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In his latest blog for PakPassion.net, Fazeer Mohammed expresses his opinions about the control that the Big 3 exercise over world cricket, South Africa's current woes in international cricket, Phil Simmons' second stint as coach of West Indies and why the weight of expectations on the shoulders of Pakistan's young fast-bowlers could be detrimental for their progress.

By Fazeer Mohammed (1st February, 2020)

It’s not very often that an iconic venue perfectly symbolises what that sport represents.

In cricket though, Lord’s, with a surface that would be condemned as unsatisfactory anywhere else in the world, typifies almost exactly the uneven playing field which is, was and probably always will be the defining characteristic of what many still laughably refer to as the “gentleman’s game.”

And the gradient just keeps getting steeper, as exemplified in the latest attempt by the cartel of India, England and Australia to stage a four-nation One-Day International series in defiance of a convention presumably introduced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to discourage tournaments rivalling their global events.

Then again, the ICC is just a plaything of the “Big Three,” so any of the rules and conventions agreed to there are really for the rest of us beggars of the cricketing world to be kept in line or suffer the ultimate consequence of being locked out of the money-spinning competitions featuring the game’s traditional rivals and its economic powerhouse.

And that’s essentially what the idea of the fourth team in that proposed event is all about: a tantalising prospect for the rest of the cricketing nations all jostling for attention and kissing up to the lords of the game for the precious invitation to their breakaway event. It is classic divide and rule and everyone knows it, even if publicly they will say otherwise.

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that the other nine Full Member nations could band together for the real good of the game and refuse to the kowtow to the demands of the cricketing mafia? It sounds heroic but in the harsh reality of the international cricket environment, where revenue is essentially controlled by that trio, no national administration will sacrifice financial viability for principle because the same fans outraged at the injustice will burn effigies of administrators who stand their ground at the cost of matches against cricket’s ruthless godfathers.

 
 


As I just said, we know all of this already, so what’s the point of going on about it? I don’t know really. As one well-meaning off-screen personality intimately involved in television coverage of the international game once told me: you can make all the noise you want about the inherent injustices at the elite level of the sport, nothing is going to change because the power-brokers like it so and the rest who rely on the power-brokers lack the will to effect real change.

So let’s move on.

While South Africa will be counted among those nations battling to stay afloat financially, their performances on the field in the nearly 29 years since re-admission have generally been of the very highest standard, even with that constant label of “chokers” when it comes to major tournament finals (with the exception of the inaugural Champions Trophy in 1998).

Now though the picture is a very grim one.

A 3-1 home Test series loss to England is just the latest setback for the Proteas, made all the more significant in that it occurred under the stewardship of new head coach Mark Boucher, the outstanding former wicketkeeper-batsman whose career was ended by a freak eye injury during the 2012 tour of England.

There will continue to be mixed views on top former players stepping into the role of coaches. Some will say playing experience at the highest level is essential to fully appreciate and respond to the challenges faced by contemporary cricketers. It is also believed that possessing such a pedigree immediately commands greater regard and respect in the dressing room.

Obviously, though, it doesn’t guarantee positive results. Often it is the man-management skills of the coach, more than his playing record, which makes all the difference. Take the West Indies situation for example since Phil Simmons has returned for a second stint as head coach after being unceremoniously sacked by the previous Cricket West Indies administration less than halfway into a three-year contract.

By any standard, the record of the former opening batsman is mediocre (22.26 average from 26 Tests and 28.93 from 143 One-Day Internationals). Yet as in his first term as West Indies coach and subsequent assignments with Ireland and Afghanistan, Simmons is making a noticeable difference to the Caribbean side’s level of competitiveness.

They pushed India hard in a three-match ODI series in India in December, and while they should have shown a greater level of ruthlessness at home to the Irish in January in ODIs and T20Is, it is obvious the players are more comfortable and better motivated under Simmons’ stewardship (and with the support of the experienced Kieron Pollard as captain in the white-ball formats) than was evident in the chaotic year since Australian Stuart Law gave up the job in the midst of a sub-continental tour.

Of course, this is no guarantee of long-term success, and the next Test assignment – three matches in England in June – followed by the defence of the World T20 crown in Australia in October will give a clearer picture on whether Simmons’ role as West Indies coach refutes or supports the argument for former greats as coaches.

Finally, congratulations to Rohail Nazir and his team in reaching a ninth semi-final in the 13 editions of the Under 19 Cricket World Cup. Whatever happens in the eagerly anticipated clash with arch-rivals India for a place in the final, the young men in green have reinforced the belief in the abundant youthful talent produced by Pakistan year after year.

Often the greater task, and sometimes an insurmountable one is to translate the age-group success to consistent senior-level performances. That is where a bit of patience comes in because it can take time for all that ability to reach full flower in the senior ranks.

There’s no doubt that once handled properly, pacers Naseem Shah and Shaheen Shah Afridi can serve Pakistan cricket with distinction for many years to come. They appear to have all the fundamental attributes required for consistent success. But they are still teenagers with a lot to learn in the game and a lot of physical and mental development to take place before they get anywhere close to becoming the finished article.

Burdening them too soon with the weight of expectation can be extremely damaging to their careers.

Discuss!