For previous generations of Pakistani cricket followers, a match against India was, more often than not, an opportunity to get one over their rivals, such was the upper hand the men in green had over their neighbours.
With players of the calibre of Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar and Waqar Younis at their disposal, Pakistan always had a go-to option in their team, a match-winner who could single-handedly change the course of a match if needed. The Indian players, media and fans would look at the Pakistani side with a fair degree of envy, respect and apprehension.
BCCI innovated, PCB stagnated
However, time waits for nobody, and as Pakistan cricket wallowed in past glories and stagnated, Indian cricket has moved forward at an incredible rate of knots. While Pakistan cricket waited for the next generation of Wasims, Waqars and Miandads to be produced though luck rather than judgement, Indian cricket made sure that the right and necessary levels of investment were made at the junior levels so that the grounding and support was there for their upcoming cricketers for many years to come.
While administrators in Pakistan cricket have played musical chairs, bickered over the years and looked for personal glory, the Indian cricketing juggernaut has grown and ensured that the foundations for future generations of cricketers are being firmly laid.
The Pakistan Cricket Board has time and again changed the domestic structure and format of tournaments. In contrast, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has stuck with a tried and tested formula with a complete understanding that the structure that will produce cricketers who are capable of performing in all formats of international cricket. Whilst those in power in Indian cricket have made sure that the best international coaches work with their players, the Pakistan cricket system has seen the same officials and coaches getting the same jobs again and again.
‘Jobs for the boys’
This “jobs for the boys” syndrome has deeply hurt the structure of Pakistan cricket. In addition, whilst there is huge competition for places to even get into Indian domestic teams, in Pakistan, players over the age of 40 and cricketers who frankly have no place in domestic cricket are picked as a matter of course, quite often due to connections and as favours.
At Edgbaston on Sunday, the gulf in class between the two teams was almost as evident as the difference in the number of fans in the stadium. As Indian fans danced, sang and shouted their way through the match, their Pakistani counterparts sat in bewilderment at what they had paid to view and sat in shock at just how bad the men in green performed. It was like men against boys, it was like professionals against club cricketers, this is not what Pakistani cricket-lovers expected or were used to.
The harsh reality is that Pakistan were only in the match against India for the first few overs. Mohammad Amir showed some early spark and aggression and Imad Wasim bowled a couple of decent early overs. However, once Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had settled at the crease and assessed conditions and the nature of the pitch, the match was a foregone conclusion. With each passing over of the Indian innings, the pain grew for Pakistani fans and with each over, their despair magnified.
Rabbits caught in the headlights
The last four overs which yielded 72 runs for India were chaotic, Pakistan were in a freefall as Amir and Wahab limped off and bowling options became limited. Those entrusted with the ball lost the plot, the captain was like a rabbit caught in front of the headlights and the fielders were handling the ball as if it was a bar of soap.
Pakistani cricket-lovers are, much like many other sporting fans, a fickle bunch but what they always expect is for their team to give their all and fight to the end. What will have irked them at Edgbaston was the lack of fight from Sarfraz Ahmed and his team.
The body language was very poor, players could be seen with hands in their pockets as if disinterested in proceedings, the shoulders were drooped, a lack of aggression was visible, there was a lack of game-awareness and there was a complete lack of a game-plan. This is not the Pakistani way when it comes to cricket and it’s not the way that the fans and media will just accept with silence. A team that has always prided itself on the notion of Imran Khan’s “Cornered Tigers” spirit, played as if they were timid house cats.
There are no easy solutions
If professional cricketers cannot get the basics right, in terms of rotating the strike, stopping the ball, catching a cricket ball and bowling according to a plan, then there really is no hope for them. The occasional poor performance can happen to any team, but when this type of performance is a regular occurrence then it is clear that there is a problem with some of the players being selected.
When batsmen who have been around for a number of years are unable to rotate the strike or bat at an acceptable strike-rate then there is a problem. If bowlers who have played international cricket for nearly 10 years are unable to land the ball in the same place for consecutive deliveries then there is a problem. If fielders do not have the ability to dive, slide, stop the ball and catch the ball then there is a problem.
The tactics from captain Sarfraz Ahmed raised lots of questions and were puzzling. The lack of support for the skipper from some senior players was visible. Mickey Arthur at the post-match press conference looked confused with some of the skipper’s choices and tactics. Confusion reigned.
Pakistan has two matches to save face at the Champions Trophy. Both matches are must-win games and both matches require a total change of mindset and a change in approach. Two more miserable performances and it will be an uncomfortable journey home for the current crop of Pakistani players and coaching staff.
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