HATS off to England, the brave England, for reviving five-day cricket. Test cricket was dead — or perhaps was meant to shield home batters — and almost buried on the first four days at the Pindi Cricket Stadium. But eventually the courage and the belief innovatively inculcated into this Ben Stokes-led brigade by Brendon McCullum did wonders for them in dimming light.
England maintaining an unprecedented run-rate of 6.5 for more than 100 overs and following it up with 7.3 in the second innings was indeed supremely phenomenal.
To defy and overcome this novel ‘Bazball’ storm required an extraordinary plan which Pakistan drastically lacked.
According to a former Pakistan cricketer who was part of the national squad on the 1987 trip to India, when a reporter asked Imran Khan something about the playing conditions on the tour and how it could impact the tourists’ plan, the skipper in his usually self-assured tone responded, “What pitch? We are here to win”.
The whole world witnessed how Pakistan outsmarted India on a square turner in the final Test at Bangalore.
Ramiz Raja, the incumbent PCB chairman, was a member of the squad on that landmark tour and can surely reflect on the approach Pakistan had kept under intense pressure during the series on Indian soil.
While Ramiz’s ‘dark ages’ remark on pitches in Pakistan is very much spot-on, the question is: how long will it take for the PCB to overhaul the country’s cricketing system, including pitches’ preparation? Was Rawalpindi the first pitch-related flop for the hosts?
One can easily recall that Pakistan’s series opener on another a featherbed at this very ground in Rawalpindi against Australia — just nine months ago — ended as a boring draw.
After playing a catch-up game in the second Test drawn at Karachi, the hosts finally fell in the third Test at Lahore and ultimately lost the series. It was proved then that the recipe of making flat pitches to evade defeat was not going to work for Pakistan. But it seems no lessons were learned.
Is drop-in pitches, as Ramiz has pointed out, the only solution? Perhaps not.
Back in 1998, Zimbabwe stunned a star-studded Pakistan side 1-0 in a three-Test rubber at their backyard as the tourists clinched the opening Test on a helpful pitch in Peshawar. It clearly goes on to show that sporting pitches in Pakistan can be prepared.
Perhaps, losing a home Test series against Zimbabwe made the administrators at that time concerned more about losing rather than developing a long-term plan for Pakistan’s Test cricket to grow on solid footing.
The results of that age-old safety-first approach are showing, even in 2022. Pakistan at home may prevent teams like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies from winning cut-throat five-day games by making docile pitches but not the current England — a well-oiled, buoyant and inventive outfit.
Stokes after winning in Rawalpindi said. “I have got no interest in playing for draws.. we always try to look at the positive option.” This explicitly shows England will seek to remain equally ruthless in Multan and Karachi too.
PCB administrators badly need to revisit their pitch-making strategy or else our cricket will continue to suffer particularly in top-level games.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2022