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Win good, draw better: Woolmer
Ashish Magotra in Chandigarh |
March 07, 2005 13:37 IST
As the sun began to set over Mohali's picturesque cricket ground on Sunday evening, the Pakistan team put an end to its net practice and returned to the team hotel for evening prayers � with only Yousuf Youhana and Danish Kaneria, the two non-Muslims in the squad, sitting out.
The mood among the players was tranquil �surprisingly so, given that the first Test of a crucial series was less than two days away. There seemed no sign of the tension, the stress, that in public perception is associated with India-Pakistan sporting encounters.
"The Australian series was very good for the team," coach Bob Woolmer [Images] mused. "It showed them that they can compete and beat Australia. They may have lost in the finals, but they were competitive."
Woolmer admits that Pakistan hasn't had much success in recent times � 'inconstant' is, in fact, an adjective that has been applied to the young, talented squad. But, says the coach, there is a silver lining � individuals have shone, there have been noteworthy performances. It is now just a matter of bringing the units together into a cohesive whole.
"Any improvement has to start from the grassroots," Woolmer explains.
"And in Pakistan, what had happened over the years was that schools cricket, university cricket and club cricket had died a slow death.
"As a result, Pakistan lost a generation of brilliant cricketers. Now, we have managed to get that started once again. And that, for me, is the most heartening sign."
Such development, from the bottom up, takes time � for Woolmer, the immediate priority is the upcoming series against arch-rivals India.
For Pakistan � or indeed, any team � to succeed in India, the start is crucial, Woolmer believes.
Pakistan has in recent times shown a tendency to experiment with the opener's slot, but Woolmer ruled out any such attempts during this tour � the opening combo, he says, is fixed.
Thus, Salman Butt [Images] (averaging 34.25) and Taufeeq Umar [Images] (42.36 with 4 centuries and nine fifties), will walk out to open the Pakistan innings in the three Tests.
"I am going to stick with these two throughout the tour," Woolmer avers. "No experimenting. We have had enough of that. No one in Pakistan told me how good Umar really is."
The game plan, Woolmer believes, should be kept simple; its key ingredient is to put runs on the board. Thus, when it comes to picking between a specialist batsman and an all-rounder for the number seven slot, the coach says he is inclined to go with the batsman.
What this really means is that Shoaib Malik [Images], who will not be able to bowl on this tour thanks to a suspect action the ICC [Images] is yet to clear, might well make the cut as a pure batsman.
The lower middle order is a question on the coach's mind just now � besides the conundrum of the number seven slot, there is a question mark on the wicket-keeper.
Kamran Akmal has come in for much flak for not delivering with the bat. Woolmer believes though that the 23-year-old has a lot to offer the team.
"On wicket-keeping talent alone, I think Kamran is one of the best wicket-keepers in the world. He is brilliant behind the stumps, but his batting needs a little work. His 124 against the West Indies [Images] in the VB Series showed that he has a lot of talent but right now, he lacks the consistency."
The coach believes that nothing much is to be gained by mourning the absence of Shoaib Akthar � he cannot play, so why think about the what-ifs, Woolmer asks.
The wicket has been exercising his mind to a considerable degree � he has tapped into locals, including Punjab's coach and former Pak captain Intikhab Alam, to get a feel for how this wicket will behave.
When he first walked out onto the ground, Woolmer says, he saw a dry wicket. By the time the day's nets were over, though, it had been watered again, and more grass had been rolled into it.
"What I have seen of the pitch is good, but it is highly unlikely that any grass will be left," the coach says. "If indeed grass is left, than I think we have the bowlers for the job."
His strategy, he says, is very simple � his focus for now is entirely on the first Test or, put another way, on getting the series off to a good start.
And then he says something very strange, as he walks away: "A win would be great, a draw better."
The statement causes you to do a double take. Slip of the tongue? A malapropism of sorts? One doesn't know, because Bob Woolmer did not wait around for elaboration.