After losing the first Test against Sri Lanka by a resounding margin, Pakistan supporters immediately began looking for explanations.
Except that, when it comes to our passionate cricket fan base, explanations for defeat are not so much rational analyses, as an edgy and emotional combination of scapegoats and conspiracy theories.
In the wake of the Galle debacle, where Pakistan succumbed to 100 in reply to Sri Lanka’s first innings of 472, and eventually managed only 300 in the face of a fourth innings target of 510, the leading theories were that the boys were out to embarrass either the captain or the coach.
Yet, the truth is far more mundane, as there are straightforward cricketing reasons for the loss in Galle. Misbah’s one-match ban announced just before the start of the Test series was a psychological blow. It came as the result of a slow over-rate in the fifth and final ODI, a transgression on which the ICC has become extremely strict (and rightly so). Being suddenly deprived of your captain — and that, too, one as successful as Misbah — started Pakistan off on the wrong foot even before the first ball was bowled.
Then there was the toss, which Sri Lanka were lucky to win, followed by a series of umpiring howlers, which favoured Sri Lanka overwhelmingly. These differences, which seemed relatively minor at the time, gave Sri Lanka a head start, and magnified into increasing distance between the teams as the game progressed.
Why the umpiring errors went mostly Sri Lanka’s way is difficult to explain, because both umpires were neutral. You could always claim that they were biased against Pakistan (and many of us did so, in our hearts), but that is unsubstantiated speculation. Pakistan getting a raw deal from the umpires was ultimately probably just a matter of pure chance, which is another way of saying that it was simply bad luck.
The absence of a decision review system (DRS) hurt Pakistan badly in Galle. The DRS is designed to achieve greater fairness and justice in umpiring decisions, and its importance to Pakistan’s approach and style of play can be gauged from its critical role in the 3-0 Test whitewash over England earlier this year. It is unfortunate that the DRS isn’t available for this series, and even more unfortunate that the ICC has been unable to make headway on the DRS at the global level.
At the moment, the cost of DRS technology must be borne by the host nation. The Sri Lankan cricket board, which is $70 million in debt, is not in a position to furnish the finances. The ICC has been fiddling with the idea of making DRS mandatory for all Test matches — a move that would involve identification of a sponsor to cover the finances as well — but the matter remains stymied by the governing body’s power politics. At the ICC annual meeting held last month in Kuala Lumpur, the DRS issue did not even come to a vote because of opposition from India.
Why India remains so trenchantly opposed to DRS continues to be a matter of debate. Their stated position is that they find it inaccurate. This is laughable, because experience with the DRS has clearly established its ability to reverse human errors.
Moreover, the technology has recently undergone rigorous validation tests at Cambridge University in England, and found to have 100 per cent accuracy.
The real reason behind India’s opposition probably has to do with a few sensitive DRS reviews that have gone against them, and this is India’s way of taking out its anger. They are getting away with it because they have the largest and heftiest cricket market in the world, which lets them dominate the ICC. In other words, they are getting away with it because they can.
DRS or no DRS, Pakistan came back with a bang in the second Test, played at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo.
Mohammad Hafeez found form once again with 196, and Azhar Ali continued to strengthen himself as Pakistan’s next great batting hope with a fluent 157. You could see the nerves on Hafeez’s face when he got into the 190s, and it seemed almost inevitable that he would crack under the strain. After Pakistan amassed 551 for six, they had batted themselves into a position of safety, but rain and stubborn Sri Lankan defence prevented them from a push for victory.
As you read this column, the opening day of the third and final Test of the series is underway at Pallekele, in Kandy. There is a lot riding on Pakistan’s performance. The team has not lost a Test series since the ill-fated English summer of 2010. We have come to expect remarkable turnarounds from this Misbah-led outfit. That reputation is now being put to the test.