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Pakistan fall short of proud history

Pakistan fall short of proud history

After their third loss and exit from the tournament, Dav Whatmore’s claim that criticism of his side is unjustified doesn’t stack up

If Pakistan were under any doubt as to the level of anger their poor performance in the Champions Trophy had engendered among their supporters, it would have been banished as the team bus was pelted with bottles and stones as it left Edgbaston.

Having succumbed to their third successive defeat in the tournament, Pakistan were forced to admit that they had been comprehensively out-played by their arch-rivals India. Yet their coach, Dav Whatmore, responded to his side’s elimination by chiding journalists for getting “carried away” with their criticisms and then claimed that his side were “one ODI victory from a good series”.

It is simply not true. Had Pakistan prevailed in one of their three games in this event, they would still have been eliminated at the first hurdle, they would still have an inadequate batting line-up and they would still be deluding themselves into thinking there is not a gap emerging between the top nations and themselves. There is no excusing the bottles that were hurled at the Pakistan bus – such behaviour shames the vast majority of passionate but sensible supporters – but their performance in this competition has failed to justify the proud traditions of Pakistan cricket.

There is much to celebrate and nurture in Pakistan cricket. The fielding is improving and the bowling is genuinely exciting. But it would be foolish to deny there are also real causes for concern. If Whatmore cannot admit there is a problem, he may find it hard to find the solution.

To rub salt in the wound, this game confirmed a fear that many Pakistan supporters would have had for a while: that a chasm is growing between these two arch-enemies. While Pakistan have batted like blind men lost in fog, India have developed a couple of top-order players of real class. The manner with which Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan dealt with the short ball, in particular, suggested there is no reason they cannot both excel in all formats, all around the world. Even the Indian fielding, for so long a weakness, has become a strength. It was not a completely dead game, either. It remains possible that, if the semi-final is rained off, then points scored in the group stages could yet be relevant. It may be some consolation to Pakistan that India have shown how quickly change can come.

‘One poor series does not make us a bad team’ – Whatmore
Pakistan, by contrast, failed to reach 200 in any of their games (they made 170, 167 and 165, which is consistency of a sort) and have now been bowled out in eight of their last 13 ODIs. Shoaib Malik averaged 8.33 in the tournament, Kamran Akmal 7.66, Mohammad Hafeez 12.66 and Imran Farhat, dropped from this game like a suffering dog might be put out of its misery, 2.00. That is not a blip, it is a pattern. Pakistan’s batting has failed.

“You don’t have to be Einstein to know we didn’t make enough runs,” Whatmore admitted. “But this is almost the same team that beat India in India. It’s not a bad team. One series doesn’t make the team a bad team. It’s a trend in this series only.”

Fans from both sides came together to provide passionate support © AFP
That is debatable. Apart from the series win against India, Pakistan have actually lost ODI series against England, Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa, with the victory in the Asia Cup the stand-out performance. It is hard to sustain Whatmore’s argument.

The aim now must be to look forward to the 2015 World Cup. That gives Pakistan enough time to build a new side and to make the changes that they know are required: more A tours, more players experiencing conditions around the world and an end to a system where it sometimes seems that patronage and contacts are as important as merit. Whatmore’s “these things happen” attitude, which seems to put such results down to bad luck, is an attitude that is simply too laissez-faire for modern, professional sport.

Perhaps the most accurate comment Whatmore made was when he said “it’s easy to be critical”. When Pakistan perform like this, it is indeed very easy.

There are bigger issues than winning and losing, though. Here, in the city where Enoch Powell made his “rivers of blood” speech, the supporters of two nations whose political relationship might best be described as frosty, sat side by side in a packed stadium in passionate support of their teams. There was no need for segregated seating, no heavy-handed policing, no serious trouble (a handful of spectators were ejected for directing abusive language at stewards and there was some foolishness at the end, but no more the case than is fairly normal when 25,000 people come together for 10 hours) and, generally, very little other than cheerful good humour despite the rain breaks and one-sided nature of the contest.

Norman Tebbit, the Conservative peer, would have hated it. It was, after all, Tebbit who infamously suggested that the descendants of migrants should support the England cricket side to prove their assimilation into British society. But for everyone but Tebbit, this was a day that reflected well on multi-cultural Britain, on multi-cultural Birmingham and, most of all, on the unifying powers of our great game.