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Cornered in their own house

One year ago, the bosses of Pakistan cricket initiated a merciless purge in their squad. On Thursday, after their embarrassing innings and 52-run loss against India, they might have well completed it.
PTI | By Kadambari Murali, Multan
PUBLISHED ON APR 02, 2004 01:01 AM IST

One year ago, the bosses of Pakistan cricket initiated a merciless purge in their squad. On Thursday, after their embarrassing innings and 52-run loss against India, they might have well completed it.

If, after the debacle that was the World Cup, the Pakistani selectors decided it was time to rebuild by unceremoniously dropping senior players including Akram, Waqar and Saeed Anwar, after today's loss, they axed Saqlain Mushtaq.

It was as if the teesra never existed, so quickly was Saqlain --- who had said that he was working on a killer new delivery that would flummox the opposition --- shown the door. The once-lethal off-spinner, who wasn't played once in the one-day series, had this one chance to prove himself, said Pakistan skipper Inzamam-ul Haq, looking depressed. "Saqlain has been unable to perform, so obviously he cannot stay in the squad," he added.

Inzamam had no excuses to offer for his team's debilitating loss to their archrivals (they still are that, whatever the goodwill). "We failed in all departments. Our bowlers have big names but they could not live up to their credentials, the batsmen took no responsibility for the way they played either."

Inzamam said he wanted his batsmen to play positively but with sense. Even he knows they played with none. The focus, the planning, the body language was not of a team in control or one with a precise plan to thwart the opposition. The combined look was one of a team in disarray, even in shock, benumbed by the fact that this was happening to them. "Our many weaknesses were evident in this Test," said Inzamam. "And then, we crumbled under pressure from various factors."

That is true. There has been lots of talk about off-field issues that might have affected the Pakistan team's performance in this Test. For starters, there was the "fixing controversy" when Pakistan lost that fourth one-dayer in Lahore after being in a position to wrap up the series. And then, they subsequently went on to lose the series.

While few others might have given too much credence to Rashid Latif's off-the-cuff remarks in a television interview or to Sarfraz Nawaz's intermittent noises, the team was visibly upset. It has been reported that Shoaib Akhtar, Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam all refused to play the Test series and then, were persuaded to by PCB chief Shaharyar Khan. The truth, as always, remains shrouded in vague references, but it's highly likely that the trio did make an aggressive protest.

Then, the Pakistan media, bred on a tradition of teams made up of temperamental individuals and generally critical of them, took great pleasure in laying the blame squarely where it should have for the one day series loss. At the door of their star bowlers, Shoaib and Sami --- who failed to deliver. Both were very distressed and might have come under tremendous pressure.

There were other issues that haunted this team (and we've not even mentioned the game itself and India's superlative effort with bat and ball). Imran Khan's cutting asides on Javed Miandad's coaching, Miandad's own insistence, according to sources, on a rigid following of his philosophy, and their own relative inexperience.

Then, before all this could be adjusted to, there was the controversy over the pitch prepared for this Test, many said, almost tailored to suit India's strong batting. Though Inzamam said he had played in the region for 12-14 years and Pakistan had won on similar slow, flat wickets in the past and the bowling was to blame, many Pakistanis have chosen to close their ears to his reasoning. Even in the local Sanaa market here, the talk was of the pitch and being hospitable to India.

Few Pakistanis have faith in their team coming back in this series. And the squad is as low. "The boys are very down. With India on a high, we'll need to work very hard, do something radically different to come back," said Inzamam. At the moment, it looks unlikely.

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