Long distance Test match fever is not the same as being there and suddenly I wished that I was with the team and at Lord's. I would have enjoyed meeting old friends in the press-box, such as those who are still around and are able to hobble their way up the stairs.
Pakistan has had very little preparation and appeared to have squandered a priceless opportunity at Canterbury to give the batsmen much needed batting practice, particularly Yousuf Youhana and Inzamamul-Haq. What was the point of declaring the innings, in the process robbing Saleem Elahi of a chance to make a hundred? No medals will be given if Pakistan win the match against Kent. Every visiting team would have opted for batting practice ahead of the Test match. It seems to be an incredibly daft decision.
One might have understood it if Shoaib Akhtar had been playing and Pakistan wanted to give him a long bowl. But he wasn't playing. He was cooling his heels in the dressing room. One would imagine that Pakistan's think-tank comprises of the manager, captain and vicecaptain. But there is no law against getting an input from Wasim Akram. He has more experience than the experience of the three rolled together.
We are getting mixed signals about Shoaib Akhtar. The comments of the captain are guarded and don't seem encouraging, at least, as far as the first Test is concerned. Let there be no two opinions about Shoaib Akhtar. He can become a vital member of the team and every effort must be made to get him ready. He has his own bowling coach with him and one presumes he's working hard on Shoaib.
But Shoaib also needs to get mentally tough as against his showman antics. I recently saw a film on ESPN on the career of Muhammad Ali. He too was brash and cocky when he knocked out Sonny Liston but he was not all "mouth." Shoaib has brought some of his troubles on his self through some ill-considered statements. I am told that he did his cause no good in New Zealand by either calling John Reid a 'racist' or implying that he was one. I was not surprised that two New Zealand umpires questioned the legality of his bowling action.
Umpires are human not only in respect of the mistakes they may make but in social relations as well. There was no love lost between the England umpire David Constant and the Pakistan team. In 1987, in the Oval Test match, he warned Abdul Qadir for running on the wicket and Qadir was not even wearing spikes and was a slow bowler. In 1992, an umpire was overheard in a pub admitting that he "did not like Pakis."
The indications are that Shoaib may be left out of the team for the Lord's Test match and this should give a chance to Mohammad Sami. As mentioned in an earlier column, Lord's is not the easiest wicket to bowl on because of the "ridge." In the month of May the ball will also swing and many bowlers have found it difficult to control the swing. Sami, if he should get a chance, would be advised to concentrate on line and length and not look for extra pace.
Surprisingly, both Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed were played at Canterbury. I hope that Pakistan is not thinking of going in with two spinners. Saqlain is much more "current" with English conditions and would seem to be an obvious choice. Pakistan must go in with four seamers and a spinner. But the final word on the Test match might be the weather.
I have been watching the South Africans playing against the West Indies and the games have been no-contests. It breaks one's heart to see the once might West Indies reduced to such a sorry state. But that is another matter.
What's left me dumbstruck is the fielding of the South Africans. They have raised it to another level, out of reach of other teams and Herschelle Gibbs and Jonty Rhodes give the impression of having some from a different planet. Both can be described as all-rounders, they would find a place in the team on their fielding alone.
But Gibbs also happens to be the world's number one opening batsman. He revealed the key to his success. He learnt much from Desmond Haynes when Haynes played for the Western Province in South Africa and while he has been in the West Indies, Gibbs has been talking to Viv Richards as well. It is wonderful to see these two great players passing on their experience to younger players.
The question arises: why has the West Indies not taken these two great cricketers on board and got them to give the benefit of their experience to the young West Indian batsmen? But it takes two tango. A teacher must be ready to teach and a student must be ready to learn. It is this last point which needs to be emphasised. Obviously, Gibbs did not consider himself such a great player that he found it below his dignity to ask for help from Haynes and Viv Richards.
For whatever reasons, there was a communication-gap between Javed Miandad and the players. Otherwise, the younger batsmen could have learnt much from him. But it was not to be and the loss was Pakistan's. On the present tour of England, beyond what Richard Pybus can coach, bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami could do well to hang around with Wasim Akram and pick on his vast experience. Natural talent has to be supplemented with learning from the masters.