|Player:||Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, GD McGrath, ML Hayden, Younis Khan|
|Event:||Pakistan in West Indies 2004/05|
DateLine: 11th June 2005
Pakistan's tour to India was an unqualified and unexpected success. Written off by one and all - some ex-cricketers took an almost perverse delight in predicting Pakistan's humiliation - the team returned with their heads held high.
It started with Abdul Razzaq and Kamran Akmal displaying the kind of guts and grit not associated with Pakistan cricket since the time of Imran Khan. There was also tremendous courage shown by Younis Khan. Inexplicably, under fire from the press for being selected in the Test side, and unsure of his reception as vice-captain, Khan survived a nightmarish first Test - two single figure failures and dropped catches - to become Pakistan's key batsman in the series. His century in Kolkata was an innings of great character. His double hundred was what the team required for their win in Bangalore. Danish Kaneria showed he is now in a position to be considered amongst the best spinners in the world. Against a team that has given the great Shane Warne nightmares, Kaneria more than held his own, spearheading the Shoaib-less attack.
Mention must also be made of the luckless Mohammed Sami who mid-way through the tour suddenly found the hostility and consistency that his bowling has too often lacked. And can anyone keep the indomitable Shahid Afridi out of the game? And all these efforts were brought together by the performance of Inzamam, who led from the front, overcame his own demon in the form of Anil Kumble and struck a sublime century in Bangalore to set up Pakistan's victory - the 16th time his 21 hundreds have led to Pakistan winning a game. Such is the measure of his influence on Pakistan's success.
So what were the secrets of the tour's success? Certainly, the selectors chose more or less the best team. Woolmer's influence cannot be downplayed and he has been a key factor in fostering a positive mind set and team spirit. He is also responsible for the re-emergence of Afridi as a force in both Tests and One-dayers. Woolmer has also brought the much required professionalism and belief to the young team and the progress is there for all to see.
Inzamam has grown as a leader and during the India tour, the ebullient Younis Khan appeared the perfect foil to his less animated captain. But more than anything the team appeared focussed, determined and confident brought together by adversity and the challenge of playing India. In contrast to the series in Pakistan, the pressure was on the hosts and with Pakistan firmly placed as under dogs the team showed immense resilience and character.
Since the tour to India though we have had the garish and ridiculously overdone day long felicitation of the players in Islamabad - and then we wonder why success goes to the players heads? Following India came the tour to West Indies, where in contrast, Pakistan were expected to comprehensively defeat the hosts.
Everything appeared on track during the One-Day series with Pakistan moving easily to a 3-0 series victory. Then back came the genius Brian Lara for the Tests and off came the wheels in Barbados. Without Inzamam and Yousuf Youhana, the Pakistan batting crumbled twice with the young hopefuls failing to fill the breach.
Salman Butt's deficiencies are becoming more apparent and he will have to work hard to overcome these and ensure he does not go down the same path as Imran Nazir, Taufeeq Umar or Imran Farhat. Salman has shown intelligence and an ability to learn so there is still hope for the young left-hander. Yasir Hameed continues to be persisted with despite the fact that his weakness outside the off stump is becoming legendry. There also does not appear to be any improvement in his technique over the last twelve months and as good as Bob Woolmer may be it is unfair that other players are not tried in an effort to show that Hameed can score if given the confidence needed. The fact is that if you take out Hameed's performance against Bangladesh his record becomes very ordinary.
Asim Kamal - for one with a good temperament - gets out in the 40s and 50s too often. Bazid Khan looked by far the best long term prospect though his footwork remains hesitant. But there is clearly a touch of class there and the confidence that will come from being in the team should help Bazid develop into a solid middle order or even opening batsman. Pakistan must persist with him.
The bowling lacks a spearhead and despite Navedís achievements in the One-dayers he is not a Test Match opening bowler. It may have been better to give a genuine swing bowler like Shahid Nazir a chance in the second Test in Jamaica. Shabbir Ahmedís return has been soured by the controversy surrounding his action but as far as television replays go there clearly appears to be a problem. In the West Indies Kaneria was not allowed to settle by the imperious Lara but showed character in coming back to help Pakistan square the series.
