Dawn Pakistan's most widely circulated English language newspaper.

Cricket team's slump in Sharjah

By Lateef Jafri

22 December 1997

Was it South Asia's defeat in the Champions Trophy quadrangular at Sharjah? Or the two subcontinental countries have to be taken separately for their acts of omission and commission?

The West Indians, decimated in the Tests and the jubilee one-dayers in Pakistan, cut to size both India and Pakistan in the desert sheikhdom. For them the tide had turned, at last! Then a freshly-raised, raw outfit of England brought down to earth both of them by almost identical margins. The England side, though mostly revolving round youngsters, was energetic, vigorous and full of fight from the start of a match to the end.

The four-nation tournament, for the first time, confounded the prognosticators, the organisers and above all the global betting cartels. The results as they came in the stillness of night turned upside down their rates, if not the ratings of the teams. Where are the favourites, asked the punters and the fans in general.

Even though the subcontinental expatriates were disappointed by the upset the newly-installed floodlights at the venue of the oil State were quite an attraction for this competition. They will, the Gulf officials hope, draw full house during cricket's major one-day event - the ICC-approved limited-overs contest next September, featuring all the nine Tests playing countries, - a virtual mini-World Cup.

Wasim Akram, captain of Pakistan, has termed the problem of adjustment to one-dayers after the team's engagement in Test tussles as the main cause of the setbacks. But haven't earlier they played the nascent cricket in the same sort of setting the day-and-night arrangement in Lahore? Perhaps illness and injuries to senior players made a difference in the team's strength. Besides, there was no time for a preparatory camp. But then the Caribbeans too landed in Sharjah straight from Pakistan. India also had hardly the time for nets at home after the series against Sri Lanka. Only England had seriously trained for the tournament with warmup matches in Pakistan, especially under the Qadhafi Stadium's lights. Would camp sessions have made any difference when Pakistan were pinning down the West Indies in the Tests and they had a nil-result in their favour in the Jubilee duels? Pakistan after its Test triumphs on home turfs had become over-confident and had to pay the price in the very first match on schedule - against the West Indies. A score of 275 after Lara's challenging and enthralling 88 appeared a tall order. The Pakistani players' out-cricket was unimpressive, their running and pick-up were considerably weaker and below expectations. Then when their turn came three run-outs of key batsmen made the target almost impossible to be achieved.

The Pakistani squad, in the view of their supporters, was jaded after a heavy international schedule and the county engagements of the senior players. Perhaps the search for fresh talent proved unavailing seeing the overall show of Akhtar Sarfraz and Manzoor Akhtar, who turns the ball appreciably but there are no strokes in his batting as one sees his gentle, weak pushes, cuts and deflections. Where are the full-strength drives and powerful and confident sweeps?

The Pakistani supporters had cause for satisfaction when India were beaten by four wickets in the fourth league match after the latter had set a target of 244 to be achieved for win. It was entirely due to the robust century of Saeed Anwar that Pakistan romped home. His bat moved like a scimitar and broke the back of the Indian bowlers and the hearts of their backers. It was good to see him run into form at the right time. At one stage there was a beeline of Pakistani batsmen going back to the pavilion. Why a new batting order was experimented against a team reckoned as arch-rivals? Saeed Anwar, desperate for lack of support, found a reliable partner in Moin Khan, coming low to bat. He displayed the right temperament, quick and strong wrist-work to maul the Indian bowling. He had the chance to hit 50 but then the captain too had his turn at batting and Moin returned unbeaten one short of half century. Was Saeed Anwar really out as given by the umpire. He had not touched the ball, as shown by the TV camera in the replay. India's wicketkeeper Saba Karim appealed after the batsman had missed Srinath's ball and the West Indian umpire, S.A. Bucknor, raised his finger up. Thus a brilliant knock came to an end for no fault of the player. There was no reaction on Saeed Anwar's face. He took the umpire's final verdict in the true sportsman's spirit.

There was a marginal chance for Pakistan's entry into the final but England put an end to their campaign. Was England's 215 a high score? It was not. The spinners, Saqlain Mushtaq and Manzoor Akhtar, had done well. A target of 216 was attainable with steady, sensible batting, even if the openers - an unfit Aamir Sohail and Shahid Afridi - had been sent back. There was no panic in the Pakistani camp. Saeed Anwar and Ejaz soon settled down and successive balls were sent to the fence with effortlesss ease. There was power in Anwar's pulling, driving and cutting. Perhaps the scene during the match against India was being reenacted. The task appeared easy. At the score at 99 and Saeed's own 54 he was trapped by spinner Croft. Ejaz too followed him to the pavilion next over. Still nobody thought that Pakistan was in for trouble - the determined Moin Khan and Azhar Mahmood were there to redeem the situation.

However, the batting order was suddenly topsyturvied. Inexperienced Akhtar Sarfraz and Manzoor Akhtar were sent in to cope with the English bowlers at a stage which was turning dangerous. Manzoor is short of strokes. He stayed at the wicket for a considerably long period but there were only meek cuts and gentle pushes towards the leg side - no firm action against the English bowlers, no powerful strokes which was the need of the hour. Moin and Azhar Mahmood trying to force the pace lost their wickets. Had they been sent earlier, as such balanced commentator as Hanif Mohammad has said, the situation in the match may have been different. It was a setback in a crucial match. The captain too went in ahead of Azhar Mahmood but failed to justify his decision with a score of four from 19 balls. The captain has the reputation of brisk batting; but against England it appeared he wanted to save his wicket. The result, as it turned out, disappointed the stadium crowd, who left groaning in disgust as well as the TV viewers in this country. Hanif and other experts are questioning the wisdom of fielding a sick Aamir Sohail. To add to the problems of Pakistan, Inzamamul Haq, injured in the earlier match, was unable to assist the side.

India, it appeared, took the tournament in a non-serious vein for in every tie they were in a winning position but then lost the way. In the last but crucial encounter against the West Indies the openers gave the side a start of 87 runs. The team should have reached the target of 230 comfortably. But they failed in their bid and the psychologically depressed West Indies, on the Pakistan tour, galloped home to reach the final. For India the competition was a miserable disappointment as they failed to win a single match.

The Indian board took the initial steps of redeeming the prestige of the country by making sweeping changes in the squad to face Sri Lanka in limited-overs tussles this week. Perhaps some more action may be required to push the team internationally.

For Pakistan soul-searching is needed. The material is available but its proper use is the main thing. Besides, the right tactics are to be adopted at critical moments.

Among the two dark horses in the final England, displaying more determination, fortitude and a disciplined approach, covered the course with verve and deservingly carried away the Champions Trophy. They were in deep trouble at 165 for six but ultimately Thrope and Fleming got them home by hammering the West Indian attack. It was a praiseworthy retrieval by England for all to see. Their specialist squad of one-day proved, if at all any proof was needed, that nascent cricket is a different ball game.

The West Indies revival in the tournament makes them a pugnacious set and the coming encounters in the Caribbeans against England will be interesting and full of fireworks.

Source: Dawn
Editorial comments can be sent to Dawn at webmaster@dawn.com
Contributed by CricInfo Management
Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:36