I will never ever forget the expression on Wasim Akram’s face during the semi final match in the World Cup in England a couple of years go when he took the final wickets that took Pakistan through to the final of the tournament …. he was so charged up, and firing on all cylinders…. as were the rest of the boys ….. but then what happened in the Final against Australia? Was it really the same team that took the field? Where had they left the spirit behind? They seemed to have given up before even trying.
Unfortunately, this has been a recurring theme as far as the performance (or lack of it) of the Pakistan team is concerned…. and is not a recent phenomena….. the past half century is replete with similar examples. It did a repeat of it in the recently concluded Natwest triangular series of One Day Internationals in England, where it had performed so brilliantly all along, only to go out of steam when it reached the Final,
Now, the predictable unpredictability of this team has become almost a cliché, but for a reason. The Pakistan team has been known to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat….. against the best of teams, most difficult of circumstances, under severe difficulties……… but then this very team has also been known, only too frequently, to squander away chances and almost present victory to the opposition on a platter.
So have the victories been mere flukes or have the defeats been that…………. Actually…….. no one has yet been able to figure that out. Throughout its history, Pakistan has boasted of some of the most outstanding players in the game. In the early days, in the times of Hanif Mohammed and Fazal Mahmood, it was a case of these two individuals carrying almost the entire burden of the team on their shoulders…….. early to mid-sixties was a time of mediocrity, and in the ’70’s, though we had a star-studded team, so to say, with luminaries like Sadiq Mohammed, Majid Khan, Asif Iqbal, Mushtaq Mohammed, Zaheer Abbas, Sarfraz Nawaz and later on even Javed Miandad and Imran Khan, the victories were still few and far between.
Why? It certainly was not for lack of ability…….. they were amongst the best in their fields………. was there ever a batsman better than a Zaheer Abbas in full flow, or could anyone match the elegance of Majid, or the courage of Sadiq, the wisdom of Mushtaq, the brilliance of Asif, the focus of Sarfraz, the intimidation of Imran or the cunning of Miandad? Yet, victories achieved during the times when they all formed a team together were not really due to team efforts but because of individual spurts of brilliance…….. we won the 100th. Test at Melbourne though that magic spell by Sarfraz where he annihilated the Australian team romping home to victory, we won in New Zealand because of Mushtaq’s determination, against India in 1982 through Imran’s thunderbolts etc. etc. etc.
Late 70’s and early 80’s saw team-work becoming the catch-word….. all over the world………. and senior players like Javed and Imran started to take the newer crop under their wings……….. and the graph started going up. However, the look on the chart has remained jagged up till now even into the new millennium, as players of supreme ability and tons of experience continue to play as novices in familiar situations. For example, the ‘Conqueror of Chennai,’ Saeed Anwar…. is a brilliant, elegant, powerful opener, with over two centuries of international outings………. but have you seen the manner in which he mostly gets out? One would get the impression that he was succumbing to the pressure of his first big match!
Then again, the best batsman in the world, Inzamam, again with tons of experience, still cannot get his act together when running between the wickets………. the best ‘all-rounder’ in the world…… having experience of all conditions and places and attacks….. Wasim Arkam…. skying the ball despite the team being in dire straits……… Mr. Sixer… Shahid Afridi…… young in age but having accumulated quite a bit of experiences… playing only in one style…. circumstances be damned… and the less said about the Rawalpindi Express, Shoaib Akhtar the better………. a bowler with the ability to bamboozle a batting icon of the caliber of Tendulkar (who actually is really suspect against genuine pace), sends down deliveries that go every which way and loose, aiming just to cross that elusive 100mph mark rather than trying to reach the 100 wicket milestone in the shortest possible time!
What does all this indicate?…….. nothing except that the malaise has more to do with lack of a proper attitude than any lack of ability. Pakistan has been churning out world class players despite the absence of any ‘system’, and these very players outshine those coming with the best of facilities and grooming opportunities. As individuals, and when forming a team, they have shown the world that they are a class act…. but when? Only when they have the right attitude.
This is a theme that some of us hacks have been harping on for sometime now but to little avail……. The boys need a psychologist… not a coach….. you cannot coach players who have already reached the top level of the game…. the need for the coaching, and corrective measures is at a lower, even up to the second string stage……. and a manager who can also be a co-strategist with the skipper is a bonus…. but the boys really need to learn how to keep up the pressure right till the end… how to resist it when the other side applies it…….how to put up a fight, or at least give the other team a run for their money.
This they have done on so many occasions that when they fail to even look alive like they did during the World Cup ’99 Final and in the Natwest Trophy Final, it is difficult to believe that this is the same team. So, at the risk of sounding repetitive, ability they have…. Loads of it…. But unless it can be combined with the right attitude……. The result in the score book does not make for very pretty reading does it?