India vs Pakistan: The death of a rivalry
The word rivalry has an inherent meaning of a contest, of the last ball thrill and the bittersweet fruit of unpredictability. Rivalries are kept alive by sledging, by the banter from media, history and the quality of the contest in the middle. Keep the political tensions aside between India and Pakistan for a while and concentrate purely on the Cricket.
What made India-Pakistan Cricket clashes one of the best sporting fiestas ever? It was India’s batting vs. Pakistan’s bowling, two quality teams, a clash of the titans and the thrill to be Asia’s finest.
The history to boast about
Miandad’s six off Chetan Sharma, Kanitkar’s four in the Independence Cup of 1998; Sachin’s epic century at Chepauk; Sreesanth’s catch in 2007 ICC WT20 final; Sehwag’s audacity to reach 300 with a six; Sachin’s upper cut off Shoaib Akhtar to offset his entire game in the 2003 ICC World Cup; Saeed Anwar re-writing the record books with his innings of 194 and Akhtar’s two wicket in two balls (Sachin and Dravid) to shut down the Eden Garden crowd.
I am sure that I am going to miss out a few incidents certainly, but that’s not the point here.
What made these moments great? The fact that these moments occurred in an India-Pakistan match is just a coincidence. The heart of the matter is that these were epic moments irrespective of the opposition (in this case Pakistan). I say this with confidence because these moments spun the game on its head being played between two very competitive teams. Competitive, yes, that is the keyword here. The thread of rivalry is woven by competitiveness.
Sadly, this is not the scenario anymore. We are staring at the decaying corpse of a fierce rivalry. I say dead because, as is evident by the tweets of legendary skipper Imran Khan and Lala (for the uninitiated – Shahid Afridi), the status of Pakistan Cricket lags at least a decade behind its neighbour and that is just a rough estimation.
The lack of a proper domestic structure and the rampant corruption that plagues Pakistan Cricket makes their cricketing progress seem fictional. Cross your heart and say your heart doesn’t skip a beat whenever a Pakistani bowler bowls a big no-ball or Pakistan punches terribly under their weight.
The Cricket in that country is always under the scanner and mostly through the fault of its own. Back in the 70s, Pakistan’s team came the closest to beat the “perfect” West Indies. They had the next best bowling attack and a formidable batting line-up. And needless to say, Pakistan’s Cricket as we once knew of the 70s, 80s, 90s is dead.
And more importantly, I say decaying because this dismal performance hasn’t started now but has become a routine now. A 2-13 win-loss record against arch-rivals India in ICC tournament speaks volumes.
Okay, let’s leave India aside for a while and consider the top ODI teams like South Africa or Australia; the last time that Pakistan won an ODI series against these sides was way back in 2013/14 against South Africa. Now tell me, were they seriously expecting to beat an India that was supremely in form?
The quality of the cricketers Pakistan used to produce breathed its last when Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan retired. I say so not because they could win/not win games on their own for the side in green but in a side of mercurial and hot-headed characters, there is hardly a calm head left after the demise of these two batters.
The calm head(s) (if any) left are novices at the international stage. They will look for their own good before the team’s. I see no father figure in the team. Afridi played long, and that’s just about the size of it. He never matured and this rhymes beautifully with Pakistan’s cricketing thought process for the past decade.
I am not saying that Pakistan won’t win crucial matches in the future, they might, but they will be random and both the opposition as well as the Pakistan team will be equally surprised after the win.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why a seasoned cricketer like the “Professor” Hafeez would take pride in the unpredictability of the team! Yes, he said so in a post-match video package. Surely, there must be someone around in the coaching staff to tell him that the mark of all good teams is consistency.
Lacking in all departments
The quality of Indian grounds has improved significantly meaning that the next generation isn’t afraid to throw themselves around in the field. What started as a one-off phenomenon with the brilliance of Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif is now a bare minimum criterion to get into the Indian team.
A while ago, it would have been bordering on the edge of lunacy to expect Indian quicks to move swiftly on the field let alone being athletic. Now, the Umesh Yadavs and the Bhuvis of Indian team have put all that to a merciless death. Sir Jadeja and co. move like gazelles and add tremendous pressure on the opposition courtesy their fielding.
Compare that to the Pakistani side – for them catching the ball seems as mysterious as (and allow me to quote Al Pacino here) a blocked toilet is to an effin plumber.
Pakistan never has and by the looks of it, never will be a good fielding side in the near future. Catching the ball – they lost that routine a while ago and direct hits – well, that’s not in their dictionary either? The fielders are at the fielding positions not by choice by the sheer randomness of the moment and they move like the extras in a Bollywood song – mechanical and sans any purpose.
Wait a minute, Random, now that is good word to describe Pakistan’s Cricket…Innit?
Batting has always been the core strength of the Indian team and it has only gone from strength to strength, from the master blaster’s straight on drive we have moved on to master chaser’s drives. We are talking about a team where the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul are watching the game from the sidelines.
Let’s move on to Pakistan. Who do we have here? There has been a lot of promise but no significant performance. Azhar Ali is good; he gets runs but is not the dasher you need at the top of the order, Babar Azam needs to be nurtured and historically speaking that has never been Pakistan’s core strength.
Ahmed Shehzad seems hell-bent on giving up the starts he gets while Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez haven’t really matured into the ideal think tank and the engine of the batting.
The lower order is equally immature. Sarfraz often finds himself short of support when the team is in a tight situation. The shot selection and the strategy are as inexplicable as Hafeez’s knock in the recent India-Pakistan clash.
One sec, here is another word to sum up Pakistan’s Cricket – inexplicable!
Indian Batting Vs Pakistan’s bowling – it has nostalgia written all over it. Nostalgia, that is all that it is now.
Mohammad Amir is there almost by natural selection. Pakistan surely do miss the street smartness of Saeed Ajmal. And God knows, Wahab Riaz can’t rely for long on his spell against Watson to prove that he is a quality bowler. He needs to deliver something special soon or make way for someone new (the recession proof pace bowling industry of Pakistan). Meanwhile, Mohammad Irfan is fighting corruption charges (no surprises there).
Pakistan needs to churn out the quicks; the clock is ticking faster than ever for them. Waqar Younis failed to inspire his side against the seemingly meek attack of the Bangladeshis. The coach and the team had been rendered shell shocked.
Mickey Arthur will soon realise the how ‘different’ it is to coach a clueless generation of players. A generation who is yet to play international cricket on its own turf. Clueless – Another word!
Pakistan fights a multitude of problems: corruption, lack of funds, serious man management issues and the traditional unpredictability. It is sad to see an Asian giant surviving on the meagre dosage of its glorious past. Something needs to change, something big and influential at the back end. Till then, the green of the Pakistan will be professionally smothered in the mud by top quality sides.
Pakistan Cricket is crying for help and you know this time as with most Pakistani problems, foreign aid wont help better the situation. The method, the solution needs to be prepared in the heartland of the country!
The rivalry is on life-support till then (and I am being generous with my words here).