Pakistan's glorious triumph in the 1st Test at Auckland has partly overshadowed its defeat by the Black Caps in the one-day series. The loss raised a storm of criticism among the cricket fans back home. Pakistanis are such a cricket crazy nation that the cricket fans glue themselves to television sets or transistor radios at 2.30 a.m. (local time), when the matches start in New Zealand, without caring for a sound sleep. What they demand in exchange for the sacrifice is a good performance by their team.
It goes to the nation's credit that the cricket lovers thoroughly understand the game. Most of them watch the game with critical eyes, to find faults in the players' performance so as to comment on them later. They are capable of suggesting the right team combination and also the match plan. With such understanding of the game, it is not easy to satisfy them. Known as a `sporting crowd' they offer a big applause and appreciation for good performance while condemning the poor show, especially the lack of effort.
They expressed their sense of satisfaction on Pakistan's victory in the 1st Test, but would be delighted only if Pakistan signals a series win by defeating the Black Caps at Christchurch. Keeping abreast with the prowess and performance of each team, their expectations would not be as high when Pakistan faces Australia or any other top team, but in the duel against New Zealand, they consider Pakistan to be a superior side.
With such a deep involvement in the game, the cricket lovers feel dejected whenever the team loses. To express their displeasure they normally join hands with the press in its comments and criticism. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the team management, thus, become major targets of the flak.
The chain of criticism that started with the loss of the one-day series has not yet fully snapped. Though some of the youngsters inducted in the team that played at Auckland performed wonders, the act of replacing half a dozen players on the pretext of injuries, remains shrouded in mystery. The drama of such unprecedented transfers compelled the cricket lovers to smell a rat in the curry and blame the management for creating the crisis. Comments have trickled down from all classes of people. Even a retired General who happens to be a brother of our former team manager, has not only criticized the Chairman PCB for mishandling cricket, but also blamed coach Javed Miandad for creating all the trouble.
The resignation of Sikander Bakht, a former test cricketer from the National Selection Committee, is the headline of the day. According to the news item, the former speedster quit the selection committee three weeks ago, when the speed icon Shoaib Akhtar and all rounder Azhar Mahmood were included in the touring party, despite his protest that the two players were not fully fit for the assignment. This was done despite his warning to the chairman Selection Committee as well as chairman PCB. The players were included in the touring squad without subjecting them to a fitness test. Ignoring the essential requirement, their own words were accepted as the gospel truth.
For being honest and upright in his views, acts and deeds, Sikander Bakht enjoys tremendous respect in the cricket circle. The very fact that the two players broke down on the tour and returned home proves that Sikander was absolutely right. I think it is the right occasion for me to express my views about Shoaib Akhtar. It was during my association with the PCB as Media Advisor two years ago that Dr. Dan Keisel, the then physiotherapist of the team, told me that Shoaib had a serious problem with his knees and would not be physically fit unless he goes through a major surgical operation and remains out of cricket for a year. The frequency of Shoaib's physical breakdowns since World Cup 99 proves that Dr Dan was right in his diagnosis.
Coming back to the 2nd Test of the series, all eyes are set on the encounter starting on March 15, at the Jade Stadium, Christchurch. The pitch is said to be grassy and is likely to provide adequate bounce and movement to help the pace bowlers at the start. It may, however, develop friendship with the batsmen later.
The Pakistan team having regained the lost confidence is expected to fight hard to trounce the Black Caps to win the series. It is not difficult, if the boys perform as well as they did at Auckland. Against the spirit of a golden principle that, `a winning combination should not be disturbed', the Pakistan team is in dire need of a few changes. The players called all the way from Pakistan to replace some of the stars have to be given a chance.
Keeping in view the forecast about the nature and behavior of the pitch, the pace attack shall require a boost up. It is learnt that speedster Mohammad Akram has joined the team, while young Fazl-e-Akbar arrived as a part of the first Test reinforcement. Having played 8 tests and taken 17 wickets including a 5-wicket haul in a Test against Australia, Akram possesses a better experience for the job. Though Pakistan achieved an easy victory at Auckland, I thought the team was short of a bowler. If a pace bowler replaces a spinner, the situation will remain almost the same.
Although the bowlers routed the home team in the 2nd innings, it was a massive score piled up by the galaxy of batsmen that provided them the impetus to strike. Despite all the courage and ability shown by the youngsters, Inzamam-ul-Haq is not the batsman to be kept on the fence, if fully fit. Similarly the expediency of recalling Ijaz Ahmed from a lay off shall need to be justified by giving him a chance. In my opinion, Ijaz if not discouraged by the usual `in and out parade' is still a very useful player. A stonewall in the middle order, he can hold the Pakistan's fort till at least the World Cup 2003. What is in store for the anxious cricket fans, let us hold our breath till early morning of March 15.