July 27, 2010

The value of a Test win is immense. When it comes against a top side like Australia, it becomes extra special. Pakistan are basking under the euphoria of their win at Leeds against Ricky Ponting’s men, but a good start is only half the job done. The challenge will be to hold on to this momentum.

Having seen Pakistan cricket from close, hopes and dreams can often come crashing down sooner than expected. So it is important to be cautious and judicious when Pakistan take the next steps on their current tour of England.

Like any positive-minded Pakistani, I see hope in this young team. During the prize distribution ceremony at Headingley, Salman Butt said a very important thing. He said the Pakistan Cricket Board must “own” this team. Salman admitted this team will make mistakes but will learn at the same time. The young skipper could not have said anything more appropriate.

It is normal for people to become emotional after a Test win. The one against Australia came after 15 years and hence there was enough reason for a party. But the way wickets fell in the fourth innings, the Pakistan dressing room must have had their hearts in their mouth. Hence, this is time to learn how to face a moving ball on English wickets.

While the Pakistani players do their job on the field, the management has to play its part as well. That will mean backing the young captain and his relatively inexperienced boys. Playing at home, England will be dangerous opponents. They have quality cricketers, some of whom are capable of good performances in any form of the game. Hence, for Salman and party, England will be an acid test.

The Leeds Test win should have a steadying effect after Shahid Afridi shockingly chucked the captaincy after the Lord’s defeat. I understand Afridi had not played Test cricket for 3 or 4 years but you can’t accept the captaincy and then quit the series after just one Test. Pakistan became a laughing stock. If you have accepted the captaincy, you need to stay at least for one series. As a leader, you can’t leave your troops in the middle of a war and say ‘I am going back home’.

Pakistan’s biggest problem has been consistency on and off the field. Nobody knows what’s in store tomorrow in Pakistan cricket. Effectively, players end up making decisions out of fear and can’t plan their future. Hopefully, the Leeds win will see a change in attitude.

I hope Pakistan cricket will move forward from here. Salman is a good choice as Test captain and I had said this in my columns after the T20 World Cup. Better late than never, the right man has got the job now. PCB must keep Salman as captain for at least six months and see how he handles the responsibility. He is a good opener with a proper technique and is scoring runs. This confidence will rub off on the team as well.

Persistency will be key. The youngsters like Umar Amin, Azhar Ali and Mohammed Aamer need support. They have proved their mettle on challenging English conditions and they can only get better. After a long time I can see a bunch that looks united and can fight as a team.

Having said this, senior players like Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan may have to wait in the wings for some time. There is no denying their enormous experience, but if Headingley is going to be a watershed in Pakistan cricket history, belief in the youngsters is a must. There can be no looking back at this stage.

There is plenty of cricket to play for. Pakistan ‘host’ South Africa in the UAE later this year. The conditions will be similar to Pakistan and the youngsters will love it. No batsman loves a moving ball! So, there are many opportunities awaiting Salman and his upstarts. Go for it, lads!

Courtesy: www.espnstar.com

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