Pakistan’s win in the second ICC Twenty20 World Cup has certainly brought a spring in the step of a country which was getting isolated from the international cricketing community after the dastardly attack on the Sri Lankans in Lahore in March this year. Having suffered the trauma it perhaps would have been fitting if the Lankans had won the Cup but Pakistan were the better team on the day and fully deserved their win. The scenes outside the Lords cricket ground after the win had to be seen to be believed as joyous Pakistani supporters stopped all traffic and jumped onto cars and had a thoroughly great time. It took some hours before the last of the fans left the area and one certainty is that there would have been mounds of biriyani eaten that night. This win, coming 17 years after their 1992 World Cup win, brings into focus the manager /coach of the team was then and who it is now. It is none other than the genial Intikhab Alam, the former Pakistani skipper. ‘Inti’, as he is popularly known, has the wonderful gift of getting the team together and his vast knowledge of and experience in the game makes him a respected figure all over the world. It is a wonder that the Pakistan Cricket Board has not sent him as a delegate to the ICC Cricket Committee in the past when each Test country had a representative of its own on the committee. Now, of course, it is a different committee but Inti as a coach can still be there as a representative of the coaches and since Pakistan has nobody on that Committee it makes eminent sense, especially after this win, that he be nominated on the committee. It will be to ICC’s advantage to have someone of his cricketing wisdom on that Committee but with the Annual General Meeting done and dusted for this year it may be another year before that happens, if it does. With all that is happening in Pakistan, to have a voice from there in the Committee will at least give others a firsthand view of the situation there.
Intis’s twin successes, spaced out though they maybe, add strength to the belief that countries where English is not spoken too much benefit from having someone who can speak their language as the guiding hand, be it a coach or a manger. Bangladesh is another country like Pakistan where most of the players are not fluent in the English language and so many a view is lost in translation and players tend to switch off when they do not understand the language. So a team meeting can end in a farcical situation where most players haven’t really understood what is being said and so go back simply nodding their heads.
Of course, at the end of the day sport is about natural instinct and so most of the theory stays just that while the practical is where the player has to find the solutions himself out on the field in the fierce public glare and expectations of the team’s supporters and media assembled for the occasion. However if a player is told of his responsibilities and importance to the team and what the team expects from him then he can raise the level of his game to meet all those and make a telling contribution to the team.
The shining example of that is Shahid Afridi who, in the first few matches of the ICC Twenty20, came onto bat with only one purpose and that was to try and hit the first ball he faced out of the ground. He was out first ball most times and it was only after the skipper Younis Khan and Inti sat him down and told him his importance in the team and played a little bit on his ego that Afridi did justice to his batting. His bowling was very effective even if he wasn’t always taking wickets but his batting was a worry because of his reckless approach. Once that was tempered and he was prepared to play himself in with shots along the ground, he went on to become the player of the match in the semi-final and finals as well. In fact in the semi-finals, although he still scored at a more than a run a ball, he didn’t hit a single six and so scored fast but without taking risks. He was peeved that he wasn’t declared the player of the series since he was on the winning side and had made a huge contribution to the team’s turnaround after the initial group matches and that led to Pakistan coming from behind and winning the tournament.
A player who knows that he can belt the ball out of the ground has to learn to curb the ‘nasha’ (Hindi/urdu word for intoxication) of that shot for it is best played instinctively than in a premeditated manner. The latter presumes that the ball will be bowled in a certain way and will thus land where the bat’s arc will meet it at the right angle and time to send it booming over the boundary. If the ball doesn’t land that way then the attempt ends up as a catch and makes the batsman look silly as he walks back to the pavilion. It is getting over the ‘nasha’ that is the key to consistency. Many a team has lost matches because players have tried to finish games with sixes rather than get the fours that can be attractive too but obviously don’t get the crowd up on its feet as much as a lofted shot does.
Afridi’s success in the second half of the ICC Twenty20 is a sparkling example of what sensible – and not senseless – batting can achieve for the team. Hope some of the Indians were watching.