Comment: Bold selection policies could have redeemed Pakistan’s Cup build-up

In hindsight the followers of Pakistan cricket would never have anticipated at the start of the World Cup season that the men in green will head into the mega event in a state of turbulent mindset.

None expected them to lose four straight limited-overs series, starting from the tour of Sri Lanka last August. None had envisaged that come Feb 3, 2015 the team at Misbah-ul-Haq’s disposal will be walloped by New Zealand like a boxer venting his anger on a punching bag in the gym during the two One-day Internationals ahead of the six-week jamboree which begins simultaneously from the 14th in Christchurch and Melbourne.

While most of the top guns had done their homework before arriving at the World Cup as regards to preparing themselves for the quadrennial competition, Pakistan were found looking in other direction. For them rational policies were not adopted in building a decent World Cup squad. No professional planning or strategy was worked out, neither any sound preparation for the mega event which was, perhaps, considered a waste of energy if nothing more.

Now compare Pakistan’s shambolic approach to that of India. The defending champions chose to phase out the core of players who were the heroes of the 2011 World Cup, sensing well that their presence would jeopardise their prospects at the 2015 campaign.

India’s was not an overnight process as the likes of Yuvraj Singh, the player of the tournament four years ago, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh were shunted out and replaced by a fitter, younger brigade of players.

Had Yuvraj and Zaheer been playing for Pakistan, they would have been labelled as certain participants this time and that speaks of how our cricketing system functions.

In the past, India used to stick to a policy where big names were persisted in the one-day format even if their game was well past sell-by-date. Not so now. Unlike their Pakistani counterparts, the Indians in the modern era give a lot of emphasis when it comes to preparing for the big tournaments.

The reason why the Indians have such a larger pool of players to choose from is they have learned their lessons well from past drubbings. In stark contrast, the Pakistanis hardly give importance to such notions. One can’t ever remember our cricket board planning with a futuristic mindset.

Words like ‘planning for the future’ are meant only for media briefings by our cricket administrators. The ground reality is that there is no truth in this phrase whatsoever. We keep on picking more or less the same lot who usually end as huge flops on the big stage if we gauge the situation from the 2003 World Cup onwards. The writing on wall has sadly never been read by those who occupy the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

The state of Pakistan cricket draws a remarkable parallel with the West Indies setup. It is no co-incidence that both of them are always regarded as utterly unpredictable on the playing fields where they have proved time and again the uncanny tendency to be either mercurially brilliant or horribly pathetic. History is full of such stories.

Of all the big boys, Pakistan and West Indies have gone into the World Cup without knowing which route to take and are obviously going to stutter and stumble once the action starts. In sharp contrast to their struggles, just take note of New Zealand’s rise as a true powerhouse. The perennial also-rans of the previous 10 World Cups are now major contenders for the title alongside Australia and South Africa.

The simple philosophy of always thinking positive sits appropriately with Australia, South Africa and the Black Caps. All three of them had assiduously undertaken the planning for the event with an apparent selection policy firmly entrenched.

Players of those three nations were repeatedly rotated in different combinations for the past couple of years to get the right mix for the World Cup. Pakistan, on the other hand, kept on relying on a specific group of players who had been given repeated opportunities despite their failure and are retained because there was no back-up for them.

And those touted in the media as future stars never got a taste of international cricket. Mercifully, the selectors have at least done a favour by ignoring the untried but highly talented young guns who have been spared the daunting prospect of being thrown in at the deep end of what will be a challenging World Cup for the first-timers.

To be fair to Pakistan, they are now ‘forced’ by circumstances to play on the unfamiliar territories of Australia and New Zealand after yawning gaps of five and four years respectively. Our administrators may have tried their level best to arrange a bilateral, or even a triangular series or two in these countries in the post-2011 World Cup period to give our players a fair knowledge of the conditions they are now finding difficult to get accustomed to. But, apparently, it was all in vain.

Just imagine when a side like Pakistan, more often than not, struggled in the ODIs to come to terms with the slow low pitches of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah — their home away from home since 2009 — what chances do they have now when they need to prove their worth on the seaming tracks in the coming few weeks.

It is pointless blaming anyone for the run of depressing results: 10 losses in the last 13 One-day internationals. Over the years, many unexpected stories have unfolded in Pakistan cricket. Had they adopted an adventurous ploy as far as team selection matters against Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand over the past six months go, much of the humiliation could have been averted.

Misbah and his men need inspiration to derive confidence from the hammering they got at the McLean Park on Tuesday. If the intentions are clear, and an honest playing XI selection policy is adhered to, Pakistan do have a chance like everyone else.

Miracles do happen in nearly every sphere of life and Pakistan certainly require one, for the obvious reasons, to prove they are a side that cannot be written off just yet. As for the inspiration, they only need to remember the 1992 World Cup where against heavy odds Imran Khan’s team conquered the world Down Under.

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