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Pakistan on an upward curve

Pakistan's cricket team is on an upward curve

Zulfi Bukhari

Bob Woolmer: Pakistan's first truly professional coach © Getty Images
So it was too good to last. Just when things seemed to be going so well, Bob Woolmer and his Pakistan team made their first real blunder ... and what a blunder it was. To bat first on a cold, grey Southampton morning, in a tournament where every captain bar one had chosen to bowl, was a mystifying decision at best. To compound that error, West Indies are never happier than when chasing a target - nine of their last 11 victories have come that way - and Pakistan's notoriously brittle batting is never more shown up than in swinging, seaming conditions.
But to their credit, both Woolmer and Inzamam have taken responsibility for the error and the subsequent defeat, and that in itself is a change from blame-shifting line of old. The team think-tank misread the pitch and got their tactics wrong, but mistakes do happen and greater captains than Inzamam have committed them.
Nasser Hussain, regarded as one of the most astute leaders of the decade, put Australia in at the Gabba at the start of the 2002-03 Ashes series, only to watch them run up 362 for 2 on the first day. And what about Javed Miandad, the great tactician? He was one of the first to point the finger at Woolmer, but he may remember the occasion in 1992-93 when he similarly won the toss against West Indies in Brisbane, decided to bat, and watched as the team was shot out for 71.
But it is time to learn from the mistakes of the past and move on, and, in the grander scheme of things, Pakistan can come out of the last few months with several positives. It is a credit to Bob Woolmer that, in a short space of time, he has already made a noticeable impact. Pakistan have won seven out of their last 10 one-day matches, including three consecutive wins against India - no small achievement against a team that is often considered the second-best in the world.
There have also two narrow losses against the mighty Australians. The fielding has improved noticeably and there is a new discipline in the bowling. The batting remains a concern largely because problems in this department are deeper-seated and will certainly require more than a few months to tackle.

Inzamam-ul-Haq: a secure leader, who is beginning to grow into the role of elder statesman © Getty Images
The PCB deserves a lot of the credit as well. Not only have they hired the best man for the job, they have also bestowed on the coach, the captain and the selectors some much-needed authority. Non-interference is not the same as weakness, and the day-to-day running of the team has improved markedly since this new policy was undertaken.
As a result, the cliques and intrigues that so undermined Pakistan cricket in the past are receding. Inzamam is a secure captain and, apart from his aberration at the Rose Bowl, he is showing signs of growing into the role of elder statesman and leader of the team. Woolmer, with the full backing of the PCB, has also made clear that players not subscribing to the new work ethic of the team will not be retained. Get on board the train, is the message, or miss it altogether.
And the players seem to have responded. There is a new commitment and desire to succeed. The seniors are not lobbying for positions. The younger members are eager to learn. And even Shoaib Akhtar appears to be enjoying his cricket again. For once the team is pulling in the same direction.
It is therefore a great pity that Woolmer's appointment has been greeted with such suspicion by certain commentators, both at home and around the world. Woolmer is a pioneer among cricket coaches, and if his methodical, scientific approach to the game can harness Pakistan's volatile talent and convert it into a consistent, world-beating outfit, then Pakistan could open up a wonderful new chapter in its cricketing journey.
This is the feeling in the majority of cricketing circles, and the general public also regard Woolmer as a man who undertakes his job with professionalism and one who is free of the politics and baggage of past messy relations with the players. Much of this goodwill is fostered via his exhaustive efforts of his website,, where he regularly answers even the most mundane questions from Pakistan's fans.
Naturally, the cynics will not be entirely dissuaded, and his appointment was accompanied by howls of protest that a foreigner would lack the "patriotism" to undertake the job with any distinction. This crude line of reasoning only represents a self-serving argument that has nothing to contribute to the forwarding of cricket in Pakistan. If you had to undertake an operation for a serious condition, would you select your doctor because he or she was Pakistani, or because he or she was the best qualified professional?
Any serious observer of the game, let alone those who have played Test cricket, knows that it will take several months, if not years, for substantial progress to be made. It has taken Duncan Fletcher five years to turn things around for England; similarly, John Wright took four years to mould the current Indian team. But in each case, it is continuity of policy that is the essential ingredient.