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Playing under pressure

Posted on 16 January 2010 by PakBee - Total hits: 1,691

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The Test series between Australia and Pakistan is over, and it was won by Younis Khan. Don’t believe me? Well, think about this: after the hugely impressive Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer, no one’s stature has made greater strides in the last two weeks. For a guy who was busy failing in two matches for Habib Bank, that’s a pretty impressive feat. Consider these facts:

1. After the heavy defeat in Melbourne, our board and selectors were requested by Mohammad Yousuf and the management in Australia to send Younis before Sydney. They did not, evidently on the basis of the fact that Misbahul Haq made 65 runs in the first innings and Faisal Iqbal made a lucky 48 in the second, so how could either of them be dropped for a guy that, you know, averages 50 in Test cricket? We’ll never know if Younis could have made a difference to that apocalyptic collapse on the fourth afternoon at Sydney, but we do know that both Misbah and Faisal are useless.

Faisal never looked like he would survive Mitchell Johnson’s spell, and Misbah’s combined record in the two second innings in the series thus far reads: 0 runs, 3 balls, 2 collapses abetted, and 170 million hearts broken. If either of these jokers had scratched 15 runs a piece, Umar Akmal could’ve carried us home. But they’re not good enough, and never were. It’s also instructive to note that the last two times Pakistan has chased successfully in a Test abroad featured Younis playing a major role: Kandy 2006 and Port Elizabeth 2007 (and yes, it really was that long ago). We sure could’ve used him in Sydney.

2. His replacement as captain put in such a shameful display on the fourth morning that it became immediately clear that we would lose. To be honest, I actually wasn’t that upset watching us throw our wickets away, because I basically expected it; the morning session told me everything I needed to know about our mental state. We wanted Australia to give in because we were too afraid of actually having to work to win the game.

There can be no other explanation for Yousuf putting everyone on the boundary against Michael Hussey, a guy who survived three chances the previous day and looked far from assured against Danish Kaneria. Seeing that field setting, I basically knew we’d collapse, because we’d try to do things too quickly – again, taking shortcuts and hoping for the best – rather than keep our heads. And sure enough, that’s what happened. I also know there’s no way on God’s green earth that Younis would have set those fields. No way.

Look, I know Younis has his problems. He’s a bit of a baby and he’s too thin-skinned. But while he tends to be emotionally unstable, his mental strength as a batsman is what sets him apart, especially in the second innings of Tests when teams are usually batting under pressure. Think about this: Younis has six second-innings hundreds (out of 16 overall) and his second-innings average is only three runs lower than his overall average. As a comparison, Yousuf only has four second-innings hundreds out of 24 overall, and his average drops off by eleven. Sachin Tendulkar has 11 second-innings hundreds out of 43 overall, and his average drops off by 12. Younis plays well when the pressure is really on – and we all know the pressure was on in Sydney.

I suppose it would be a little churlish of me to spend my entire word count on a guy who wasn’t even in the country when the game was being played. I also suppose congratulations are in order for Australia. But here’s the thing: they don’t need our congratulations. Our humiliation is enough for them to enjoy; they don’t need to hear “well played, guys, you did us again” to feel good about themselves. So I’m not going to say anything nice about them.

I will, however, say this: Sydney will impact the psyche of Pakistan’s cricket-following public like few other games I can remember. The two that come to mind are Bangalore 1996 and Hobart 1999, both of which had us in the ascendancy for long periods before we threw them both away by losing our heads. But in neither of those could we taste victory like we did here. It was so close you could almost touch it.

You won’t believe the number of emails, blog posts, Facebook updates, and forum comments I’ve read to the effect of “I’m not watching cricket again for a long, long time.” I don’t think it’s anger as much as hopelessness; we know that things will never change, that our selection committees and boards will always be steered by the bhai-bhai culture rather than on the basis of merit, that very few of our batsmen will ever learn to play the moving ball (and the few that do, like Younis and Fawad Alam, won’t play), that our fielding will always be atrocious with an average of three dropped catches per day, and that any success we do miraculously achieve – as we did under the Inzi/Woolmer/Shahrayar Khan reign – will be transient.

I know for a fact that I won’t be watching the third Test on crummy streams on the internet, getting five and a half hours of sleep, just to experience that feeling again. Thanks, but no thanks.

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