SEVERAL budding players are showcasing their prowess in top-level Test cricket contests these days.

If Yashasvi Jaiswal’s stupendous double hundred against ‘Bazballing’ England enabled India to come back in the home series, Shamar Joseph’s raw pace and swing against Australia in their own backyard reminded many of West Indies’ glory days. And one can’t take anything away from Rachin Ravindra for the outstanding double ton, his first in Tests, against a second-string South Africa.

Joseph may never be able to repeat the sensational seven-wicket show he produced in Brisbane, the world Test champions’ happy hunting ground, but the precisely-executed bowling by the rookie pacer — who had made his Test debut in the preceding game at Adelaide a few days ago — was a perfect show of overpowering flair.

Pakistan too contains loads of cricketing talent but its system is riddled with several flaws, and therefore its players — and subsequently the team — continue to underachieve in top-shelf games. No wonder very few of them manage to get a foothold.

Not long ago, Pakistan were in Australia where the Shan Masood-led side suffered a traditional 3-0 series sweep. However, there were bright spots in the form of Aamer Jamal, Saim Ayub, Abdullah Shafique and Khurram Shahzad. Unfortunately, none of them could manage to extract a victory, or even came close to doing so.

Even at home in 2022, Pakistan suffered back-to-back home Test series losses to Australia (1-0) and England (3-0) and barely avoided another early last year against New Zealand. It’s obvious many of Pakistan’s players have not been able to shine in big games whereas teams like India, New Zealand and England have improved miles in recent years.

Take the cases of Jaiswal and Saim. Both are left-handed openers of nearly the same age, and are almost equally belligerent; their stats in domestic cricket have a number of similarities. While Jaiswal on his Test debut against West Indies struck a sedate yet match-winning 171 in Roseau last year, Saim in his debut Test (his only so far) at Sydney had scores of zero and a rapid 33. There is a world of difference between the strength of current West Indies bowling and that of Australia particularly Down Under, no doubt. Still, one feels, it is the mindset that defines a player and his team. And a player’s positive mindset for success needs to be backed timely by an encouraging system comprising top management, selectors, captain and coaches.

Will Saim, or for that matter any other gifted Pakistan player, get an extended run in Test cricket? The southpaw’s bold, innovative strokeplay in white-ball signifies his go-get it stance. Moreover, if a record match-winning double century and century in the 2023 final of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan’s premier first-class contest, cannot convince the selectors to give this batter proper chances, then what will?

Jaiswal is not the only success example in contemporary Indian cricket. K.L. Rahul, Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer have developed through a system that gives appropriate time and freedom to its players. Jasprit Bumrah’s impressive and steady rise to the top of ICC Test bowlers’ rankings is another classic example of the productive way Indian cricket system has progressed.

Has Pakistan cricket in recent years raised a batter who can replace Babar Azam, if need arises, for a couple of top-level international games? Take it another way: will our team management rest any main player of the national team to give chance to any deserving youngster, without putting him under the pressure of ‘perform now or face the axe’?

Gill and Jaiswal in Virat Kohli’s absence (in the first two Tests of the ongoing England series due to personal reasons) showed their structure’s solidity which does not depend on just one or two players.

Left-handed Ravindra, who transformed himself as a world-class top-order batter in the 50-over World Cup staged in India late last year, is another success story.

After failing to reach even 20 in any of the six innings of his first three Tests against India and Bangladesh, the 24-year-old finally shone with a scintillating 240 last week in Mount Maunganui where he was playing a Test after a gap of more than two years.

He did it despite shifting from slam bang limited-overs games to enduring five-day format. More importantly, the system kept faith in him and he delivered.

Similarly, who can dare overlook — other than the great Kane Williamson — the likes of Daryl Mitchell, Mark Chapman, Tim Southee, Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson and many others who through accurate management have raised New Zealand from mere pushovers to top-class competitors in all three formats.

Reaching the grand finale of the 2019 50-over World Cup and winning the 2021 World Test Championship decider against India were the highest points of New Zealand cricket which it has pretty much sustained.

The present West Indies cannot boast of anything but raw talent that rarely dazzles, but if Cricket West Indies works on developing its players on professional lines the Caribbean team can surely regain at least some of its pride. Anyway squaring the series against Australia on their soil is no mean feat.

Mohsin Raza Naqvi, the recently elected chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, will head the fourth PCB regime in the last 14 months. Change of guard at the highest level can and does have an effect on the game management as well as the players.

The PCB, if it wants the team to compete and win against the best in business in an evolving international cricket landscape which has made a very traditional England undergo massive overhaul in its game, will have to genuinely invest in up-and-coming talent on consistent basis. Otherwise Pakistan will continue to lag behind in top-notch contests.

Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2024

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