From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.50 :: Dec. 15, 2011

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CRICKET / FOCUS

A step in the right direction

The beleaguered Pakistan under Misbah-ul-Haq began its image-building exercise in the United Arab Emirates where it won both the Test and ODI series against Sri Lanka recently. Can Misbah help Pakistan regain its lost glory? Only time will tell. But for now, the team seems to have taken steps in that direction. By Vijay Lokapally.

Pakistan cricket has been in shambles for quite sometime. Each time there appeared a ray of hope and the team attempted to come to terms with the situation, circumstances would negate the efforts. The cricket administration in the country has hardly contributed to present a healthy platform for the players who face relentless pressure, more from within the ranks.

This is nothing new to Pakistan. Its cricket had for long suffered from extraneous pressures. A glorious exception though was the era when Imran Khan, with his charisma and vision, led with a firm hand, carrying the team on his shoulders.

Pakistan cricket made tremendous progress under Imran's leadership. But then, it was back to square one as Imran left the scene. Thereafter the camaraderie in the team gradually eroded.

Pakistan cricket has had a history of conflicts between the players and the administrators. Ambitious officials, far from being realistic, have often treated the players with disdain. Captains have complained of lack of support from the demanding administration. Essentially, as former captain Rameez Raja once observed, cricket in Pakistan lacked direction. Imran, however, was convinced that it was lack of education that came in the way of Pakistan cricket's smooth functioning.

In recent times, nothing has worked well for Pakistan cricket. The attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore two years ago left scars that would take long to heal. It was a disturbing episode that undermined Pakistan's image as a host considerably. Security concerns meant that no team was willing to travel to the country.

It has been the darkest period in Pakistan's cricket history. It damaged the very structure of the game in the country. It was not that Pakistan lacked the character on the field. It lacked the support from the administration. A team that was once in the forefront of world cricket was now seen as a timid opposition.

The supporters of Pakistan cricket were pained at the decline of the game in the country. No team was willing to play in Pakistan, and rightly too. Pakistan was then forced to look at neutral venues as ‘home turf'. When Pakistan players lost out on playing in the Indian Premier League it only made things difficult for them. The message was clear: the team was unwanted.

With time, Pakistan charted a new course in the hope of refurbishing its image. The 2011 World Cup was a compelling test. It was a platform for Pakistan to make a strong statement, and it did. Making it to the semi-finals was a remarkable effort indeed even though it lost to India in Mohali. Hopes had sprung and there was talk of an India-Pakistan series sometime in the near future. However, Pakistan continued to be rocked by controversies and scandals. The spot-fixing scandal deeply wounded Pakistan cricket. A player of prodigious talent like Mohammad Amir was lost to world cricket as he followed the instructions of his skipper Salman Butt and indulged in spot-fixing that earned him (along with Butt and Mohammed Asif) a jail term.

Pakistan has now once again set out to regain its stature in world cricket. The seeds of its revival have been sown in Abu Dhabi, and venues like Dubai and Sharjah have contributed towards helping the team earn respect. The process commenced with a healthy showing against Sri Lanka in the Test and ODI series in the United Arab Emirates.

In fact, soon after the World Cup, Pakistan had flown to Zimbabwe where it won the one-off Test after the host had scored 400-plus in the first innings. It swept the ODI series 3-0 and won the only T20 match, a performance that was in keeping with the team's new-found self-belief.

The success against Sri Lanka only confirmed Pakistan's rise. It discovered new heroes. The team also rediscovered it self-confidence and pride that had taken a severe beating after the spot-fixing scandal on the tour to England.

Most of the current generation of Pakistani cricketers have grown up listening to stories of Imran Khan's exploits and his dreams of Pakistan dominating world cricket. The responsibility of leading these cricketers was entrusted to Misbah-ul-Haq and he did not disappoint. He led by example and most importantly has managed to keep the team together.

The Shiekh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi heralded Pakistan's comeback. Taufeeq Umar's double century marked the drawn first Test against Sri Lanka. The next, at Dubai's International Stadium, saw off-spinner Saeed Ajmal claiming eight wickets and setting up a morale-boosting victory for Pakistan. The third Test in Sharjah ended in a draw and the 1-0 series victory was a well-earned reward for the beleaguered Pakistan team.

Pakistan then routed Sri Lanka 4-1 in the five-match ODI series that followed. And the man who led Pakistan's charge was Shahid Afridi, who returned from retirement and won the Man of the Series honours.

Bowlers like Umar Gul, left-arm medium-pacer Junaid Khan and Ajmal are expected to serve the team long. With Umar, Younis Khan and Azhar Ali in good form, Misbah can be expected to turn Pakistan's fortunes around.

International cricket would stand enriched by Pakistan's cricketing excellence and the onus obviously lies with its leadership. Misbah, though not in the same league as Imran, is accepted as the best man for the job. Can he ensure Pakistan's glowing presence in world cricket? Only time will tell. But for now, the team seems to have taken steps in that direction.



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