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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Dec 2014

Cricket

Pakistan reaps the rewards of staying focused on game
Subhash Rajta, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 05, 2013
First Published: 01:21 IST(5/1/2013)
Last Updated: 10:47 IST(5/1/2013)

Naveed Akram Cheema is not any routine team manager; definitely not the type the BCCI appoints to travel  with the India team.

A small but significant incident before the second T20 match in Ahmedabad proved that. Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan's T20 skipper, accompanied by the burly Pakistan manager, wouldn't take the only chair in sight when he came for a media interaction. He gestured towards the manager to take it, and stood until another chair was brought in.

What inspired that courteousness - even respect or awe - is difficult to tell, but that Cheema is in full control of the team became crystal clear. "He is there to enforce discipline and he has the full backing of the board," said a source close to the Pakistan team.

Tight leash

While the pros and cons of enforced discipline could be debated, it can be categorically said that the unprecedented focus of this side was one of the main reasons for Pakistan's triumph on this tour. While talent in the Pakistan ranks has never been in doubt, their off the field troubles have often dragged then down.

But this time, there were no murmurs of conspiracies, infighting or ego clashes. Everyone seemed to pull in one direction. And despite there being no big names in the side, Pakistan turned the tables on India. "The best part of this side is that we share and care for each other. We stick together through thick and thin. It's this spirit that makes this side what it is," said senior batsman, Younis Khan.

This team has been kept away from all distractions. There were no parties or functions, so much so they welcomed the New Year from the confines of their room. "It's a short tour and we didn't want to be distracted by anything. The focus was only on cricket, to win the series," said ODI skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. 

Well equipped

Knowing that playing in India would be a test of nerves for their younger players, especially in front of a loud, partisan crowd, the team brought along a psychologist. "If you are strong and prepared mentally, then you will be able to perform well. The psychologist removes the mental barriers that the players have. He talks to the players and helps them come together as a team," said Misbah.

A lot of credit for creating a pressure-free environment for the players, though, goes the two skippers. Even as they realised "how important it was for them to win this series", they didn't let it transform into pressure. All they demanded from the players was their best effort, without worrying too much about the result.

Then, there must be that deep desire to improve an image battered by the spot-fixing scandal. And the only way it could be done is by outperforming the opponents. "The match-fixing saga has changed the attitude of the players. They felt bad about it and they are putting in their effort to show they are clean," said Waqar Younis.


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