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     Volume 7 Issue 17 | April 25, 2008 |


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Sport

A Friendly Whitewash

Nader Rahman

When Australia pulled out of their planned tour of Pakistan in April, it left the chairman of their board Dr. Nasim Ashraf with more than a headache or two. He would first have to fill the void in their cricketing calendar and then save face internationally as well. A tour rejected on security grounds was not the best publicity for a country already knee deep in internal political trouble. Dr. Ashraf is a man who divides opinion not only in Pakistan but around the sub continent as well. With that in mind he also went about a witch-hunt of his own in order to cleanse the Pakistani team of any troublemakers, a decision that did not endear him to the Pakistani public as he ended up spectacularly banning Shoaib Akhter for 5 years.


Sakib Al Hasn is congratulated by Shahid Afridi after his superb century

Seemingly playing with the Pakistani public's sentiments, over and above banning Shoaib he set up a mouth watering series against the Bangladeshis to make up for the loss of Australia and Shoaib Akhter. If opinion was divided over him before, more than a few minds have been made up now. But to be fair to him there was not much else he could do. No one was willing to tour on such short notice, while most of the established teams would not tour over security concerns. That essentially left him with a 'friendly' series against Bangladesh, it would give the team and the board, room to test new players and a 5-0 score line is never bad for morale, who ever it's against.

On the flipside Bangladesh had just finished back-to-back home series against South Africa and Ireland and were more than eager to play five more international games. But the series and its quickness highlights how the so-called bottom tier of international cricket scramble for every opportunity to play as the big boys complain of too much cricket. Aside from the fact that a Pakistan - Bangladesh series would not be the most riveting cricket, there was also the small matter of the Indian Premier League and the weight of its expectations to overshadow what was still after all an international series. If one were to look at the papers throughout the series it was clearly evident that everyone's minds were on the IPL rather that the stop gap tour by a rather average side. With all the negativity surrounding the series and with the world's attention turned to India, it also proved to be an ideal time for Bangladesh to line up a few banana skins against their more illustrious opponents. Away from the glare of the cameras, spotlights and poisoned pens there lay possibilities for more than a few Bangladeshi upsets.

Things did not turn out that way at all, and in the end the negativity was justified and one has a feeling aside from Dr. Nasim Ashraf no one was pleased. Pakistan did get to try out new players and some others like Mohammad Asif eased their way back into the team, but the series turned out to be horribly one-sided and quite embarrassing for all concerned. But try telling that to Salman Butt in the five match ODI series he chalked up a phenomenal 451 runs at an average of 90 and a strike rate of nearly 98. With two fifties and two centuries he fed at the buffet of Bangladeshi bowling till he could eat no more and left with runs beneath his belt along with a lot of confidence. It would be quite unfair to say Bangladesh consistently bowled badly, but the truth of the matter was that the Pakistan top odder was simply better than anything Bangladesh could toss their way. They mastered the conditions beautifully and played with the ease of being the home team as well as putting anything loose away to the fence. It was professional almost bordering on bullying.


Salman Butt celebrates a century

Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal and the ever-consistent Mohammad Yusuf also piled on the misery, as whenever one missed out the other two would step in. The three times Pakistan batted first they scored over 300 and on two occasions they even went past 320 as if marking out their dominance. While the Pakistani batting often found themselves in a bit of bother, that was more or less exactly when the Bangladesh bowling would give way. Mashrafee had a decent series bowling his heart out on flat tracks to grab eight wickets at a healthy average of 28, while the next best was Shakib Al Hasan with a mere five wickets as well over 40 runs per wicket.

The Bangladeshi batting and the series generally revolved around the superb individual performances of Shakib Al Hasan. The batting allrounder put on a stupendous display of batting throughout the entire series and gave value to his wicket as Pakistan really had to earn his scalp. His most amazing performance came in the 4th ODI in Multan where he made a beautifully well-paced 108 out of a total score of 210. What was even more amazing was that at one stage Bangladesh were 109 for 8 and he still played good attacking cricket stealing singles along with the occasional boundary. It was a masterclass of how to bat with the tail as well as one of the best centuries under pressure one will see. He remained decently consistent throughout the series while others had an innings or two out in the sun. Ashraful's consistency remained elusive and batting was well below his standards and now close to a decade after his arrival on the worlds stage, it seems he will play out his career as a hit and miss player with a an average in both forms of the games well below 30. He may not be on drugs, but needs an intervention badly.

Pakistan's bowling was average and most of the wickets were given away rather than earned. Shahid Afridi picked up an impressive tally of wickets, as he is now an almost out and out off spinner, rather than the non-turning leg spinner he was at the beginning of his career. The games were all one-sided except the third ODI where Bangladesh tried to chase down 308 and in fact what happened off the pitch was often more exciting that the cricket itself. There were frequent power cuts during the games as they were all day night matches and intriguingly Younis Khan opted out of the tour two games into it. It is rumoured to be due to match fixing charges, but that is yes to be confirmed or denied. The only T20 game was where Bangladesh could salvage some pride but even that turned out to be a thumping loss as Misbah-ul-Huq proved that one does not need to slog to perform well in the T20 arena.


Jamie Siddons and Mohammad Ashraful have a lot of work to do
if they are to pull Bangladesh out of their slump.

The tour served its purpose for the Pakistan cricket board, they got international cricket. But the spectators were achingly absent from all the games, a sign that a bridge needs to be built between the board and the spectators. But Pakistan should be happy with two straight 5-0 whitewashes against the minnows of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh they on a world record winning run of 11 ODI victories. But the deeper concerns are that they have not been tested by top class opposition for a few months now, and their next engagement could be quite different when playing against the big boys of international cricket. Bangladesh must return to the drawing board yet again as Jamie Siddons needs to get his house in order, or else their disappointing slide in international cricket looks certain to continue. The series was nothing other than a friendly whitewash, something that Bangladesh has become quite accustomed to.

 

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