Senior players fail to lead from the front
by Silly Point

Player:Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shoaib Akhtar, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf
Event:Pakistan in Australia 2004/05

DateLine: 12th January 2005


Pakistan's 3-0 defeat was not unexpected but it was nevertheless disappointing. Let's hope that the team have learnt from this arduous tour. One thing is for sure though, Bob Woolmer will have learnt much about his new charges and sadly not all of it will be good.


On the positive side the young players, with a few exceptions, coped surprisingly well. Salman Butt shows much promise and importantly appears to have the desire to learn and the will to succeed at the highest level. Yasir Hameed, who I have been a vocal critic of, showed guts and intent. I still remain unconvinced as far as technique goes but Hameed has shown that with some hard work he could still become a decent player. The young keeper Kamran Akmal impressed everyone behind the stumps and his batting will improve over time. Asim Kamal too showed that he deserves to have a fair run in the middle order. Shoaib Malik, cut down by injury and under the cloud of an illegal action put in a brave performance in the second innings in Melbourne and must surely be a future captain. But leading the young brigade was the leg spinner Danish Kaneria. Kaneria bowled tirelessly and with great skill throughout the tour. There was also promise shown by the two medium pacers – Mohammed Khalil and Mohammed Asif. Khalil swings the ball and Asif looks a natural athlete with plenty of courage. Both will need to add a couple of yards of pace to their bowling and will require a closely supervised training schedule to increase their body strength.


But the Australia tour also brought home some uncomfortable truths. For much of the tour the Pakistan team resembled an abandoned child, struggling to survive in the face of great odds. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Abdul Razzaq have been passengers thus far - struck down by injury and mystery illnesses. Mohammed Sami too pulled up lame. That leads us to the enigmatic Shoaib Akhtar.


Shoaib's performance in the first three innings of the series was outstanding. He bowled with pace, intelligence and control. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the Rawalpindi Express is running out of steam. His general fitness is poor and there is no doubt that he has lost a bit of the pace that gave him that extra edge. Effectively Shoaib was only available for the first half of the series. His energy sapping run-up and delivery stride necessitates he maintain a high level of fitness and in the absence of this and the lack of support from the other end, Shoaib and therefore Pakistan have been unable to take advantage of the few small opportunities they managed to create.


But there is a nagging feeling that injuries or no injuries the senior players have let down a young Pakistan team. Certainly the Australian commentators made their feelings clear and even if they did not openly accuse the Pakistanis of feigning injury it was apparent that their respect for Inzamam and Shoaib had slipped. The captain should have made every possible effort to play in the final Test and Pakistan’s spearhead, come what may, could at least have been on the field in Australia’s second innings in Sydney to show solidarity with his team mates. One is reminded of Anil Kumble bowling with a broken jaw against the West Indies. That is the example that senior team members should give to younger team mates.


So in the face of the less than inspiring performance of Pakistan's senior players what are the options for captaincy? A number of sports writers and ex-Test cricketers have called for Inzamam-ul-Haq’s sacking and Imran Khan is justified in his scathing criticism of the current captain. Incidentally, Imran was the only individual to offer an alternative – everyone else has been happy to criticise the incumbent without giving an alternative – by far the more difficult issue.


But it is not wrong to say that Inzamam has not led from the front, neither does he appear to have the drive to lift his young team. Imran is also right in saying that Younis Khan and not Yousuf Youhana should be Pakistan’s next captain. Add to this mix the fact that apparently Shoaib Akhtar too wants the captaincy.


Let's go about this one by one. Shoaib Akhtar, if he wants to be considered captaincy material, needs to show that he is able to think beyond himself. Shoaib has failed to get himself up to an acceptable state of fitness. At the most fundamental level you cannot have a captain who is unable to complete a 3-match Test Series. Until Shoaib is fit enough he cannot be part of the captaincy equation. His fitness also represents his continued disregard for his coach and team mates and his inability to take on responsibility. Unless there is a sea change in his attitude I cannot see how Shoaib can be considered a possible captain.


Yousuf Youhana's outing as captain in Australia showed him up as an uninspiring and limited captain with few prospects for the future. That leaves us with Younis Khan. Clearly in the long-term Younis offers a strong possibility – sporting, level-headed and experienced he could bring together a young team under his guidance. Unfortunately, were he to be made captain I do believe that the senior members of the side would be loathe to accept his authority. A passed over Shoaib Akhtar would be even more difficult to handle and a deposed Inzamam may find the call of the tabligh suddenly became that much stronger. In the long term losing these two senior players may be the best thing for Pakistan cricket. But in the short-term, will the Pakistani public, fuelled by the press, accept losing its only two world class players? I have my doubts.


Personally, I agree with Imran in nominating Younis Khan as captain with possibly Shoaib Malik or Salman Butt as his deputy. A new guard and a new culture may be the way forward. But I also think that such a change is not feasible immediately but could be considered following the end of the West Indies tour. Even Imran has now tempered his criticism of Inzamam. Inzamam has the experience and knowledge to be a leader and perhaps stung by the criticism Inzi will inject some much needed urgency into his captaincy. The time period to the West Indies tour would also give Younis Khan a chance to cement his place in the team. He has, after all, just returned to the team after a gap of over a year. The permanence that would come from good batting performances in India and the West Indies would boost Younis’ own standing and confidence. This will be essential to strengthening his candidature as captain.


In the meantime Younis Khan should be made Inzamam's deputy so that the big man knows things can and will change in the future. This may also help galvanise Inzamam’s own captaincy.


Contrary to belief, it is not all gloom and doom for Pakistan no matter what the critics have been saying. In Australia, Pakistan were thoroughly beaten by a team which is not only by and far and away the best in the world at present but one which contains half a dozen all time great players and one which could be considered the best ever. Despite this Pakistan did manage to create a few real opportunities. Granted that in the end the team could not capitalise on the windows of opportunity and Australia, supremely confident and ruthlessly committed, drove home every small advantage they had. But in the absence of Inzamam, Shoaib Malik, Razzaq, Sami and Akhtar effectively for large portions of the series, I would reiterate that Pakistan's young guns showed commendable guts in the face of an enormous challenge.


And in that must lie the silver lining. The foundations of a good team are coming together but this will require persistence and patience. There remain a few players on the fringe who should further bolster the current squad – Bazid Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Aamer Bashir along with Taufeeq Umer (already with the squad) are the batting reserves. Wajahatullah Wasti may also come back into contention for the troubled opening spot. In the bowling, Arshad Khan, who should never have been dropped, must return. Shahid Nazir deserves to play as he is a genuine swing bowler and will add variety to the attack. Mohammed Irshad looks genuinely quick with an easy action and may leap frog both Khalil and Asif. Abdul Rauf also looks a decent prospect and Iftikhar Anjum has been sent out to join the squad. It will be interesting to see how Azhar Mahmood responds to being back in the team. The allrounder has had two successful seasons with Surrey and would give the team balance and a much needed senior player with drive and fire.


The senior players have been given security of employment by the PCB – an important and progressive step. But if they take this for granted and fail to pull their weight adequately, the PCB has made it clear that neither past performances nor reputations will prevent the Board from re-examining the contracts. More specifically, if Inzamam is to remain in place as captain he owes it to his team to lead from the front – to prove his critics wrong and to show the younger members of his team he has not abandoned them. If he continues to cut a continuously somnolent figure who looks as if he is finding it difficult to rouse himself for the challenge ahead then it will be time to rethink the captaincy. Australia has been a difficult tour and it is not over yet. India will not be much easier and Pakistan will need a strong leader in place if they are to give India a real fight for the series.

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2005 Silly Point)


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