Writing his debut entry for his exclusive blog for PakPassion.net, renowned cricket commentator and journalist Fazeer Mohammed praises the West Indies team for their remarkable performance in the final Test at Sharjah and warns against knee-jerk reactions for the Pakistan team as they embark upon their tours of New Zealand and Australia.
By Fazeer Mohammed (6th November, 2016)
Sometimes defeat is a good thing
No-one likes to lose in a highly competitive environment, and especially when results matter so much to millions of fellow countrymen.
But everything has to be placed in a context, and after dominating the West Indies in the IT20s and One-Day Internationals, Pakistan held off a stern challenge from the Caribbean side in the day/night opening Test in Dubai, dominated the second fixture to clinch the series in Abu Dhabi, yet failed to complete the treble of clean sweeps when Jason Holder’s relatively young side fought hard for a five-wicket win on the last day of the tour in Sharjah.
With the first Test of the two-match series in New Zealand beginning just two weeks after the final bit of action in the United Arab Emirates, that defeat should not be seen so much as a setback but as a reality check with Misbah-ul-Haq’s men preparing to take on the Black Caps in Christchurch and Hamilton.
Even before going there though, there should be an acknowledgement that the West Indies played above expectations in the Test series. In stark contrast to the pitiful performances in the limited-over formats – a legacy of the deteriorating relations between the West Indies Cricket Board and most of its prominent Twenty20 stars – they came within 57 runs of a daunting target on the final night in Dubai and, facing the prospect of an unprecedented 9-0 whitewash in all international matches on the campaign, earned their first victory over Pakistan away from home in 26 years thanks in the main to Kraigg Brathwaite, whose unbeaten innings of 142 and 60 made history as the first time an opening batsman had finished not out in both innings of a Test match.
It remains to be seen though if the West Indies can build on that effort as their next Test series won’t be until March next year, also against Pakistan but this time in the Caribbean. Already there are rumblings of discontent with premier batsman Darren Bravo among three players (Marlon Samuels and Carlos Brathwaite are the others) declining retainer contracts from the WICB. Reports coming out of his native Trinidad and Tobago suggest that Bravo, the most consistent performer in Tests for the West Indies for the past two years, was offered only a “C” level contract along the likes of emerging talent Roston Chase.
In keeping with their policy of convenient secrecy, the WICB has so far refused to confirm or deny the speculation. If true though, this would be a slap in the face of a player who pulled out of the West Indies Twenty20 squad that triumphed in India last April to focus on establishing himself as a premier Test batsman.
We await further developments
For Pakistan though, the 2-1 series victory pointed to areas in need of attention. Some were evident from the pink ball fixture but most became obvious as the final match unfolded. To say that the West Indies won only because the hosts played poorly ignores the effort of the opposition, although there was ample evidence from day one in Sharjah that much of the discipline and commitment from the top-order batsmen was lacking and eventually contributed to their downfall. What clearly will be of concern ahead of the New Zealand Tests and then the three that follow in Australia, beginning with a day/night contest in Brisbane, is vulnerability to good, fast short-pitched bowling.
The fastest of all bowlers on show, Shannon Gabriel was certainly a handful for Pakistan’s batsmen, yet they also looked almost inept to the slower pace but higher bounce of Holder in their final innings of the series with the fast-medium bowler claiming his first-ever five-wicket innings haul to set the stage for the victory chase.
There is always the danger of knee-jerk reactions to any situation and Misbah, head coach Mickey Arthur and the rest of the think-tank of the Pakistan squad will obviously be considering their options carefully heading into the upcoming assignments. Sometimes it is worth sticking with a plan that has brought considerable success. However when conditions are different, opponents are different and obvious weaknesses have been identified, remedial action has to be taken.
While there are ample quality resources in the bowling department, with leg-spinner Yasir Shah enjoying a phenomenal year, sloppy fielding can have a debilitating effect on bowlers’ morale apart from the cost in terms of runs and the state of the match. Mohammad Amir has been a prime sufferer of missed catches over the past six months and if Pakistan expect to prevail Down Under, they will need to snare almost every chance that comes their way.
That one loss in Sharjah is of course no cause for panic. If anything, it could be the wake-up call necessary for the challenges ahead.