DEFEATS and setbacks are part and parcel of life. The weak in these tough times get scared, the strong do not. While the former see failures as barriers, the latter use them as fuel to ignite their spirits, rise again and fight it out with renewed wisdom. It’s something that the Pakistan cricket team and its management need to remember in these testing times.

Batting coach Grant Flower’s latest assertion that atmosphere in the Pakistan camp in South Africa after the Centurion Test loss “isn’t the best” is indeed not a good omen at the start of 2019 when the World Cup is just six months away. A lot of soul-searching is needed. Many questions have been raised.

Why the uproar over Mickey Arthur, according to media reports, giving some of the senior players dressing down on the eve of their defeat in the first Test? If experienced pros — Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and above all captain Sarfraz Ahmed — let their team down with atrociously irresponsible shot selection, shouldn’t there be any appraisal? What wrong has the coach done if he became a bit more critical and strict towards the senior players than he might have been in usual situations? Is the second innings collapse not outrageous?

The awful way the abovementioned trio got themselves out at a crucial juncture in the second innings warrants censure. Taking criticism positively no matter how harsh it may be — while knowing one has fared miserably — can do wonders for the falterers as well as the whole team.

Any professional sporting unit needs to have a proper problem-solving mechanism in place, and needless to say, it should be implemented in letter and spirit. Which compulsion made an experienced campaigner like Flower come out and declare that the atmosphere “isn’t the best” in Pakistan camp in the middle of this demanding tour? Without doubting his intentions, what positive can one draw from his revelation? If he felt that the team’s atmosphere is not good, should he not have discussed it with the manager and the captain behind closed doors to find a way out?

Though there is almost nothing to appreciate about Sarfraz’s leadership and his willow-work during the past six months or so, it should be acknowledged that the captain was astute enough to repel a questioner at a presser who asked about the post-Centurion defeat scenario in Pakistan camp, emphasising that all the team-related matters should remain inside the dressing room. Fortunately, sanity prevailed on this occasion.

The skipper’s candid word after the painful loss at the SuperSport Park that players as well as the coaching staff should take responsibility for the defeat also should not worry any of the stakeholders. When the team wins, players as well as the entire team management are duly given credit for it; and so when there is a loss, it should be the professional duty of every squad member to own it wholeheartedly, and look for remedies. Is it happening presently in the Pakistan camp? One hopes so.

Pakistan cricket has been replete with crises of all kinds and therefore the present scenario is nothing new. Grave issues of match-fixing, team revolt, deep and explicit captain-coach differences, and what not. Therefore, there is no need for Sarfraz to worry. A loss is not the end of the world; it’s the way one deals with the situation that shows the level of grit. If Sarfraz, the 2017 Champions Trophy-winning captain, does not lose his sleep in South Africa as he declared to have experienced during last year’s Asia Cup where the greenshirts flopped miserably, chances are that fortunes of the team will change. The wicket-keeper has to believe in himself and his troops all of whom need to combine and step up, especially after the stunning Test series loss to New Zealand in the UAE, Pakistan’s happy hunting ground.

If youngsters Babar Azam, Imam-ul-Haq and Shan Masood can stand tall and defy South Africa on an erratic Centurion track, why can’t Sarfraz, Azhar and Asad do that in the remaining two Tests? It’s just a matter of embracing never-say-die attitude. Pakistan bowlers are always there to back their batting compatriots.

South African Arthur — possessing a vast and diverse coaching experience having trained the team of his native country and Australia besides outfits of different Twenty20 leagues — needs to remain resolute while trusting his charges at this arduous time. One hopes he surely understands the culture of Pakistan cricket. Successful man management is a coach’s forte and one must not ignore that it was the Sarfraz-Arthur combination that from nowhere took eighth-ranked Pakistan to glory at the 2017 Champions Trophy.

Rumours of rift between captain and coach are making the rounds though PCB chairman Ehsan Mani has strongly denied these. Without doubting the intentions of Sarfraz and Arthur, it is the basic duty of every professional to take a long, hard and deep look at themselves at important stages. Last year was a mixed one for Pakistan cricket; the ending very forgettable indeed. Let’s hope all the stakeholders start the 2019 campaign with a new-found spirit and belief.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2019