Playing with the youngsters

December 15, 2013

Playing with the youngsters

After all the frustration and disappointment that the Pakistani cricket lovers have carried in almost every match of the series against South Africa in the UAE, it is pleasing to see that when it comes to South Asia it is Pakistan’s stock that has risen since then, even if by whiskers. And the good news is emanating from the western greens rather than the ones on the east or from the blues, as it was over the previous few weeks.

Bitterly fought though it was but Pakistan shot down South Africa on their hunting grounds for the inaugural win by a South Asian side there after some twenty years of trying and then had the measure of Afghanistan in a one-off encounter and Sri Lanka in the series opener this week.

Even as the Lankans’ enthusiasm and match practice had constantly been watered down at home by a late monsoon, the Indians were being horribly annihilated once out of Fortress India. Ironically Pakistan actually looked the better team of youngsters than the Indians who apparently have the better ones. In fact I think they still do because of the way talent is being nurtured there; but for the moment it is all green field for Pakistan and no blue sky for India. Perhaps their finest hour, or hours, came in the final ODI when they didn’t have to bat to chase 301, a near impossibility based on their current showing against the Proteas’ pace battery on the seaming and bouncier tracks of South Africa.

Clearly the induction of fresh legs has carried the Pakistan team well, and done what the infusion of new blood does: make the seniors stand up and take notice -- the case of Shahid Afridi in the opening T20 against Sri Lanka is proof of this. The credit for the series win in South Africa should clearly go to them rather than the ‘tried and mistrusted’ that has been the bane of the Pakistani team over the last couple of years.

I had been shouting from the studios of TV channels that we have talent as good as anyone, just that we are either not giving them an opportunity; or if we are, it is brief and the youngsters are made to feel it.

Yes, I had also written a couple of weeks back that Sohaib, Bhatti and Anwar were going to have their bad days after their heroics against the South Africans. But they must be persevered with. If not for them we would have ended up with the same malaise that had infected us in the UAE. In fact, Pakistan would have clearly lost the first ODI to lose the series 2-1 if not for them. And the series 0-3 considering the South Africans literally threw away the second match in a maddening end game after a run a ball 30-odd was required with two of the world’s best batsmen in the middle and plenty of reserves in stock.

Ironically, the selectors now seem to be going overboard with the young ones; it’s like this straggler in the street seeing free food and overeating to throw up later. We now have PCB throwing in just about anyone who seems to put in one or two stellar performance at home. The case of Usman Khan Shinwari is a case in point. Plucked out of nowhere based on one spell in a domestic game he was hurried into an eleven when two young all-rounders were still in the process of settling down after encouraging efforts. It was cruel to be kind really as Anwar was sat down to bring in Usman. And once he was, a solitary over was all he got.

We are committing the same mistakes we have in the past where the senior drop outs will once again be seen as Pakistan’s only hope after the freshmen have been tried and ‘failed to deliver’, or some utterance like that. Usman’s premature entry may have harmed his chances more than if he was saved for next season. That he was not considered for even a second over after a couple of wide balls in the first will have shaken his emerging confidence.

By the same token they have gone and disconcerted, perhaps even disillusioned, Anwar Ali. He will begin to have self doubts now coupled with needless anxiety over his place in the side that till a week ago looked his for the asking. It’s a double whammy and I wonder who’s next? Maybe Bilawal or Sohaib as he is being picked relatively more calmly by the opposition once they have been properly analysed for their weak points. A couple of bad calls on their part and the Pakistan team management will end up with Malik and Razzaq for the Asia Cup, if not for the World Twenty20 in March-April.

Australia’s case should highlight the value of placing trust in a few good men and then sticking with them. Over the previous two years there was constant trials and rotation of even some senior Australian players from international matches. The result was a disjointed, confused and anxious side where every member was afraid of what will happen next. Once Darren Lehmann was put in charge and he stressed on the importance of continuity with one lot over a longer period before trying a replacement, they have cooked England raw after going down 0-3 to them this summer. And the very player whom the selectors and former coach had dropped or ‘rested’ from the summer Tests, Mitchell Johnson, is the man who is haunting Cook and Co. once he has been promised a longer run. Confidence is the key.

The Pakistan team management haven’t learned from their earlier folly and once again are making Junaid sit out. Sohail Tanvir is a distant second compared to Junaid’s bowling and hasn’t done much with the bat to have the edge in batting. Yet the man who bowled that amazing last over at Port Elizabeth has been made to sit and wonder just what his role is in the limited is over games. At this rate, he shouldn’t be playing the tournament in Bangladesh once Irfan returns to full fitness. A ridiculous thought but then anything’s possible with this confused lot where no one knows who’s calling the shots on playing XI and strategy-selectors, manager, coach, captain or chairman?

I just hope that we don’t live up to our past fickle mindedness and hidden agendas to bring back expired seniors with the plea that the junior inductees are not delivering consistently. For the moment this is turning out to be a period which reminds me of Tauqir Zia’s post-2003 World Cup lottery where the Pakistan cap was going at a discount and it seemed as if it was being borrowed by one till the next man in needs it in the next match. It’s time we took our cricket and cricketers seriously.

Playing with the youngsters