, it was a badly depleted outfit that still managed to defeat both New Zealand and South Africa in the pool matches. The victories put Pakistan's seal on the championship that was not expected to be broken with such emaculate ease. Similarly the psychological advantage gained through the two remarkable victories should have shown its magic in the finals.
The disaster has provided a golden opportunity to the newly appointed analysts of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to come in action immediately and carry out a psycho-analysis of the heart breaking episode. Pakistan's demolition in less than the lesser quota of overs by the team it had defeated in the league match having brought shame to the nation deserves a probe.
The opening match almost became the victim of torrential rain that engulfed Singapore but the organizers saved it by putting in hectic efforts to dry the ground. The match was reduced to a 25 overs each thriller. Batting first Pakistan amassed an impressive total of 191 for 6. Though it was a prolific score by all standards, Pakistan did not clinch the victory as easily as it should have. Although the Kiwis faced a gigantic target of 192 runs, they put up a tough fight to reach 177 mainly on account of Pakistan's poor fielding. In the 2nd match, against South Africa the Pakistani batsmen posted a challenging total of 227 runs and demolished the strong Proteas side for 199 only, thus wining the important match by 28 runs. In this encounter Pakistan's fighting spirit was at the apex. They twisted the Proteas tail with such ferocity that the last 5 players succumbed within a span of 7 runs.
With the two battles that the Pakistan had fought in real earnest and won on perfect merit there was no apparent reason for the team to crumble in the finals like a house of cards and surrender the trophy to South Africa. In the first instance, Pakistan allowed the Proteas to pile up a big total of 197 on account of its pathetic fielding. Though responsibility for the serious lapses needs to be shared by the whole team, by dropping some vital catches and missing a number of stumping chances, Atiq-uz-Zaman looked as big a novice behind the stumps as he happens to be. The crucial encounter exposed his pre-mature entry into the Pakistan team as well as undeserved award of a test cap.
The chances of Pakistan's victory were reduced when the umpires used the newly designed Duckworth - Lewis method to raise the target to 215, making it difficult to achieve on a rain soaked pitch, slow outfield and a wet atmosphere. It was, however, Pakistan's inept batting that resulted in its collapse for a mere 121 runs. The batsmen did not apply themselves with the required dedication. They threw away the wickets in a manner as if they had no intentions to win. The absence of a tactical plan, lack of concentration, poor game discipline and casual attitude of the players cost Pakistan the Challenge Trophy.
It is however, heartening that the PCB has realized it blunder of pampering the youngsters too much. There being no substitute for experience, Ijaz Ahmed's recall has paid the dividends. During the training and coaching camp commencing at the Gaddafi Stadium on September 5 for preparing the team to face the visiting England, emphasis must be laid on the improvement of fielding, physical fitness and mental make up of the players.