Both India and Pakistan suffered ignominious defeats at the hands of less-fancied teams on Saturday. While India still have a chance to make amends and enter the next round, Pakistan have become the first team to be eliminated from the tournament, failing to make the Super Eights after their defeat at the hands of World Cup debutants Ireland.
As sportsmen, we all have faced terrible defeats and seen the odd upset or two. However, it is the manner in which Pakistan have succumbed that is so difficult to accept. This can be attributed to two basic factors. First, the timid, uninspiring leadership of Inzamam-ul Haq and second, the brainless strategy and tactics applied by the team.
The second point is particularly shocking because there has been no planning involved in Pakistan's team selection and strategy for the last one year. The main problem was at the top of the order, and instead of backing tried and tested openers like Yasir Hameed and Salman Butt, they brought in Imran Nazir — who had been in cold storage for six years — into a high-pressure situation.
Specific to the loss to Ireland, there was absolutely no reason for dropping Danish Kaneria. Minnows are always at sea against top-quality leg-spin.
Moronic team selection had cost Pakistan the first game as well. The team decided to play an off-colour Rana Naved instead of Mohammed Sami, who looked so impressive against Ireland. This overcautious approach has been in view for more than a year now. The team played India on dead pitches last year even though they had the likes of Shoaib, Sami and Mohammed Asif playing. The cautious, timid approach that I often attributed to Bob Woolmer alone now seems to have been Inzamam's.
Woolmer too must take the rap for failing to ingrain a positive, attacking mindset in the team but it is the captain and his inability to lead from the front that have caused most of the problems. Inzamam's baffling reluctance to bat up the order is not new to Pakistan. I remember telling him the importance of batting up the order when he visited me along with Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis in 2003.
Since then, I have repeatedly tried to make him see the sense in this, that it is always easier to avert a crisis rather than bail your team out of a crisis. I was not half as accomplished a batsman as Inzamam is, but I still batted at number three in the 1992 World Cup, which was played with two new balls on the bouncy pitches of Australia and New Zealand. Captaincy is all about leading from the front and taking the tough tasks upon yourself.
India too have their share of problems after their loss in the opening game to neighbours Bangladesh. It is important to note, however, that the latter are a far better team than Ireland and they have some genuine talent that has been seen in flashes off and on over the last few years. Even on Saturday, the precocious talent of Tamin Iqbal, who is quite clearly an amazing timer of the cricket ball, took me by surprise.
India face a test of character now. Good teams learn from defeats and pick themselves up when everybody has written them off. Rahul Dravid will have to dig deep and find reserves that will take them through to the next round. This is the time for experienced players like Sachin Tendulkar to make their presence felt. The greatness of a big player like Vivian Richards was in how he did in the games that matter. Tendulkar must lead the way and ensure big wins against Bermuda and Sri Lanka.