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Greatest rivalry in world cricket reduced to a mismatch at Edgbaston

Greatest rivalry in world cricket reduced to a mismatch at Edgbaston

ON a sombre day, reeling from a night of terrorist attacks in London, Pakistan surrendered to India on a soggy cricket field in Birmingham. Cricket, in these dangerous times, may seem a distraction, a phoney war with little consequence, but it retains the power to bestow pride and dignity upon any nation.

That is why many of us love it so. Cricket says something about our national identity. It is the international stage upon which a people’s persona struts.

What does the manner of defeat at Edgbaston say about Pakistan? It tells a sorrowful tale of poor choices, doubtful planning and preparation. It laments an inability to rise to the occasion. It speaks of unfulfilled potential and a crushing fear of failure.

Where was the Pakistan we grew up knowing, a Pakistan that fired our imaginations? Where were the heroes who stood tall against the world with brave and honourable deeds? Where was the Pakistan that beat India without even thinking about it?

The world of cricket moves on and Pakistan shrinks away.

There is no shortage of talent. There is no reason to think there is any less talent than there was in the great days of the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, as the population grows so does that the size of the natural talent pool. That’s simple demographics. But that talent isn’t being discovered. It isn’t being nurtured. It isn’t being retained. It is being squandered.

The seeds of this collapse were sown in the glory days, when the same accusations were fired at the Pakistan Cricket Board as they are now. Nepotism. Cronyism. Corruption. A flawed domestic game, and inept administration. The other cricket boards were little different then, and it was a level playing field of sorts. But the others moved forwards, became professional and competent. Pakistan cricket stuck with its fault, blind to the long term damage.

Exile is only half the story, the rest we wrought ourselves.

Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa are smaller nations with a stronger sports culture. Sri Lanka is smarter. Bangladesh is hungrier.

India is bigger and now better. Pakistan cricket is lost under the damaging watch of a delusional cricket board that either doesn’t see the problems or doesn’t have the wit and the will to fix them. It is in this context that Mickey Arthur is the sticking plaster to Pakistan’s deep wounds.

Years of neglect can’t be fixed with one hire. Yet Pakistan expects. It expects success. If not success, it craves new heroes. If not new heroes, then it demands a fight. At Edgbaston, there was no fight. No heroes. No success. Does the responsibility, then, lie with Arthur or with the Pakistan Cricket Board?

Once upon a time, Pakistan approached any match against India with absolute confidence. That has not been the case for a decade or more, and now Pakistan are no longer competitive. As Pakistani wickets fell quickly in the run chase, the Indian players appeared embarrassed at the ease of their victory.

The greatest rivalry in world cricket reduced to a world class mismatch. Pakistan began the match well enough, although choosing to bat second on a rainy day immediately placed them at the mercy of the Duckworth-Lewis Method. Mohammad Amir’s first over was of impeccable line around off-stump and the length was perfect to create uncertainty in Rohit Sharma’s mind. The rest of his spell maintained those standards, in a strong signal that Amir is returning to the form that made batsmen fear him.

In large part, the other bowlers supported him well to start with and although the fielding was sloppy, India were shackled. Pakistan’s biggest selection decision was between the pace of Wahab Riaz and the control of Junaid Khan, and Wahab was chosen to unsettle India’s lauded batsmen.

It was a decision that backfired spectacularly. In his second over, Wahab went for 13 runs. His fourth over went for 15. India were away, and each time the other bowlers or the weather slowed India’s progress, Wahab helped them speed off again. He finished by conceding 87 runs in 8.4 overs.

Although India required Yuvraj Singh to give their innings real impetus, Pakistan’s bowling and field placings carried little threat. When India applied pressure Pakistan had no response. Pakistan’s bowlers were so clueless at the death that they gifted a startling 72 runs off the last 4 overs.

This mediocrity was carried through to Pakistan’s rain affected run chase. Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez ate up deliveries with dot balls, putting too much pressure on the rest of the batting order. It was a limp, timid batting performance. That Azhar Ali, once lambasted for his one-day batting, was the pick of Pakistan’s batsmen brought the problems of Pakistan cricket to the fore. Here is a cricketer of heart and application who has learnt from his mistakes to become a much better player. His colleagues in the batting order, namely Shehzad and Hafeez, seemingly never learn and yet are assured of their place in the team.

The gulf between the rivals was captured in the mood of the fans. Pakistan’s supporters hurried away silently from the stadium, while India’s fans stayed on to sing and dance. They had witnessed a contest of men against boys, of professionals against amateurs, of racehorses against donkeys.

Presumably, the Pakistan Cricket Board will soon notice that is it has transformed a national treasure into an international joke.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2017

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