THE time seems to have arrived for introducing neutral curators in international cricket. One could not help but draw this conclusion after the Pakistan-India drawn first Test.
The “sleeping beauty” of a pitch at the Qaddafi Stadium failed to even stir a bit despite all the proddings of the likes of the world’s fastest bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Irfan Pathan.
Pakistan pioneered neutral umpires in cricket through the then Pakistan cricket chief Air Marshal Nur Khan. The game has also seen several other changes in the rules and the introduction of new technology to help the umpire make his decision. So why not neutral curators for at least Test matches.
The home team traditionally has the twin advantage of crowd support and the preparation of a pitch to suit its bowlers. That is why one found bouncy tracks in Australia, under-prepared wickets in India to help its spinners.
And pitches prepared with a steam roller in the West Indies for the likes of Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith. England used to have seaming tracks to suit swing bowlers Ian Botham and Mike Hendricks. Our own late Fazal Mahmood did exceedingly well there.
It is high time that cricket administrators paid attention to this very important aspect of the game. The track should be sporting, affording help to batsmen and bowlers in equal measures. This can be ensured only if the International Cricket Council (ICC) has its own curators. Like the panel of umpires, ICC can constitute one of curators who could be assigned to various venues in rotation.
Coming back to the first Test, it will be unfair to blame Inzamamul Haq for the pitch. Over-rated and highly-paid coach Bob Woolmer was also critical of the track. I feel the wicket was almost similar to the one against England. However, the difference essentially lay in the technique and tactics of English and Indian batsmen.
Faced with a mammoth score of 679, the England batsmen would have crumbled against Shoaib and Kaneria.
The Indians on the other hand seem to have done their homework before coming here. They appear to have analysed the matches of the England series. The contrasting styles of Virender Sehwag and skipper Rahul Dravid provided an object lesson as they neutralised Shoaib Akhtar. Dravid, pushed into the unusual position of an opener due to circumstances and in the best interests of the team, led from the front. Sehwag batted in his now familiar aggressive role.
As for Pakistan batsmen, Younis Khan once again proved his mettle though he was unlucky to miss the double hundred. Mohammad Yousuf has repeatedly proved himself to be “Mr Reliable” of Pakistan batting and did it once again.
“King of Sixers” Shahid Afridi found an able and willing partner in young wicketkeeper Kamran who is already being described as Pakistan’s future Adam Gilchrist. I am sure if Shahid Afridi had stayed the time spent by Sehwag he would have broken many records. Currently Shahid holds three world records of fastest ODI hundred, hitter of highest number of sixes in Test in such short career and highest number of sixes in ODIs. It is an awesome record by any standard. Full marks to Inzi for helping to mould the team into a cohesive unit with the players believing in themselves. The dressing room atmosphere is reported to be good. No credit to chief selector Wasim Bari - merely a rubber stamp - who has yet to find replacements for openers Aamir Sohail, Saeed Anwar, left-arm spinner Iqbal Qasim or off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq. PCB ad hoc chief Shaharyar Khan admitted that the first Test was moved to Lahore from Karachi at the insistence of India. He had to bow to the Indians obviously due to his lack of cricketing knowledge and standing. Former PCB bosses like late Abdul Hafiz Kardar, Khalid Mahmood, or cricketing genius Zafar Altaf would have stood their ground.
And finally, PCB curator Agha Zahid is reported to have said that the weather did not allow him to prepare the Lahore Test wicket or for that matter the Faisalabad track. One wonders how his counterparts in England manage where it rains almost continuously.
(The writer is a former Test player and national chief selector).