|Player:||RA Woolmer, Shoaib Akhtar, GA Hick, Shafiq Ahmed|
|Event:||England in Pakistan 2005/06|
DateLine: 23rd September 2005
People often say 'numbers don't lie', and normally I am a firm believer of this saying.
However, cricket can often make mockery of statistics. If statistics were to be the ultimate indicator of a player's performance, cricketers like Shafiq Ahmed (Papa) or Graeme Hick would have had 'Bradmanesque' careers.
Nevertheless, one can sometimes put popular opinion to the acid 'numbers test'. Here I refer to two current opinions in Pakistan cricket which have been in the news, or at least talked about actively in domestic and international cricket circles.
First a look at all that is being said about Shoaib Akhtar:
News reports and comments quoting the firebrand fast bowler would indicate that he is fighting fit, has had a good county season and is ready to put right all his past wrongs this season. So far so good but what do the numbers really say?
Shoaib joined Worcestershire in early July 2005, having not played any truly competitive cricket since Pakistan's Winter 2004 tour to Australia. Since July to date, his county has played 7, four-day county matches and 9 Totesport League One-Day games. Shoaib has appeared in only 4 of the county and 4 of the One-Dayers.
Perhaps I am being too negative or unduly pessimistic, but I would have thought if a professional cricketer had not played competitive cricket in over 6 months and was earnestly trying to remove any doubts about fitness and commitment, wouldn't he be playing on every opportunity offered?
Another interesting fact is that Shoaib went wicketless in 3 of the 4 Totesport League matches he played and all his 6 wickets came in just one game!
Now, I am not for one second proposing that he should or should not play during Pakistan's upcoming international season as that is for the selectors to decide. My point is that when we hear or read Shoaib is coming back fully fit from a hectic county season we need to put that claim in perspective. Of course if one were to hold forth kindlier opinion, this hype could be purposely designed disinformation to put some fear and doubts in the minds of the touring teams like England and India who will play in Pakistan this winter.
Truth is that in 2005, Shoaib Akhtar has played around 20-25 days worth of competitive cricket (if you count the Africa-Asia series etc.), and bowled less than 150 overs. That is less than an over a day for this year!
I can only hope for his sake and for the team's that he truly is fully fit and rearing to go, but you certainly cannot draw that conclusion from his summer in England. On top, one cannot dismiss the other fact that the county he played for decided to only give him a game by game contract - this kind of says it all.
Second, the coach, Bob Woolmer and his influence on Pakistani cricket:
One Pakistani newspaper goes out of its way to highlight every little incident associated with the coach, whether accurate or not. Hence, we hear about Woolmer questioning umpires' decisions, sending back promising wicketkeepers, manipulating the process so that only foreigners get cosy jobs running cricket in Pakistan, you name it, if its bad, he has some hand in it!
Reading all that is written almost makes one believe in 'conspiracy theories.' But shouldn't the ultimate test of worth, be the results a coach actually produces?
Some would argue, and I would agree, that it is still too early to completely test Woolmer on his record as Pakistan's coach. But just for arguments sake, let us take a closer look.
Post-2003 World Cup and before Woolmer joined, Pakistan had played 10 Test matches and 37 ODI's.
Three of these Tests were against Bangladesh, while 8 of the ODI's were against a combination of Bangladesh/Zimbabwe/Kenya. If one were to take out those matches, we see that Pakistan played 7 Tests, won 3, lost 2 and drew 2. Five of these 7 Tests were played at home.
In the ODI's Pakistan played 29, won 14 and lost 15.
During Woolmer's time so far Pakistan has also played 10 Test matches, but for fair comparison, just like we dropped the Bangladesh series for being against the weakest team we need to drop the Australia series which was played against the strongest team at their home grounds.
And remember, Pakistan could not do better back in 1999 than receiving a 3-0 drubbing against the Aussies even when fielding a vastly more experienced side which included the likes of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq, Saeed Anwar, Ijaz Ahmed etc.
So to expect any different a result during the 2004 tour would have been silly, especially since Woolmer had only been coach for a few months and had seen his players perform in 2 Tests before the tour. If the Australia tour result is taken out, one sees that under Woolmer, Pakistan has played 7 Tests, won 3, lost 3 and drawn 1. So, it is marginally worse than under Javed Miandad, but remember 5 of these 7 Tests were played away, whereas 5 of the 7 under Miandad were at home.
On the ODI front though, the results are significantly better, although Pakistan played a greater percentage of games away from home under Woolmer (and again dropping all the games against the weak sides) the record is 16 wins and 12 losses in 28 games.
He has just completed the first year of his contract and the results do show a positive trend. Lest any one argue that this trend had started before he came on board, let us just dismiss that thought right away. Pakistan's last series before Woolmer was the home series against India, and all Pakistan fans know what happened there, so I'm sorry, but that argument just does not hold.
I would reiterate, I do think it is too early to judge Woolmer's performance, but before we make him the culprit for everything we don't like or agree with in Pakistan cricket, let us take a minute to look inwards to see if he has placed the Pakistan team on the right path.
The busy 2005-06 International season will be a key in showing where Pakistan cricket is headed and the trends but the early signs are definitely promising.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2005 Abdul Kadir Hussain email:email@example.com)
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