Disgraceful performance

JUST when we thought that the Pakistanis were turning the corner, following the creditable performance of the youngsters in the first Test in Colombo against the formidable Australia, arrives an utterly disgraceful performance from Waqar Younis' side in the second Test at Sharjah.

Scores below 60 in both the innings and the Test getting over in less than two days, was indeed a shameful performance by the Pakistanis. The drop in their form in the second Test was both alarming and inexplicable.

Predictably, it has also caused a lot of heart-burning in Pakistan, and changes appear likely at the top of the cricket administration in that country. Even considering the fact that Pakistan was taking on the mighty Australia, it will have to go down as the most shocking display by a team in a long time.

What I find baffling is that the same Pakistan side had fought back so magnificently in the first Test in Colombo, coming back from nowhere to have a clear sight at victory before Australia regrouped.

One of the factors which I feel could have caused the Pakistani collapse was the change in the conditions and the wicket, from Colombo to Sharjah.

Both the sides did not have an opportunity for a first class game, which is so essential to have a feel of the conditions before a Test. The match was played on a neutral land and the prospects for a three-day practice game were never bright in any case.

You could argue that there may not be a great deal of difference between the wicket in Colombo and the one in Sharjah, but then, as we saw, there was more seam movement in the Sharjah pitch. For the Pakistani youngsters, the task of straightaway playing a Test in Sharjah, after a high-pressure series opener in Colombo, might have proved too much.

A two-day Test is not going to make anybody happy, and this includes the sponsors, the television viewers, the paying public and the administrators. Such Tests do not augur well for the game.

The International Cricket Council, when it finds itself in a situation where it is forced to hold a Test series in one or more countries, should make provision for the first class games so that both the teams are better prepared.

This, however, is no excuse for the spineless showing by the Pakistani batsmen, who tended to play too many strokes without displaying the necessary application required at the Test level.

This brings us to the bigger question. Has the standard of batting declined in world cricket? It could be true since too many of the young batsmen bring their one-day cricket approach to the longer version of the game.

It cannot be disputed that the ODIs have a dominant place in the contemporary cricketing scenario; this is where the ICC and most of the Boards earn a bulk of their money from. However, there is need to strike a balance between the ODIs and Tests.

In this regard, I am happy that the ICC, at its executive board meeting in Colombo, agreed to the demands made earlier by the captains of the Test playing countries to reduce the number of irrelevant games, and provide the players with the necessary break.

This is again a crucial area. The players do require periods of rest between series or tournaments, where, apart from relaxing their mind and body, they can work on their game, if they find some fault has crept into it.

Thus a break provides an opportunity for the cricketers to return to the fray without that chink in their armour and they come back fresh and rejuvenated.

On the contrary, if cricket is played almost on a non-stop basis, then the players will keep repeating the mistakes, and that will take them nowhere. You cannot really blame them for they have little time to correct the fault, often having to pack their bags for the next venue, within a few hours of the conclusion of one game.

This is one of the major reasons for the decline in the batting standards of some of the countries. Take the West Indians for instance. It is clear that they have been playing far too much cricket.

The performance of the West Indians in the Mumbai Test revealed they had not done their homework on how to counter the Indian spinners. And when there was some turn in the Wankhede pitch they were caught napping.

It is so important to study the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, especially if the series is played away from home. I remember Tony Greig's team on its visit to India in the 70s. That side had one main objective - to blunt the Indian spin attack.

Greig knew once he could achieve that, half the battle would be won. Greig and Roger Tolchard used their pads extensively in the series, but their methods, ungainly they might have been, were successful. It just goes to show how, with planning, a superior force can be countered. However, in today's cramped schedules, there might not be too much time to chart out strategies.

What we find now is there are far too many sides whose batting is prone to collapses. West Indies, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and on some occasions, Pakistan to name a few.

With the result, we find far too many lop-sided contests taking place both in Tests and the ODIs. In the long run, this can only do harm to the game.

It is evenly-contested duels between two motivated teams that keep cricket going. The most memorable series played in India in a long time was the one between India and Australia in 2001. That series had everything, and those are the kind of battles that stay in people's minds.

In particular, the exploits of V. V. S. Laxman and Harbhajan Singh, who were outstanding in the series. Both Laxman and Harbhajan had their share of problems going into that momentous series. While it was a minor slump in form for Laxman, injury had kept Harbhajan out for a while. And when they began their comebacks following a fairly long break from international cricket, they were different players.

It's easy to see the point. Players do need time to work their way out of trouble, if that is provided to them.