The documentary film ‘Fire in Babylon’ is an absolutely riveting presentation based on the resurgence and domination of the great West Indian cricket team from the mid 70s to the early 90s.
That era was, perhaps, the epitome of Test cricket.
The five-day game was the real deal for the men dubbed as ‘calypso cricketers’ before and after their humiliation in a six-match Test series against the Australians in the mid-70s. But following the 1-5 loss, a young team led by an astute leader, Clive Lloyd, decided that it was time for them to strike back. They were not going to take defeat lying down and the best possible way for them was to meet aggression with aggression. Lloyd told his team loud and clear, “never again”.
Subsequently, a team of express fast bowlers was brought to the fore, their skills honed and within a couple of years the West Indians embarked upon an unprecedented journey of supremacy, not for a year or two but for nearly two decades. Along the way, the Caribbean produced some of the finest cricketers the world had seen.
For Pakistan, the journey has been long but domination has never been the keyword associated with the subcontinent giants. It seems that Pakistan, despite playing Test cricket for more than sixty years, is yet to rightly ascertain the value of what remains the ultimate judge of a cricketer and a team.
The meek capitulation at Johannesburg on Monday is another setback, another reminder that despite possessing world class players over the years, the dogged determination to counter alien conditions and triumph in them remains a distant dream. Many experts have resigned to the fact.
Of course, Pakistan has won matches in every Test playing nation, of course the national team has fashioned out historic wins and made comebacks from the brink. Yet after six decades of Test cricket, Pakistan is still to record series wins in the West Indies, Australia and South Africa.
Johannesburg was once again an in-your-face examination of the willow wielders but one had hoped that the lessons learnt in Australia 2009-10, the English summer of 2010 and the loss in the first Test in the West Indies in 2011 would come in handy and Pakistan would not surrender.
But the hopes were all dashed in a matter of a session! The batsmen caved in against a rampaging Dale Steyn at the Bullring, who followed up his astonishing act in the first innings to finish with five in the second dig for an 11-wicket haul in the match.
The spineless performance may recede to the back of our minds soon if the Cape Town and Centurion Tests see more resilience from the tourists.
But the burning questions are: what was the result of the endless inquires and postmortems of the disasters in 2010? Did anyone think at that time that a tour of South Africa is to be undertaken next? The batsmen would again encounter similar problems. Where was the think tank? Was there a plan in place?
The answer, quite evidently, is a plain and simple no. In the last two years, Pakistan, under Misbah-ul-Haq, performed tenaciously in conditions that suit them and other than the downfall in Sri Lanka last year, did not lose a single Test series. It gave followers hope of a good performance on the ‘African Safari’, yet it all came tumbling down, once again.
At the same time, the stark reality is that even teams considered far more capable than the present bunch failed to combine and win an elusive series in challenging conditions.
For instance, Pakistan’s star-studded teams during the 90s that had arguably the greatest fast bowling pair of all time in Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, one of the most competent pair of openers in Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail, a middle-order comprising greats like Inzamam-ul-Haq, Salim Malik, Mohammad Yousuf, the highly under-rated Ijaz Ahmed (Five Test hundreds against Australia) bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar, Mushtaq Ahmed and Saqlain Mushtaq and street fighters in glovemen like Moin Khan and Rashid Latif, failed to win a Test series in the three countries posing the toughest challenge.
Time and again we failed to deliver the knock-out punch despite the presence of these stalwarts in our ranks.
If the Test series in Australia, England and West Indies are to be examined, it is quite obvious that the batting has left a lot to be desired.
Let's start with Pakistan's tour of Australia in 2009/10. Australia won the first Test by 170 runs, second by 36 runs and third by 231 runs, handing Mohammad Yousuf's side a 3-0 humiliation. Then came the disastrous visit to England. Although Pakistan managed a solitary win, the hosts took the series 3-1. The margins of defeats of Pakistan in the first and fourth Tests were 354 and 225 runs respectively.
On the tour of the West Indies the following year, Misbah-ul-Haq's men managed to level the series 1-1 even though it was theirs for the taking. The batting folded, chasing 219 and in the first Test and the match was over inside four days.
The trend continues and the performances continue to plummet, where is the Lloyd “never again” like resolve? Why are failures in these conditions a norm for us? Who will chalk out a long term strategy? Who will tell the people at the helm that Test cricket is where they need to invest if they are to earn respect around the world.
For how long will distraught cricket fans see their team limp to embarrassing defeats, is there anyone out there with a vision that can gift us a series win in any of the three countries? Both Misbah-ul-Haq and South African captain Graeme Smith have claimed that Pakistan would get better and better as their tour progresses. Wouldn’t it have been logical then for Pakistan to have arrived in South Africa a tad earlier, especially for the sake of the batsmen?
As soon as the players return from South Africa they would muscle their way in the glitz of the Pakistan Super League, the horrors of Wanderers would be forgotten, the euphoria of T20 cricket would take over. The think-tank would only wake up now on the eve of the tour to Australia, the team will arrive under cooked and would encounter another raging bull, the same questions would be asked again and the hardcore Test cricket fan may be left seething in anger and disappointment all over again.