Pakistan’s loss against South Africa in the second Test means that all former players and rent-a-quotes have jumped on the ‘change’ bandwagon. The same people who could not stop praising the team and the captain after the win against India, have taken a180 degree turn. But the time to discuss them shall come another day.
Questions must also be raised about the application of some members of the team that led to Pakistan losing a match that Pakistan had, in the words of Misbah, dominated over the first two days. As will they be raised about a selection committee which has refused to cow down to the preferences of the captain, and his requirements for a tour on which he shall be judged. But nothing should come off it, for they are all honorable men and honorable men are not to be questioned.
Since January 1997, Pakistan’s results in the first match of a series are: played 20, won three, drawn five, lost 12.The most obvious aspect from this tour thus far has been how Pakistan’s form and fortunes have changed as they’ve played more in South Africa. This, of course, is nothing new. Pakistan’s record in first and second Test matches of a series is as stark as it is revealing. Since January 1997, Pakistan’s results in the first match of a series are: played 20, won three, drawn five, lost 12. That is an expected, if not acceptable, record for a team playing in alien conditions.
Pakistan’s batting average in these matches is 26.3. Their average in the second match of such series is 30.1; not a vast difference – although the potential 70-odd runs over the course of a Test match do sometime make a difference. Their record, though, is rather different: played 19, won 10, drawn three, lost six. It is almost as if playing more in unfamiliar conditions actually makes you adjust to them. Whoddathunk it!
See Exhibit A – Younis Khan. Over the first five innings of this tour (three of them in the side-matches), Younis had scored a mere 36 runs, but was able to get into form just three days before the second Test with a not-out 74 in the final practice match; and he carried that form into the second Test where he scored one of the best hundreds in a losing time for Pakistan in many a year. Perhaps the chances of players getting in to form are directly proportional to the number of opportunities they get to acclimatize. Perhaps.
In his press conference before the second Test, Misbah wished that Pakistan had played in conditions similar to Wanderers prior to the first Test – bemoaning how different East London (where the first practice match was played) was to Johannesburg. The coach, Dav Whatmore, was more forthright wishing Pakistan could learn from a set-up like England’s, in having more preparatory matches when they come to a country where conditions are far different than what they are used to. So, if the team management unanimously wants this, why is it not happening?
Questions have to be asked about a system as a result of which Pakistan have to fight back every time they go outside Asia. Pakistan could not have come earlier, supposedly, because the final of the President’s Trophy was being held in the middle of January. The league-stage of that competition had been finished a month beforehand. But the final had to be delayed because of the tour to India.
Or so they say. It seems rather inconceivable that once the India tour had been confirmed, the President’s Trophy could have been scheduled in a way that would mean the final could be a continuation of the actual tournament rather than a sequel to it. The PCB can make it seem like the situation was not in their control, even if it was. Sending your team to face the best team in the world unprepared is not exactly helpful.
But it would be wrong to suggest that the men in charge of Pakistan cricket are ill suited for their jobs. They are all, after all, professional men who all deserve to be part of the board, and understand cricket and the requirements of the team. They are all there to make sure that the national team has the best possible chance of succeeding, and that the domestic cricket standard is such that there is a conveyor belt of talented and prepared cricketers ready to make the step up to the highest level. They all make sure that the cricket board – unlike other organizations in the country – is run on lines that are the envy of the world. And why wouldn’t they be, for they are all honorable men, are they not?