Being No 1 in Test cricket doesn’t count

Our Prime Minister was busy acknowledging the services of Najam Sethi, and when the fun musical chair between Sethi and Zaka Ashraf subsided, it was perhaps a bit late to reflect. Anyhow, in Pakistan, lucrative posts are often reserved for reciprocating the favours. Now Mr Najam Sethi heads the Executive Committee of PCB. According to Najam Sethi’s vast Cricketing knowledge, Test Cricket was dying on its feet and T20 being the future of the game. Also according to him, PSL was a huge success (perhaps in filling the pockets of a select few). But surprisingly, Pakistan Team topped the Test Rankings last week; quite a paradox.

Though the ICC rankings are relative and prone to many inequities where there is greater emphasis on winning/losing ratio without taking into consideration the venues i.e. home or away. For Pakistan, it has played most of its recent Test Cricket in Asia and more importantly, in UAE, one of its strongholds. The only exception was the latest series in England, where more batting friendly wickets are now being offered. Pakistan Test Cricket is yet to be tested in the daunting conditions of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa where it takes sheer application and method to survive.

In Test Cricket we still enjoy the experience of the likes of Misbah and Younus who can give a sense of stability to the faltering batting line-up bolstered by promising Asad Shafiq; but in very near future, the former two are about to call it a day. Who will take up their mantle is still a mystery. Also, in Test Cricket, there is ample time to devise the strategies and there’s quite a lot margin to make a comeback; covering it session by session. Limited overs Cricket is different, it doesn’t offer you many chances; one bad over and you are out of the game. Shamefully, Pakistan stands at its lowest ranking ever – No 9 – in the ODI rankings and the yesterday’s performance speaks itself for its standings.

But who is to blame here – players, management or the cricket board? It would be quite unfair if one simply starts bashing the players for the ineptness of game awareness and approach of the modern cricket. Let’s start from our grass-root cricket. We grow up playing cricket in streets, so the very detrimental aspect of the modern cricket gets on the backburner, i.e. fielding. There is no concept of fielding in the street cricket, so that never really becomes part of our cricketing culture. The transition from club cricket to first class cricket follows the same curve. We grow up playing on placid, docile and slow pitches which are easy to bat on, not really threatening to score runs; so it’s never really a case of testing conditions for the batsmen who find it difficult to play on fast and bouncy pitches. There is quite a meager movement of the new ball in the air and the bowlers mainly rely on swinging the old ball.

But still, that is not an excuse; the former greats have scored heavily on daunting pitches and bowlers have also brought laurels outside Asia as well. So what is the missing link in Pakistan cricket?

Pakistan has always been boasting of producing raw talent. Every country does the same, the case in not only limited to Pakistan cricket only. But the time has changed; in a modern technologically packed arena, it is simply impossible for a player to survive without acquainting himself with the modern trends of the sport. Back in 70s, 80s or 90s, it would had been possible to get away despite your weaknesses in the technique as it needed the mental capacity of the opponents to find the susceptibilities and would have taken years. Now with modern technology and support staff, all it takes is a few minutes to make a list of the areas to take the better of you. That’s modern Cricket!

Perhaps we are still wandering in the 90s, waiting for individual performances or miracles to happen. It’s point to remember that the former greats had outweighed their contemporary rivals with brand of cricket which equalled their time. All the top cricket playing nations have a robust domestic structure which starts working on the players from the time they find their way into its circuit. There is greater emphasis on filling the roles for future endeavours. They plan their Cricket with an eye on the coming decade. If Tendulkar retired, Kohli was up for taking the mantle; No Brett Lee? Okay Starc was ready for the challenge. But what is the dilemma with Pakistan Cricket? Misbah seems irreplaceable.

There is no concept of workload sharing in Pakistan cricket. A player has to play to the level of exhaustion just to win a few matches for the team. Ever wondered why Dale Steyn has to carry water bottles for a couple of matches out of five? That would never happen with Pakistan cricket.

The myth of Pakistan being the best bowling line-up has also been debunked. When was the last time our bowling line-up bulldozed a strong opposition under a hundred run mark? The irony is that we had to desperately wait for five years to bring Amir back into the international fold as PCB had failed miserably to find his replacement. Five years is a long period. The transition of international cricket is too harsh to cope with without a robust support staff. No wonder, the same Amir being once an infant prodigy with so much control on seam and swing is finding it difficult to move the new ball both ways now. So much to learn again! But where is the management in all this melodrama? Planning for playing World Cup qualifiers?

Much could be said, but it’s not going to change overnight. Spending in the domestic circuit and bringing right people for the right jobs is the only way forward. But remember, PSL was a success! It shows!

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