Wednesday's ICC World Twenty20 warm-up match against South Africa showed how Pakistan's on-field performance can oscillate violently between the best and the worst. Twenty20 matches are expected to be closely-contested affairs but the massive eight-wicket defeat against South Africa at Fatullah is not good news for the 2009 T20 world champions. Coming as it did 48 hours before the 'big' clash against arch-rivals India, Pakistan's 71 all out in 17.3 overs has once again exposed some deep-seated 'issues' the team has often faced in the past. (Read: India a different side with Dhoni, says Misbah)
There are already reports of 'fights' inside the Pakistan dressing room, which can be one of the most difficult places to be in. Fights and quarrels inside a Pakistan dressing room are nothing new. There was a time in the Seventies and Eighties when the team had at least six players who had led the team at various times. Intikhab Alam, another former skipper, probably had the hardest job as a cricket manager. But the Pakistan team was so talented that their on-field performances more than covered up the internal problems. (Read: Inzamam fears for Pakistan after collapse vs South Africa)
Pakistan cricket has always suffered from captaincy crisis. Except for the World-Cup winning Imran Khan, no captain could hold the reigns of a superbly gifted but temperamental side. A Lahore-Karachi divide has always marred good feelings among players. It is still prevalent. Imran (Lahore) and Javed Miandad (Karachi) never got along. Wasim Akram (born in Lahore) and Waqar Younis (born in Vehari, Punjab) may have been brothers-in-arm with the new ball, but never the best of friends. This list is quite long. The regional divide continues to ruin Pakistan cricket even today. (Read: Imran says Pakistan must play fearless cricket)
While Alam and Imran did a good job to keep the core of the team together, most home-spun coaches have failed to do so. Ask Miandad. Ask Mohsin Khan. Ask Mudassar Nazar. Pakistan cricket is heavily under the influence of the political leaders of the country. Players have feared the axe because it has come down on many of them quite randomly. Even foreign coaches have failed to 'unite' the Pakistan players. Geoff Boycott ran away, Richard Pybus was all at sea and the highly successful Dav Whatmore apparently resigned because several senior players never saw eye-to-eye. So in times of a crisis, no one took responsibility. (Read: India vs Pakistan clash to set ball rolling as Super-10 beckons)
In this chaotic atmosphere, Misbah-ul-Haq has been lucky to survive as Test and ODI skipper despite several calls to sack him. Pakistan team continues to suffer from one-upmanship. The media loves ex-players who openly criticize and slam team managements, seldom offering solutions. The Board, always in a state of upheaval, tries quick-fix methods much to the detriment of the team. Younger players, extremely talented, are perennially in the doldrums because the dressing room is always enveloped by a climate of mistrust and anarchy.
The current dressing room atmosphere is probably a throwback to the Eighties. An all-Pakistani team management invariably means pandemonium. Moin Khan is the head coach, Zaheer Abbas is the consultant and Zakir Khan is the manager. The current team, led by Mohammed Hafeez, has two previous T20 captains - Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik. With at least six different 'fertile' brains at work, team policies are bound to suffer. Moin and Zaheer both had massive aspirations for Pakistan cricket. Now that they have been bestowed with authority, it is important how they wield 'power.'
Hafeez is a cricketer of the modern generation. No wonder he is unhappy. Is Moin and Zaheer respecting Hafeez's position as captain? Reports say Hafeez feels both Moin and Zaheer are "outdated." Frequent comparisons with Mahendra Singh Dhoni helps little to boost the morale of a captain. When the team management openly wants either an Afridi or a Younis Khan back as captain, can Hafeez inspire his lads? The current team is used to Whatmore's modern ways of approaching a game. No wonder Moin and Zaheer are branded as ancient. When the old doesn't adjust to the new, it means mayhem. The 71 all out is probably a reflection of Pakistan's state of affairs. None of the top batsmen showed the inclination to value his wicket. Although a warm-up match means nothing, it's the attitude towards a contest that matters.
Hafeez, of course, has seen the 'positive' from this dreadful batting collapse. "It was disappointing the way we lost the match but we were experimenting a bit with the batting order. But it is a wake-up call for us and we have a full day to prepare for the big match against India," Hafeez said after the loss against South Africa. Many see him a sensible man who knows how to handle a tumultuous situation.
"The players need to work on weak areas in the nets ahead of the match against India so that the same mistakes are not repeated again. I always told the players never lose your sleep over it or think too much about the match. But I just hope this defeat to South Africa does not play up on the minds of our players when they take on India," advised former skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq, another product of the volatile yet flamboyant Pakistani system.
But Pakistan cricket's beauty lies in its uncertainty. Rising above all worries, the team may just play some mid-blowing cricket on its day. They showed glimpses of this in the recently-concluded Asia Cup where they finished second best to a relatively systematic Sri Lankan team. It is this dangerous virtue of 'unpredictability' that makes the Pakistanis a much-feared unit. India will, therefore, tread with utmost caution.