A bunch of school boys versus a seasoned strike force – that’s how the India vs Pakistan face-off turned out last night. No prizes for guessing who’s what. India’s 124-run victory margin on the batsman-friendly Edgbaston track makes it clear.
Bereft of high drama, if you count out the breaks due to rain, the analysis of the match won’t stretch beyond a few sentences. Up against a formidable batting line up, Pakistan had to come good with their respectable bowling attack. It failed. India piled up a massive 319 in 48 overs, putting task well beyond the batsmen of the rivals. Story over. The revised target is a minor, ignorable distraction.
The one-sided contest was expected, almost a foregone conclusion. Go through the names in the Pakistani playing eleven and you know why. Hardly any batsman carries recall value or is familiar. The bowlers, the critical X-factor in every Pakistan squad throughout their history, raise no breathless anticipation, forget awe. A decade ago and beyond, the analysis of an India-Pakistan match would have been much more complicated. The performance of stars on the Pakistani side or the lack of it would have consumed more column space.
As a team, Pakistan always lacked the zing, yo-yoing from series to series — unpredictable and inconsistent as a matter of rule. However, individual players stood out bright and resplendent. When a few such players pulled their weight together the team turned truly dangerous. Imagine the presence of the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoiab Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq in the player list along with the likes of Saeed Anwar, Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq. We are not going too far back in time, but the power of individual players ensured that no team in world cricket took a contest with Pakistan lightly.
The contrast is so glaring with the present. Forget the occasional victories – they recently had a series win against an equally shrinking West Indies side – the Pakistan team cannot even be called underachievers. The word means you have the potential but deliver sub-par. The potential is glaringly invisible. Their victories can only be called shock results. Compare that to India’s performance over the years. It has rose steadily to become a cricketing superpower, churning out incredible talent on continuous basis. The super stars of yesteryear have been replaced by equally gifted players.
There was a time when the world felt Indian cricket would sink to the nadir after the Sunil Gavaskar-Gundappa Vishwanath-Kapil Dev era. The new generation, including Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly, proved one up. After these three hung their boots, there was some panic. But Virat Kohli and his devils have fit in to prove better. This goes for the bowlers too. The generational shift has been seamless in Indian cricket while the end of a generation has meant total disruption in Pakistan’s cricket.
Where are the stars now? Has Pakistan, known for throwing up supremely talented players, particularly bowlers, regularly, lost the ability to produce them? Possibly yes. The players’ list makes it obvious. None of them seem cut out for greatness. It is possible that an unstable political environment is taking its toll. It is possible the rest of the world has invested more in cricket and gone better. Perhaps it has to do with the general overall decline of Pakistan as a country. Worse, it has lost the ability to produce leaders of the caliber of Imran, who could lead the team by sheer force of personality.
Whatever the case, the decline of Pakistan as a cricketing powerhouse makes for an interesting study. Is it just a passing phase? Cricket lovers in the country would like to believe it is. Till that happens, the team will continue to be a like a bunch of school boys, treated as underdogs.