March 27, 1999
The unpredictables of world cricket, the wild talents of the east, are
coming together and I must say it is starting to look like their untamed
passion could overwhelm the favourites at the World Cup.
The enemy for Pakistan has always been within; their opponents have been
in their dressing rooms, not in the adjacent ones, and their hearts, proud
and feudal like medieval kings, have always ruled their heads.
The experts have often said that Pakistan's performance depends on which
side of the bed they get out of. It looks at the moment that the wrong
side of the bed is stuck to the wall and there is only the right side for
them, these days.
Their performances in the last couple of months have been inspiring and --
something that should worry opponents -- they have been consistent. More
important, they have won close matches, and that brings teams together
like nothing else can. They won a thriller in Chennai and they won at
Calcutta from 26 for 6 on the first morning. When that happens, teams
start to back themselves -- and seeing Pakistan in the field recently, you
get the feeling they are backing themselves to the limit.
Traditionally, with teams from the sub-continent, and particularly with
Pakistan, the performance curve fluctuates wildly both sides of the
potential curve. That is suggestive of talented but disorganised sides.
With teams like Australia, South Africa or even New Zealand, the
performance curve matches the potential curve quite closely and so you
know what to expect. That is why they are like good machines.
Pakistan, in recent times, have made a dramatic shift from playing way
below potential to playing on par or even above it. And I believe the
event that triggered it off was the appointment of Wasim Akram as
captain. Under Aamir Sohail, a mercurial, short-tempered man, they were a
divided lot, hurling abuse and allegation at each other and hoping to win
matches together. It cannot happen. The facade of unity can never last.
Pakistan did not even to pretend to have one.
Then somebody in Pakistan cricket awoke to the presence of one of the
world's most respected cricketers in their midst. Wasim Akram was being
buffetted by events in Pakistan when he was offered the captaincy again.
That he was offered it is in itself an indicator of how wildly things can
Akram had just a few individual goals to pursue in world cricket, and he
had proved his ability so often that he didn't really need to convince
anyone of what he could do on a cricket ground. But as captain, there was
a lot to be done. For a start, he had to erase a little page in Pakistan
history that said he wasn't a very successful captain. To do that,
Pakistan had to win under him and that must have lit a fire in him.
Watching him on the field,you can see that the fire is now raging wildly.
That fire has in turn re-ignited the career of Wasim Akram the cricketer as
well. With Akram as captain therefore, Pakistan cricket got a
double deal! He now leads a bowling attack that is perhaps the most
complete in world cricket, and seems to have a bowler for every situation.
That will be crucial at the World Cup because if, as is widely predicted,
it becomes a relatively low-scoring event, the strike bowler will become
more important. And apart from Wasim, Pakistan have Waqar Younis, Shoaib
Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq. Their back-up is pretty inspiring as well.
Azhar Mahmood, Abdur Razzak and Shahid Nazir bowling seam-up and Mushtaq
Ahmad and Arshad Khan bowling spin.
The bowlers, therefore, will lead Pakistan's challenge to the World Cup,
and they must know that they will be very well supported behind the
stumps by Moin Khan.
He may not be the world's most gifted wicket-keeper
but he is quite the most inspiring. A wonderful team-man and, in spite
of some truly amazing innings, an under-rated batsman, Moin will be the
first of three all-rounders that form such a solid bridge for Pakistan
between the top order and the tail. Moin plays a very good supporting
role to the lead batsmen, but it is with the tail, where he is in command,
that he is really at his best.
But Pakistan will not want him to come in to bat too early and for that
to happen, the top order will have to bat solidly. That is not one of
their strengths. Flamboyance is, and that may not be the best
attribute to possess. Today, Pakistan depend too much on a flier from
Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi, and if one of them goes early, which is
always on the cards when Afridi is batting, they seem to struggle.
It must also worry them that Anwar seems to carry an increasingly fragile
look to him. He doesn't always look like a fit and healthy man, and seems
a little too prone to sickness for comfort. In recent times he has looked
a tired man once he has got past sixty or seventy. I am not sure a
captain can do too much about that, but without a fit Anwar, Pakistan will
struggle with the bat.
There is one thing that Akram can do, though, and that is to inspire
Inzamam ul Huq to play a bigger role for Pakistan. For a player so richly
talented, Inzamam has been in a bit of a slumber and the powerful
matchwinning innings are becoming a little infrequent. He is the calm in
the centre of the storm that Pakistan cricket so frequently resembles.
With most teams, that might have been a good sign, but Pakistan rarely
travel well on calm waters. Inzamam has broad shoulders, and if Akram puts
a slightly higher load on them, I am sure they will stand up to it.
Inzamam ul Huq
Wasim Akram likes lifting trophies in England. As captain of Lancashire
last year, he posed with two of them. That might well have been the
rehearsal. The real one is not too far away, as long as he lets the
passion of Pakistan cricket flow on.