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Military boot-camps can’t fix Pakistan cricket’s psyche

Military boot-camps can’t fix Pakistan cricket’s psyche

With the series halfway through, Pakistan has put on display the complete range of its potential. Scintillating in victory. Spineless in defeat. That is just about what the world has come to expect of Pakistan: not to expect anything and see on the day itself what the lads are up to. Those covering the game around the world make sure they have on the ready two complete — and divergent — sets of adjectives to describe the performance of a Pakistani unit on the cricket field. To the credit — or discredit, if you will — of the team, it never fails to disappoint anyone. It remains what it has been for long; an outfit that itself doesn’t know what it is up to at any given point in time.

What a difference one Test can make was on ample display across social media where the euphoria of what was unnecessarily touted as a ‘historical win’ by media houses soon turned to disillusionment and people right, left and centre were finding faults with batting technique, calling for replacements, suggesting alternatives and writing off Pakistan.

The fact of the matter is actually quite simple: nobody in the national team did anything different from what they did in the first Test. With Pakistan cricket, it is more a case of getting up on the right side of the bed some days and then everything clicks. This is what the policymakers at Pakistan Cricket Board call planning. It is a good strategy; just that nobody has control over its execution. It is only on the field of play that one gets to know if the execution of the act of getting out of bed had been done correctly or otherwise.

The highlights, recordings, match reports, narratives are all there on the internet. Anybody can go and check them out. Every single batsman in the Pakistani line-up played the second Test with as much batting skill as he did in the first. Likewise, every single bowler bowled just as he did at Lord’s. And, not to forget, every fielder did just as well or badly as he did earlier. Younis Khan continued to hop more on the batting crease than in the field, and Sarfaraz Ahmed was quite reminiscent of Kamran Akmal, that old servant of Pakistan cricket who made a name for himself with buffoonery behind the stumps with irritating consistency.

So, what made the results so different? England played differently and showed the value of learning on the ropes. As soon as the English batsmen replaced their cross-batted shots with straight bats, Pakistani bowlers didn’t have a Plan B worth its name. Gradually, the English feet started to move a little more swiftly and the bowlers started to wear tired expressions. It was depressing to see Shan Masood and Azhar Ali bowl in tandem when Joe Root and company were looking for some quick runs. It was clear that Misbahul Haq was willing to give them the easy runs so that the declaration could finally come. The game had been lost in the mind.

Talking of those tired looks and drooping shoulders, they surely carried a certain irony that was not lost at least on English spectators. Television cameras captured quite a few images of Englishmen standing up from their seats, having a hearty laugh and offering a mock salute at the fall of a Pakistani wicket. If you are wondering why, you only have to go back to Lord’s and see Pakistan players doing the press-ups and saluting the flag which, in their own words, was a tribute to the military boot-camp they had attended before the tour. We all remember that tug-of-war video, don’t we?

The irony lies in the fact that fitness was hardly a factor at Lord’s; the match having ended inside four days. The first time the element of fitness cropped up in the equation was when the team had to spend close to two days in the field. The effect of those two days was quite horrendous. When it was their time to bat, the bodies hardly had enough energy left to let the mind concentrate.

With the exception of Yasir Shah, no Pakistani bowler had bowled even 30 overs and yet there was no steam left. Still worse, the batsmen had just been standing in the field and yet got so tired that all of them together could not accumulate 200 runs.

Just to put the physical part into its true perspective, the first Test had lasted 323 overs out of a possible 450. In actual effect, it means the match lasted on the field for 3.6 days instead of five. This, in turn, converted into 1.5 extra days of rest before the second Test. Here again, it lasted 316 overs, or 3.5 days of actual cricket. The two Tests put together lasted 640 overs out of the available 900, 21 sessions out of a possible 30, and seven days out of the allocated 10.

In all these respects, the entire activity, win or lose, never crossed the 70 per cent mark. Fitness was never an issue with such a low workload till the Pakistanis started showing their leaden legs on the second day of the second Test. All those press-ups, salutes and brouhaha, logically speaking, should have been replaced by some other graphic gestures and babbling towards the boot camp. But logic doesn’t always win and that might be just as well.

POSTSCRIPT: With the second half of the Test series, the bottom line remains the same. Don’t expect anything and you will be fine regardless of the end result. Try it.

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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 31st, 2016

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