Along came Zimbabwe

May 31, 2015

Instead of celebrating, Pakistan’s cricket authorities should be thinking about the things they have to do and the steps that still need to be taken. Because despite the positives of hosting and beating Zimbabwe, we still have a long way to go

Along came Zimbabwe

Just weeks after suffering what was among their worst cricketing embarrassment, Pakistan seem to be on the rise. They are almost at the finish line of the country’s first home series against a Full ICC Member in more than six years. And they have won their first series in almost two years.

It definitely sounds like a positive twist to an otherwise frustrating story.

Merely a few weeks ago, Pakistan punched below their weight in Bangladesh and were whitewashed in the three-match One-day International series. It was a poor start to Azhar Ali’s captaincy and prompted critics to reject him as a bad choice to lead Pakistan in the ODI format following the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq.

It was also a poor start to Pakistan’s campaign to rebuild their side after a largely unimpressive performance at World Cup 2015 in Australia and New Zealand. After what happened during the short tour of Bangladesh, which Pakistan managed to conclude with a face-saving Test triumph, there were strong rumours that the country’s cricket chiefs were considering the option of axing coach Waqar Younis.

There were even speculations that there could be sweeping changes within the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) itself.

But along came Zimbabwe.

Four wins in a row -- including in the tour-opening two-match T20 series -- and a likely fifth in the third and final ODI on Sunday (today) might change everything.

Suddenly Azhar Ali, whose match-winning ton on Friday night enabled Pakistan to cruise to a six-wicket win in the second ODI, isn’t a target of criticism anymore. The top-order batsman was Pakistan’s top scorer in Bangladesh and continues to be their chief run-getter in the ongoing contest. It’s difficult to criticise a captain when he is in the runs and his team is winning.

Similar is the case of Shaharyar Khan, the PCB chairman. The ex-diplomat has scored some valuable points by making the much-needed home series happen. He is basking in the glory of the Zimbabwean tour and is already talking about more home matches, against higher-ranked teams in the near future.

Waqar’s tenure as Pakistan’s head coach has also received a new lease of life. A possible 5-0 whitewash of Zimbabwe (Pakistan are hot favourites to win tonight’s game) will be a welcome addition to his resume considering that his latest stint hasn’t been much successful.

It seems like it’s time to celebrate. But is it?

On paper, it appears that Pakistan have achieved success on two fronts. They have brought international cricket back home and have managed to start winning again.

But can we really label Zimbabwe’s brief, one-venue tour a successful resumption of international cricket in Pakistan? It’s certainly a good beginning but what happened during Friday night’s game should remind us that ours is one of the most unsafe parts of the world.

A loud blast, initially explained by the police as an electricity transformer explosion, took place just a stone’s throw away from the Gaddafi Stadium. The authorities later admitted that it was a suicide attack. A police officer lost his life and several others were injured in the incident which took place at the edge of the outermost ring of the three-tier security of Nishtar Park complex which houses the Gaddafi Stadium.

More than 4000 policemen are providing a security blanket to the visitors and still there was this suicide attack less than a kilometre away from the action. That’s the sort of world we live in.

It’s really unfortunate because today the PCB chief will be hosting Sidath Wettimuny, the former Test cricketer who is currently heading Sri Lanka Cricket’s interim committee. Wettimuny is the only high-profile invitee (PCB invited officials from other countries including India and even ICC chief executive Dave Richardson to watch Sunday’s game) to have agreed to visit Pakistan.

Wettimuny’s visit is of utmost importance because Shaharyar and other top PCB officials were confident that they will convince him to send Sri Lanka’s cricket team to tour Pakistan. After what happened on Friday night, that is going to be a very tough task.

Another task will be to bring the sort of improvement in our team that we can start giving stronger sides a run for their money. Frankly, I don’t see much improvement in our line-up in spite of the fact that we have bounced back after getting a thrashing at the hands of Bangladesh and have beaten Zimbabwe. There is no doubt that we’ve posted an imposing total of 375 in one game and chased down 268 in the other. But on a flat, lifeless Qaddafi wicket and against a toothless Zimbabwean attack are such performances any big cause for celebration? I will celebrate if Shoaib Malik or Azhar Ali will hit tons against tougher teams like Australia or South Africa on more challenging wickets. In fact I will even celebrate if they or our other batters score big during our next international assignment - a tour of Sri Lanka later this summer.

Also, what about our bowling? Zimbabwe might not have managed to win against us but they did give Pakistan some anxious moments. Chasing 375, they accumulated 334 in the first ODI. Even in the second game, they posted a decent total. They didn’t give our bowlers much respect in the two Twenty20 Internationals either. The bowlers didn’t deserve it. Imagine if Zimbabwe’s batsmen can put our bowling to sword then what a more potent batting line-up like Sri Lanka will do to us in the coming weeks?

So instead of celebrating, Pakistan’s cricket authorities should be thinking about the things they have to do and the steps that still need to be taken. Because despite the positives of hosting and beating Zimbabwe, we still have a long way to go.

Along came Zimbabwe