The crack is quite visible

It was a picturesque setting... blue sky, gentle wind, soothing greenery and friendly sun. It was ideal weather for cricket and the Pakistan cricketers set up a match among themselves at a private ground in Midrand, just outside Johannesburg.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

Wasim Akram showed his displeasure in playing under Waqar Younis. He was more intent on his personal record than helping the team's cause.-Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

It was a picturesque setting... blue sky, gentle wind, soothing greenery and friendly sun. It was ideal weather for cricket and the Pakistan cricketers set up a match among themselves at a private ground in Midrand, just outside Johannesburg.

The novel training method saw Pakistan discard the `nets' and set up stumps in the middle of the field. The pitch was perfect and the competitive flair among the players saw the handful of fans enjoy the session. But there was something wrong with the Pakistan camp.

Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram stood apart, not seeing eye to eye and soon it became very apparent. As Akram stepped on to the field, Waqar walked out and sat under a tree, sulking and fuming.

Not all was well on the eve of Pakistan's match against India. The disharmony among the players had been the bane of Pakistan cricket and it was never so pronounced as it was on that day, with Waqar making no effort to hide his anger.

Infighting is nothing new for Pakistan cricketers. Javed Miandad and Imran Khan waged war of words after the World Cup triumph in 1992. Miandad criticised Imran publicly and invited the latter's wrath.

The Waqar-Akram fallout was tragic. We all know they have not been the best of friends for years now, but to develop contempt for each other has only added to the woes of the team.

It may appear childish but then it is a fact. Much was expected from this pair from the time they began bowling in international cricket but the deterioration of their relationship has now had an impact on Pakistan cricket.

Akram and Waqar form one of the deadly pairs of fast bowlers the game has produced. The lack of faith in each other only saw Akram and Waqar fall in esteem of many, especially those who looked at them as role models.

Akram would be justified in pointing a finger at Waqar. Similarly, Waqar might blame Akram for breaking their bond. But, ultimately, this squabble had weakened the team.

Many, including Imran Khan, made attempts to patch up the issue.

Observers of Pakistan cricket said it was disgraceful that both the veterans chose to indulge in such behaviour. It certainly had ill effects on the team and it was natural that there were two camps in the team.

It was tragic that two of the most respected players in the game were indulging in petty fighting. The politics in the Pakistan Board saw most of the players develop a sense of insecurity. To find ways, the youngsters sought refuge in the company of Akram and Waqar, both helpful to newcomers and idols for thousands of budding cricketers.

The bone of contention was captaincy. The seeds were sown long ago when Akram was rocked by a revolt led by Waqar. If the left-arm fast bowler continued it was essentially to fulfil the goals he had set for himself.

As the two refused to sink their differences, the Pakistan team lost its way. The team failed to play to its strength as it often did in the past, depending on Akram and Waqar to perform. The two have accused each other of plotting the other's downfall. In the process they have only widened the gap, which has in turn shown them in poor light.

The Pakistan Board too did not help matters by not looking beyond Akram and Waqar for the post of captaincy.

A new captain might have helped to ease the matters, but showing continued faith in either Waqar or Akram sent wrong signals. It is a sad episode in the history of Pakistan cricket that Waqar and Akram, great partners once are foes now.