Pakistan got off to an emphatic start in the Cherry Blossom Sharjah Cup 2003, and the young brigade certainly had a huge part to play in the magnificent performance. No praise is enough for the effort put in by the youngsters, and Pakistan cricket fans finally have something to cheer about after the miseries of the World Cup. The greatest part about the performance so far has been the team spirit that is on display, with all players showing great commitment and enjoying individual as well as team success. The team has worked as a unit in the two games so far, with every player contributing in one way or another.
I have rarely seen a Pakistan squad looking so eager to perform, and so well-knit. What is admirable is the discipline being displayed by the youth, where they have shown maturity far beyond their years. Javed Miandad is probably the main reason behind that and deserves a great deal of praise. The fielding is tremendous, with all players throwing themselves around and enjoying their presence on the big stage.
The first aspect to consider is the dramatic change in the style of bowling, and approach towards the game. Umar Gul and Mohammed Sami have done what their seniors failed at, sticking to the basics and putting the ball in the right channel. Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib Akhtar were more often trying to blast out the opposition, and when that plan backfired, the game usually slipped out of Pakistan's grasp.
This young bowling attack has displayed lots of patience, by applying pressure on the opposition, and letting them make the mistakes. This approach apart from being pleasing to watch shows that some planning and sense has finally prevailed. Umar Gul is a man who knows his limitations, he does not have express pace, but he easily compensates for that with his discipline in the mode of the great Australian, Glenn McGrath.
Sami grabbed his opportunity with both hands and has been impressive and it is good to see Rashid Latif using him as the genuine strike bowler, while the others look to restrict the opposition. This is what was lacking in Pakistan cricket over the last year or so, where team effort was neglected, and each man looked to single handedly pulverize the opposition.
Danish Kaneria also deserves mention, even though left out against Sri Lanka, he seems to have improved since his last appearance for Pakistan, and has acquired more control to complement his variety. Shoaib Malik looks to have improved his bowling as well, and it was nice to see he is not over-utilizing the drifter, something that Saqlain has been guilty of in the past.
Pakistan's batting in the match against Sri Lanka was a revelation. It was pleasing to see Pakistan chase down a total successfully, something that's has been the side's Achilles Heel over the past decade. The approach was methodical, with the top order going for a slow but steady start, and the experienced campaigners finishing off in style.
The batting order in my opinion is perfect at the moment, and I hope the team management persist with it. Taufeeq Umar may have had a poor run so far, but I believe he has an important role to play. He must learn to become the anchor of the Pakistan side, and allow others to bat around him, similar to what Hayden does for Australia. Taufeeq certainly has the potential, and he must be given an extended run and told not to get pressured if he can't score rapidly himself.
Mohammad Hafeez has been a revelation so far. There were a few questions raised on his inclusion in the side, as he was a bit of an unknown entity, but he has certainly warranted the selector's faith in him. He is a terrific fielder, a very handy off spinner, and I certainly believe that he has the batting ability to prosper at the international level. Hafeez has provided Pakistan with what they had been desperately searching for over the past couple of years, a genuine batsman who can perform the duties of the sixth bowler effectively. Unlike Afridi, he has the technique to bat at the top of the order, and his quick off breaks lend great balance to the Pakistan side.
Faisal Iqbal must be persisted with at the number 3 slot. He is an elegant batsman, with the mental strength of sticking it out in tough situations. He also allows Youhana and Younis Khan to stabilize in the middle overs, using their experience.
Razzaq also needs praise, as he has gone through a torrid time since his injury, and his place was certainly under pressure. His effort against Zimbabwe was terrific as he massacred the opposition attack at the death. He clearly indicated that he is far more comfortable in the lower middle order, where he gets a chance to attack in the slog overs, rather than the number 3 slot, where he has been asked to bat in the past. The increase in confidence has also rubbed off on his bowling which was nice to see, after he had struggled in the World Cup.
Pakistan's fielding has really been a sight for sore eyes. The exuberance of youth has clearly shown on the field, and at least 20-30 runs have been saved per match. Pakistan has always lagged behind in fielding, and it was a treat to watch them show full commitment out there.
The running between wickets can be criticized. The skipper did explain that most of the new payers were from different teams and had not played in one team together. He hoped that this area will improve quickly as the young players play more often with each other.
The man who deserves tremendous praise is Rashid Latif. Many, including myself, had questioned his appointment as captain, but he certainly answered his critics in style. His knock against Zimbabwe was very gutsy, while his captaincy has been quite impressive. The manner in which he has backed his youngsters and encouraged them has been admirable. Even when a few catches were spilt against Zimbabwe, he did not resort to unnecessary admonition of the youth and kept encouraging them. Good field placing, plus some intelligent bowling changes have worked quite well so far.
All this has paid a dividend, with the Pakistan side looking more confident and eager for success. The seniors appeared to have lost the hunger to win, and the youth has brought a refreshing change to proceedings.
Every Pakistan fan should applaud the efforts of the captain and coach, Javed Miandad, who have turned the side around in such a short space of time. There is certainly a long way to go, but the Pakistan side has certainly brought immense joy to their supporters around the world, who have had little to rejoice about over the past six months. One can only hope that this team spirit continues, and with some hard work Pakistan can work their way back towards the top of international cricket.
Ed: If readers wish to correspond with the author, please email Taha Noor