A tale of two teams

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The three-match Test series between Pakistan and South Africa is over; the one-sided contest was loved by the supporters of the team that won the three matches and loathed by the ones whose team couldn’t win any. Sadly, it was the visiting side Pakistan that came out as ‘losers’ and we are not talking about the match results.

The Sarfraz Ahmed led team fared badly in all departments but that was expected considering a team was chosen without thinking ahead; the batsmen looked out of sorts, the bowlers out of pace and the fielders out of practice as they held onto fewer catches and dropped more. Let’s analyze the two teams and find out what proved to be the difference between the ‘ever chokers’ who emerged victoriously, and the unpredictables who ‘choke away from home’.

SOUTH AFRICA

They didn’t have the services of their main bowler Vernon Philander in the first Test; Dale Steyn was making a comeback from injury; Captain Faf du Plessis missed the third match due to an ICC suspension and Hashim Amla was out of form, even then the South Africans played as a team. They found a new pace hero in Duanne Olivier who won the Man of the Series award for his brilliant performance; they dropped their regular spinner to play a four-man pace attack in the second Test and that helped them take the 2-nil lead in the series and kept that combination to make it 3-0.

Yes, they dropped crucial catches but then the fielders took some amazing ones; they were bowled out of fewer scores than expected but then their bowlers bowled out the visitors for lesser; their batsmen played aggressively because that’s what modern cricketers do and that’s why they came out as winners.

Pakistan

Away from the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan’s Cricket team acts like a bunch of school kids who play for themselves instead of as a team. Their defensive approach to batting on bouncy pitches indicates that they practice less keeping in mind the conditions of pitches they might be playing on; they should learn from the example of Indian batsman Cheteshwar Pujara who doesn’t play Indian Premier League because he isn’t considered T20 material; he prefers First Class and County Cricket over T20 Cricket and helps his side win a series against Australia Down Under – where no Indian Captain had won before. Choosing unfit players like Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, and Mohammad Abbas looks bad at Pakistan Cricket Board because they seem to have no idea who to nurture and who to coach.

Why didn’t the bowling coach Azhar Mahmood ask for a quickie like his old colleague Shoaib Akhtar who won a match with his performance in South Africa; why didn’t the batting coach Grant Flower advice the Captain to change the batting order to suit the conditions; why didn’t the fielding coach instruct Azhar Ali to stand two steps ahead after he grounded a catch that could have changed the course of the match. What is Mickey Arthur doing other than blaming bad pitches and decisions like a school bully who blames the teachers for not passing the examination.

Verdict – A Wake Up Call For Pakistan!

For a general Cricket fan, the South Africans won the series convincingly because they were playing at home, but to those who follow the game, it was Pakistan who lost the series the moment they selected the ‘perfect’ team. It was a team that was selected (read retained) on paper for their performance in the United Arab Emirates rather than one that was selected keeping in mind the South African conditions.

Yes, the decision to not select tried and tested pacers like Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali was a good one but to replace them with inexperience and literally, no-pace wasn’t; had there been a Junaid Khan with the team instead of a Shaheen Shah Afridi, things might have been different. Now Shaheen Shah Afridi is injured due to the workload and Junaid Khan is playing Bangladesh Premier League as the Selectors didn’t consider him for reasons better known to them alone.

All-rounder Faheem Ashraf who was kept out of the final XI for the first two Tests helped Pakistan fightback in the third but it must be determined as to who was behind his exclusion. Pakistan needed players like him and Shadab Khan in all three matches but sadly, they were used only when the battle was lost, and after the latter attained full fitness.

At a time when India is defeating Australia in their backyard, it is really shameful of Pakistan to lose matches that they could have won had the team performed like a unit. Not even the great Imran Khan would have been able to win a match with a team in which the batsmen consistently fail, (especially the top order) and the highest scorer in the series (Shan Masood) was the one who performed well at the domestic circuit. It clearly indicates that those who perform well in the First Class Cricket must be given priority over others but that is one reasoning that falls on deaf ears in Pakistan.

The lower order batted better than those who were selected as batsmen because they got acclimatized better; however when it came to their main job – bowling – they fell short due to their pace. Not their fault, if you ask me but the fault of those who didn’t think that a pacer would do wonders in favorable conditions. Until and unless Pakistan gets a fast bowler who can take wickets (like Shoaib Akhtar) rather than gain experience and waste space in the final XI (like Wahab Riaz), things will not change on away tours.

Instead of tried and tested Cricketers, we must have a Selection Committee that scouts for possible Cricketers rather than look for the next one in their own family.

Shan Masood’s example must be kept in front of the Selectors as he went back and got his basics right rather than lose hope and quit. Someone must realize that people like Fawad Alam are required to steady the innings when the going is tough and he must be selected in place of both Fakhar Zaman and Imam ul Haq, especially in the Test format which doesn’t suit either of them.

Yes, Fakhar had one good debut game but Test Cricket is about testing yourself in every condition, not just in favorable ones. We must select players from Pakistan Super League for limited overs as that’s their ultimate goal; a place in the Test side must remain a reward for those who earn it through hard work, playing First Class Cricket and emerging as a First Class Cricketer, rather than staying in the final XI on the basis of their limited over performances.

Pakistan doesn’t have much Cricket for the next few months so the next time they go out in whites, many will forget the South African debacle but great teams are those who learn from their mistakes, not those who forget them and move on.

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