However Pakistan need Mohammed Sami back. They also need a fit and committed Shoaib Akhtar spearheading the attack against England. Shoaib's exclusion from the West Indies tour was justified - he had simply not done enough after his Australian tour injury to show that he was determined to regain fitness and his place in the team. His fitness remained below requirements. One of the most heartening things about Sami's bowling in India was his ability to bowl long spells at consistently high pace. Shoaib would not have been able to do that.
However, if Shoaib is now seriously making efforts to improve his fitness and attitude with a view to making amends for past behaviour, then the PCB should reciprocate by encouraging him. Then let Shabbir Ahmed, Naveed-ul-Hasan, Umar Gul, Shahid Nazir, Iftikhar Anjum or one of the new boys - Mohammed Irshad or Najaf Shah fight it out for the remaining places. The cupboard is far from bare.
From what can be gleaned from press reports, Afridi had no right to refuse to bat as the captain requested. The team must come first. When Australia were unsure of who to replace Matthew Hayden with in the recent one-dayers, Michael Clarke stood up and stated that he was ready to open if the team required. It is only in Pakistan that certain senior players refuse to bat at the crucial slots of opening, three and four. It may have been worth Afridi remembering that Younis Khan himself has batted wherever the team has asked him to - he has opened and has now solved the troublesome number 3 position.
Secondly, and more worryingly, Inzamam-ul-Haq should have supported Younis Khan in the argument instead of undermining the captain for that game. Instead Younis was cut down and informed he was getting too big for his boots. There has been a simmering tension between Inzamam and Younis since Younis' appointment over Inzamam's more favoured choice of Yousuf Youhana. But it was thought this had subsided when Inzamam came out strongly in favour of Khan before the Kolkata Test.
Sadly, it appears that once the adversity binding the team together was removed the fissures in the squad reappeared. A group of senior members is bent upon exerting maximum influence and unless this is combated by the PCB, the team spirit that Bob Woolmer has been trying to foster will become a mere faÁade. We have already been told that Yasir Arafat was not chosen for the India tour because the team did not want there to be additional pressure on Abdul Razzaq. It makes little sense to issue such a statement considering that players have to learn to cope with pressure and that competition should lie at the heart of individual's trying to improve their game. Glenn McGrath, for example, after a few games in which he underperformed - was not so gently reminded that he did not have an automatic place in the line up and that Brett Lee was awaiting his turn. Why must we protect our senior players from competition?
Younis Khan's elevation to vice-captain was an excellent move on PCB's part and Younis has already shown he has the character, intelligence and sportsmanship to lead Pakistan with distinction. Not blessed with the talent of Youhana or Inzamam, Younis Khan has shown a tremendous dedication and work ethic - often working overtime on fitness and fielding - and this is the type of role model younger players should have in front of them. If he were to resign it would be a substantial setback for the team and the blame should lie at the foot of both Inzamam-ul-Haq and the coach Bob Woolmer for not supporting their vice-captain sufficiently.
Pakistan now have 4 months off before England and India tour. Both will be difficult series and the players must work hard off season to ensure Pakistan continue on the upward curve. The team is taking shape nicely but certainly there are issues which need to be addressed before they get out of hand. The grouping of seniors is one of the most important. Players must realise that the team must come first.
Before finishing, a quick word about developments in the Sub-Continent. India have chosen Greg Chappell as their new coach. The Australian great will replace Indiaís most successful coach to date, John Wright. My own feeling was that Tom Moody may have been the better choice but Chappell is in a position to take India forward. He enjoys enormous respect and has pioneered new approaches to coaching. But it is interesting to note that apart from the ridiculous statements given by also ran, Mohinder Amarnath, India has welcomed the appointment of another foreign coach. There is also no outcry over the fact that Chappell is inducting a sports psychiatrist to help with the mental side of the game. I am taken back to the time when Bob Woolmer suggested a similar move only for Javed Miandad to state that Woolmer was trying to imply that the Pakistani players were mentally unstable! Tom Moody's appointment will be excellent for Sri Lanka. He is young, committed and has several years of coaching Worcestershire behind him. Pakistan, though, I believe, has the best of the three coaches in Bob Woolmer.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2005 Silly Point)