This weeks Beyond the Boundary discusses the importance of management supporting their newly-appointed supporting coaches, particularly given the unique motivational challenges posed by the Pakistan team.
Another ODI series, another loss, this time against Sri Lanka. Pakistan have been an average one-day team for quite a while and the regurgitation of reasons for ODI losses against the top teams serve no purpose if the underlying issue isn't tackled. Batting, bowling and fielding are secondary concerns when the majority of the individuals seem ambivalent about representing the national side.
Mercurial isn't the right word when when referring to the Pakistan team, for it romanticises a consistent catalogue of calculated political shenanigans within the team and administration. Don't like a captain or coaches? Work to rule. Badly.
Those who has witnessed the ODI series will have seen a disinterested performance from a set of players who couldn't have fielded worse if they had been actively trying to undermine the new coach. It doesn't take a body language expert to understand there are issues in the team. Those seeking to re-establish their place in the team of course fielded well – Sami afforded his team-mates a duty of care they don't often repay and even the normally sedate Farhat instigated a run-out, suggesting motivation is a serious issue for the rest of the team. Julien Fountain has written of leading horses to water, and those words will have been selected carefully by a man experienced in working with top cricketers. The insinuation shouldn't be underestimated.
When a group of players shows a lack of desire to to improve, it becomes the responsibility of upper management to deal with such individuals, and to support the coaches they appointed. This will allow the coaching team to implement the ideas which have brought them success and focus on their primary role, which is not that of babysitter. If management don't, then the appointment of such high-profile coaches can be considered merely for the vanity of the appointers, and the players are reacting accordingly by not respecting the new men in charge.
It doesn't help the team is led by the most uninspiring of ODI cricketers. The captain-coach relationship is pivotal in driving a team forward and it's hard to imagine practice sessions involving Misbah being the most energetic, despite his obvious fitness levels.
The previous coach Mohsin Khan, for all his limitations and lack of formal qualifications, understood the intricacies of player politics and was able to wield considerable power through his direct links to the selection committee, of which he was previously chairman. Fear of exposure and consequences is a language readily understood by the lazy and it's what the fielding unit of Pakistan requires - not necessarily to improve but to at least instil the desire to improve. He was also the coach who thought Pakistan should have played the Test series before the ODIs and it's difficult to disagree. Ajmal didn't play the final match of the series, no doubt protecting his mystique from the Sri Lankans before it was lost in the ODIs.
The Pakistan team's general apathy in ODIs isn't without consequence in the longer format in other ways too, with key Test figure Misbah being banned for the first match due to slow over rates.
The importance of support, for coaches who will have arrived with their own methods, only to be constrained by the lack of understanding and willingness by those they are expected to mould, shouldn't be underestimated. The extent to which they are responsible for the lack of discernible changes in personnel in the ODI side soundly thrashed by the England in the UAE, and the uncertainty around team composition is not fully known. It serves to undermine their efforts and emphasises the lack of clear strategy.
The poor of fielding also shows a distinct lack of respect for their fellow professionals. Sohail Tanvir twice misfielded of Sami, and Sarfraz dropped a catch. For a bowler attempting to justify his section in the international side, these were careless mistakes which could potentially be career-ending and such errors can only further exacerbate an potentially fractious situation.
Pakistan found a suitable leader in Test matches in their time of need – it's now time for a decision on the ODI captain. It will have to be a brave one, perhaps that of Azhar Ali, who has batted well early in his limited overs career and is fast earning the respect of his peers as a tough fighter. If he is appointed, he will need support to ensure the errors made with another young captain Shoaib Malik are not repeated. Whatever changes are made, they can't be worse than the current mess.