I must confess to be baffled by the reluctance of the West Indies to tour Pakistan. First the situation in Afghanistan was cited and now the tension between India and Pakistan.
The West Indies do not seem to be unduly impressed by the fact that England went ahead with its tour of India and are now returning to India to play the one-day series.
The idea that the series should be played at a neutral venue should be acceptable only if it is agreed that, if and when, Pakistan is required to play the West Indies again, that series too would be played at a neutral venue. I think the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been most patient with the West Indies. I think the PCB should have reported the matter to the ICC and simply told the West Indies to go fly a kite.
The West Indies Cricket Board betrays a lack of common sense. As I wrote last week, if there was the slightest danger, Pakistan itself would have called off the tour. Security concerns about players is a patently bogus excuse for getting out of a tour. If there is danger to the life and limb of members of a visiting team, there is the same danger to members of the home team. Is it the West Indian position that we care less about the safety of our players?
Accepting to play the series at a neutral venue is setting a dangerous precedent. I see the possibility, as a credible scenario, of vested interests like television companies, throwing their oar in and a series going to a neutral venue which is the highest bidder.
The irony is that the West Indies rate among the weakest teams in international cricket. They bear no resemblance to the West Indies of yesteryears. I would have thought that they would have been grateful that anybody would be prepared to play against them.
Australia whitewashed South Africa and about this a little later. It is the events preceding the last Test match at Sydney that merit comment. The South African team for this Test match was changed by the UCB and Justin Ontong was included. This was done because the representation of the coloured players was deemed to be inadequate.
This created a storm and several former South African Test players including Clive Rice, Fanny de Villiers and Pat Symcox weighed in against the United Cricket Board (UCB).
In theory, the best team should be selected to play for the country irrespective of race, colour or creed. But South Africa is not a normal case. We must not forget that with its apartheid history, leave alone play South African blacks, the blacks had to watch cricket from segregated stands. There was not a squeak out of those white players who now boldly criticise the UCB.
Moreover, it was not, as if, Justin Ontong was a duffer. He looked a pretty good player and in both the innings, he was on the receiving end of leg-before umpiring decisions that were dicey. But that is neither here nor there. But I think that the UCB should clarify its selection policy so that a tour selection committee including the captain are in no doubt about what the policy is. But the 'white' South Africans must realise that the apartheid mindset or psyche is still very much there and simply by encouraging cricket in the townships is not enough.
The blacks have to be brought into the main stream and when there are two players of comparable merit, one white and the other black, the black should be given the preference. The blacks have a lot of catching up to do. But this little bit of, off the field drama had no bearing on the performance of the South African team. The series had been lost by the time the drama enfolded. The South Africans need to do some serious re-thinking.
The batting did come good in the second innings but it was the veteran Gary Kirsten who scored a magnificent hundred and Kirsten will probably call it a day after the World Cup next year and there is no replacement in sight. There is also no replacement in sight for Allan Donald who looks to be over the hill. But the main weakness is that South Africa does not have a quality spinner. Perhaps, the wickets at home do not encourage spin bowling but spin is back and to be a quality Test team, one has to have a top class spinner.
Shane Warne has had much to do with Australia being the world's best team. He, not only, gets wickets but his presence on the field acts as a tonic for the others. He is now making runs regularly and is taking some great catches in the slips. But what was most disappointing was the fielding of the South Africans, not only by their own high standards, but by the standards of Test cricket. It was not skill that was missing but there seemed to be a lack of concentration. In the past, the South Africans gave the impression that they enjoyed fielding. Not so, in this series. Shaun Pollock's own bowling form is taking its toll on his captaincy and he led the South Africans without imagination, almost, as if, his heart was not in the job.
Pakistan is in Bangladesh but quite frankly there isn't too much interest in the tour but, perhaps, once the tour begins seriously, people will start getting excited about it. On paper, it appears to be an one-sided series but cricket is not played on paper.
In any event, the tour will be a big boost for Bangladesh cricket as well as a chance for some young Pakistan players to stake a permanent place in the side. In any event, Pakistan will be playing before a full house and that creates its own atmosphere.