STRAIGHT TALK

They say a cricket match is not over until the last ball has been bowled. And this was so true in the last ODI match between Pakistan and South Africa.

The much criticized Pakistan’s Guli-Danda team proved its detractors to be wrong and eat humble pie. They miraculously transformed themselves into a competent cricket team and carved themselves a page in history, by clinching their first ever ODI series win, by beating South Africa on their home ground, in a nail biting, cliffhanger, thrilling finish, winning the match just by one run.

At the end of the limited overs game, SA needed six runs from six balls to win the match and a six from David Miller would have won done the trick for SA, but then, they did not have the legendary Javed Miadad in their team.

A similar nail biting, last ball victory was witnessed in 1986, when Pakistan clashed with traditional rivals, India, in the final of the Australasia Cup final in Sharjah, on April 18, 1986, , in which Javed Miadad hit a glorious and memorable six, to win the match and lift the coveted Austral-Asia Cup. This one historical stroke placed Javed into the history books of cricket and made him an icon.

Some of the star players who played in that memorable Australasia Cup final were Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. All three are still actively involved in cricket related activities and in promoting cricket in Pakistan.  While some of the leading Indian cricketers who played in the match were, SM Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and RJ Shastri. It is unfortunate and surprising, as to why PCB does not invite these three great, talented and experienced Pakistani  players to assist our cricket team to win back the past glory and make our Guli-Danda team into World Champions once again.    

The commentators on that historic day were my good friends, the two legendary commentators, the excitable Iftikar Ahmed and the cool and collected Chisty Mujahid. His "Up she goes... Down she comes" and Ifti's excited shout when Miandad hit that famous six of "OH THAT'S A SIX", are all a part of the fond memories of that match.  Then we had the ‘Magnificent Eleven’, under the captaincy of the great cricketer, Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the first Test captain of Pakistan and fondly referred to as The Skipper by his team mates.

He and his team recorded the first ever win against England in Tests on August 17, 1954. The team comprised of cricket legends such as Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Waqar Hasan.  The incomparable Fazal Mahmood had taken 12 wickets for 99 runs, while wicket-keeper Zulfiqar Ahmed had provided good support behind the stumps, taking seven catches.

Pakistan had won the match by an innings and this was indeed a special and memorable moment in Pakistan's cricketing history, as no team had won a Test so early after entering the International cricket arena. Skipper Kardar was hailed a national hero and Pakistan’s ‘Magnificent Eleven’ immediately became a force to reckon with. While the gifted Hanif Mohammoed had the honor of being the first star of Pakistan cricket and was referred to, with respect, as the "Little Master". He played the longest innings in Test history, with his 970-minutes – 337 runs against West Indies in a Test Match in 1957. This was followed up a year later, with the highest first-class innings score of 499 runs. With such accomplishments, HM had turned cricket in Pakistan into the mass sport it is today.

Although famous for his immaculate defensive strokes and never hitting the ball in the air, the Little Master could also attack and was probably the originator of the reverse-sweep. His versatility extended to captaining and successfully bowling with right or left hand in Test cricket.

Kardar’s ‘Magnificent Eleven’ was then followed up by Imran’s ‘Brilliant Eleven’, when Pakistan clashed with traditional rivals, India, in the final of the Australasia Cup final in Sharjah, on April 18, 1986, in which Javed Miadad had hit the glorious and memorable six, to win the match and lift the coveted Austral-Asia Cup.

However, once the ODI and T20 Championships were introduced, the seeds of decline of Pakistan cricket were sown, as within no time, the games became very popular in the subcontinent and became a money making racket for greedy bookies and promoters, who enticed young, talented Pakistani players to cheat and make big money.

In the last ODI against SA, Pakistan cricket team had an opportunity to redeem itself, but unfortunately, our National Guli-Danda reverted back to its usual form, with reckless, irresponsible and careless batting and lost the match by four wickets.

The same irresponsible batting was witnessed during the first ODI in Sharjah. On the day of the match, I was at a friend’s house for dinner and Pakistan was 165 for four, against SA’s modest 184, with 6 wickets in hand.

Chisty had just returned from Sharjah and we were naturally discussing the on-going match, when one friend casually remarked that Pakistan would lose. There were naturally howls of protest, but lo and behold, to everyone’s horror, the Greenback’s batting collapsed.

Pakistan was chasing a modest 184 runs to win and were cruising along nicely, but to everyone’s astonishment, the wickets started falling like kingpins, with Mr. Boo Boo Afridi scoring a miserable nine runs, leaving Pakistan struggling for the last seven runs in the last over.

Captain Misbah-ul Haq was naturally disappointed at losing a match, when victory was within grasp and seemed certain and after the match, he dejectedly mumbled, “We could not handle the pressure, some relaxed shots cost us the match”.

As such, the die was cast and the PCB management, especially the newly appointed PCB Chairman, should have taken notice and taken effective action to correct the situation. But that was not done and though we won the series, the matches exposed our weak batting and lack of professional and experienced management.

PCB must learn from its mistakes and seek the help and advice of past seasoned players to assist the organization to revamp the team with new players. Unless decisive action is taken to improve the performance of the team and strictly enforce PCB rules, our Guli-Danda team will continue to be the brunt of cricket jokes and taunts.   

But more on the Game of Cricket next week. 

n email: trust@helplinetrust.org