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COMMENT: Pakistan cricket on its way up but Bangladesh will be no pushover

COMMENT: Pakistan cricket on its way up but Bangladesh will be no pushover

The World Cup is finally behind us and the Pakistan team has now embarked upon its new assignment — the Bangladesh series.

After what Bangladesh accomplished at the mega event in Australia and New Zealand by reaching the quarter-finals in style, they ought to be taken seriously by all opposition and Pakistan is no different.

Bangladesh owe their handsome Cup campaign to their batting which was spearheaded by in-form Mahmudullah who scored a brilliant, match-winning hundred against England and another three-figure knock against New Zealand in the quarter-final.

He was well supported by opener Tamim Iqbal, all-rounder Shakib-al-Hasan, wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Raheem and others who, indeed, looked the part.

Their bowling, too, measured up quite well with youngsters like Rubel Hossain, Taskeen Ahmed and skipper Mashrafe Mortaza all chipping in with useful wickets at crucial times.

To add to that, their fielding standards have gone up a notch. They have learned to use their diminutive frames quite athletically in the field I must say and the new set of coaching team has done wonders by altering the team’s approach towards the game.

Pakistan, on the other hand, were a beleaguered outfit in the World Cup. The unavailability of their frontline bowlers such as Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan and Hafeez made things considerably difficult for the national side while Mohammad Irfan’s injury on the eve of the semifinal against the mighty Australians was a body blow indeed, and heavily impacted the outcome in that key clash.

But having said that, I feel that the team selected by Moin Khan and Co was a balanced one and if only our batsmen had played to their potential, Pakistan could well have taken a shot at the glittering trophy. I must admit here that Umer Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Ahmed Shehzad performed well below the expectations. Though Shehzad fared slightly better than the other two, he failed to take charge. I believe that when a batsman has scored 63, he should go on to finish the game and stay till the end, something that former greats like Javed Miandad and Inzamamul-Haq often used to do.

Some inexplicable decisions by the team mangement such as leaving out Sarfraz in the early games and ignoring right-arm spinner Yasir Shah throughout the event also stymied the campaign.

In Bangladesh, we will have a new skipper Azhar Ali in the saddle for the ODIs while Sarfraz will be his deputy. I am truly delighted to see the new selection committee giving Sarfraz his due by naming him in all the three formats. He is a real asset for Pakistan and should be allowed to showcase his talent fully.

There is a lot of cricket ahead for Pakistan this year and the youngsters will, hopefully, get several opportunities to prove their mettle. It is imperative that they take responsibility from the outset and show maturity in their game to stem their places in the squad.

The fast bowling department is showing promise too, thanks to that demonic spell by Wahab Riaz at Adelaide which had the Aussies on the ropes before missed chances brought them back into the quarterfinal.

That spell of Wahab clearly infused a new spirit in the pacers and with Junaid returning to the fold as spearhead coupled with Rahat Ali’s new-found maturity, the fast bowling seems to be in safe hands.

Needless to say, Saeed Ajmal’s comeback is a huge boost for the team as well. However, his effectiveness with the remodelled action is yet to tested at the top level, and there could be no better contest than the Bangladesh series for Saeed to further polish his action and redevelop the repertoire.

This will be after a long time that Pakistan will be taking field in an ODI sans stalwarts Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi. Both the players have been pillars of Pakistan cricket over the years and their contribution is worth its weight in gold. They will, indeed, be missed in the 50-over format but their fans can take heart from the fact that Misbah will continue to play the Test matches while Afridi will be seen in action in the T20 games, both as skippers of the respective formats.

Away from action on the field, I would like to say something about the on-going debate regarding who should head the Pakistan Cricket Board – a former cricketer or a technocrat? Some of the ex-players and critics have been advocating that a former cricketer can do a better job because he understands the game better for having played it for a certain period.

I disagree with this point of view and feel that cricket, like any other profession, requires a good administrator to run it efficiently. Pakistan enjoyed great success in cricket under able men like Justice Conelius, Fida Hussain, Gen Tauqir Zia, Justice Naseem Hasan Shah and Naseem Ashraf, none of whom played top level cricket but knew how to run the game. We won the 1992 World Cup under the tenure of Gen Zahid Ali Akbar while Khalid Mehmood’s stint as PCB chief saw Pakistan reaching the World Cup final in 1999 besides registering other notable wins in international cricket.

Then, of course, there was Air Marshal Nur Khan under whose administration Pakistan enjoyed a golden era of sports by ruling in cricket, hockey and squash all over the world.

On the other hand, it was ex-cricketer Ejaz Butt’s tenure as PCB chief when the harrowing 2009 terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team took place and that has since deprived Pakistan of any international cricket at home. His decision to appoint another first class cricket Yawar Saeed to manage the team affairs in 2010 backfired heavily when the infamous spot-fixing scandal struck in England and led to three of our players serving jail sentence which was the ‘darkest hour’ of Pakistan cricket.

Today, Pakistan cricket has begun its rebuilding process under a wise diplomat like Shaharyar M Khan. Discussions are underway with Zimbabwe to tour Pakistan for a five-match ODI series and that could pave way for the revival of international cricket at home after six excruciatingly long and painful years experienced by Pakistani cricket fans.

I strongly feel that with a wise, far-sighted man like Najam Sethi as the ICC president and a seasoned diplomat like Shaharyar Khan manning things here as the PCB chief, good days are certainly here for Pakistan cricket. The two gentlemen have the credentials to ensure the uplift of the game in the country besides playing a crucial role in convincing the foreign teams to tour Pakistan again.

The writer is a former Test cricketer and chief selector

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2015

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