They say five-day matches are dead whenever there is a boring draw, but when matches like the Kingston Test between Pakistan and the West Indies, and the Lord’s Test between India and England take place, these detractors are nowhere to be seen. For Test Cricket keeps reminding them that no matter how many formats are introduced, the oldest format of Cricket will remain on top. West Indies won an unexpected Test match against Pakistan in Sabina Park, Jamaica on Sunday, and within 24 hours, India demolished England at Lord’s, only because they were mentally stronger, and physically more agile than the eventual losers. Both the winning sides selected a final XI to perform when their opponents selected a team on past performances. For India, it was the ‘brave’ decision to go in with four fast bowlers; for the West Indies, it was trusting their youngsters. They stood by their players who they knew would give their best, while Pakistan and England chose to select players who had performed well in the past, without realizing that they should be looking towards the future.
If one looks closely at Pakistan’s loss, one realizes that they could have easily avoided losing at the Sabina Park, had they been in it to win it. After all, it had been Pakistan’s favorite ground where they hadn’t lost a Test match since 1977, yet they made tactical errors. They went into the match hoping to make it three consecutive wins at the same ground, forgetting that it was the same place where 63 years back, Sir Garfield Sobers scored an unbeaten 365 runs against Pakistan. Instead, Babar Azam’s team came out making a mockery of selection, batting, and fielding. They selected an opening batsman because he was the best catcher in the final XI; they went for a spinner who hadn’t played a match in six months; dropped one who took five wickets and scored 97 runs in his last outing; kept an out of form number three in the side because he has experience instead of giving someone better a chance; fielded like a bunch of school kids in the outfield and above all, played under a Captain who had no clue how to set the field, in close encounters.
The final result was losing by one wicket, but that one wicket would have been long gone had the regulation catches been taken, had the fielders been inside the circle to stop the singles, had the bowlers used their brain for taking wickets than concentrating on would-be celebrations, had a wicket-taking spinner been in the side than one who was making a comeback and above all, had the openers done their job and scored runs instead of returning without trying. At Lord’s, India won the match because their openers did the job on the opening day; Pakistan lost the plot since the openers tried to play to cement their place in the side instead of doing their job. What happened to the change in batting order tactic that teams use when one of the players is out of form but valuable to the team? Why wasn’t the Coach advising the Skipper about field placings and tactics when the bowlers were going for runs? If the experienced Asad Shafiq could be dropped after playing 74 consecutive Tests, why can’t the same happen to constantly failing Azhar Ali? Why isn’t the fielding coach doing something about the slippery fingers of the players? Why is it that Pakistan always realizes their mistakes after the match instead of considering them before the toss?
For a team that was unable to score 250 runs in both innings of the Test, that failed to defend 168 runs on a fourth-day wicket and that took difficult catches easily and grassed easy catches, Pakistan needs to learn a lot of things if they want to draw the series. It seems that the Pakistan team management and the Pakistan Cricket Board has no clue that this series is part of the World Test Championship and that every match counts. A win against the West Indies would have helped Pakistan since they were the visitors and would have received valuable away points, but no one seems to care. With Pakistan taking on the West Indies from tonight in the second Test match (at the same venue), it seems the management will have to make tough decisions, to toughen the side, and hope that the players improve their performance. Losing a match by one run or one innings is a loss in the end, and it will only hit those at the helm when Pakistan is out of contention, like last year.
The writer is Sub-editor Entertainment, Bol News.