See it from any angle you want to, Pakistan’s Asia Cup campaign was a disaster. For those who are unable to distinguish between blind patriotism on the one hand and objective sober cricketing analysis on the other, Pakistan’s performance would be surprising. But for the minority who are able to make the distinction, it was not unexpected. For the truth is that given the heavy tilt in favour of batsmen in all forms of the limited overs game, Pakistan’s batting line-up is simply not good enough to compete with the best in this format. The Bangladeshis have a point in feeling peeved at having to qualify for the main stages of the ICC T20 World Cup for they have claimed with considerable justification that there is now little or nothing to choose between them and teams like Pakistan, the West Indies and Sri Lanka.
The team that was chosen to represent Pakistan defied cricketing logic. I have tried desperately to discern a cricketing reason behind the selection of Khurram Manzoor, but regret to say, have failed miserably in coming up with any answer. He was not among some sixty odd Pakistani players chosen by any of the five franchises in the recent PSL; he is supposed to have performed well at the domestic level in 50-overs cricket but this tournament was a T20 affair and if his domestic performance was that good, why did none of the franchises show any interest in him?
If, however, for whatever reason, it was necessary not just to select him but play him too, given his failures in the first two matches, why was he played in the all important do-or-die match against Bangladesh? And finally, in all forms of cricket, perhaps the number three position is the most important in the batting line-up. At number three you need a player who can dictate terms to the opposition to set the tempo of the innings. Poor Khurram did not look even remotely like performing that role. Sarfraz Ahmed and Umar Akmal looked like being much better candidates for the job.
Pakistan’s performance was bad enough to raise some very serious questions, but one doubts gravely if the committee set up by the PCB to investigate into the results for this debacle will be able to perform the task, and the reasons for this should be obvious. We have on this committee Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan, players who are still playing for Pakistan. How can they be expected to ask serious probing questions from the chief selector or coach when these people are still in a position to affect their playing careers? You don’t have to be an administrative genius to figure this out.
Batsmanship as a skill does not seem to have many takers in Pakistan. It is said that one reason for this is the emphasis on T20 cricket, but it would be the height of irony if this emphasis resulted in producing poor cricketers in the very form of the game which is the focus of all attention. But, it is not difficult to see why. To be a good batsman in any form of the game, you have to get the basics right and be technically correct. That sort of basic grounding unfortunately does not come with the T20 format. Somehow, those who run the game in Pakistan have to come out with a solution to this problem before cricket too goes the way squash and hockey has already gone.
Throughout the Asia Cup and the PSL that preceded it, the one bright light for Pakistan has been Mohammad Amir. He is a world class bowler and it is sad that all around him, there is only mediocrity. It can be disheartening to be regularly on the losing side and one can only hope that the overall performance of the team does not have too much of a negative effect on Amir’s motivation.
Before I finish, I would like to say a word or two about the PSL. It is good that it created so much interest among Pakistani cricket lovers although except on Fridays and the final, it was not evident in the form of crowds at the ground. As long as the tournament is held in the UAE, it will have no effect in building the case for a return of international cricket to Pakistan, for there has never been a problem with foreign teams or foreign cricketers playing in the UAE. Dubai has for some time been a favourite holiday destination for many westerners. That argument can only move forward when the PSL is held in Pakistan and if some of the big foreign names find themselves unable to come, so be it. That argument cannot be won by inviting nonentity western cricketers to play in UAE, a move that was utterly meaningless.
I was also disappointed by the fact that the PCB chose to invite leading Pakistani politicians to the PSL, but not leading Pakistani former cricketers. After all, the PSL was a celebration of cricket and not politics and given the fact that it was a T20 tournament, perhaps Younis Khan, who has led Pakistan to victory in a T20 World Cup, deserved to be invited ahead of some who were invited but did not turn up.