| Since Latif took over, Pakistan have won a one-day tournament in Sharjah and been runners-up in Sri Lanka and, above all, won back their integrity
Pakistan were not merely beaten on Friday, they were knocked out in the third round by England’s opening bowlers and by Marcus Trescothick. It will take a psychologically strong side to recover immediately.
The sight of Trescothick advancing towards them with his bludgeon will be imprinted on the minds of Pakistan’s bowlers if they are weak. In such a mood, Trescothick bats like a more talented Matthew Hayden, which made last winter so disappointing when England’s left-handed opener could not match Australia’s in aggression and self-belief.
Rashid Latif’s reconstructed team is almost as inexperienced as Zimbabwe. The comparison ends there, however, for if Pakistan can leap over the psychological hurdle, they could well go on to become the country which — not in a year or two but maybe four or five — dethrone Australia.
It would be gratifying to prophesy the same future for England’s reconstructed team, but it is not only the duty of impartiality which forbids.
But when it comes to the highest hurdle, like defeating Australia in either form of cricket, the odds have to be on Pakistan. Whereas eight Ashes defeats have burnt themselves into the psyche of English cricket as deeply as a child entrapped in nightmares, Pakistan have no such inhibitions. More than any other Test country, they continue to produce bowlers who want to bowl as fast as they can or spin the ball as hard as they can. And, as with the other Asian Test countries, they have the advantage that their elite athletes are attracted to cricket alone for a career.
Above all, though, it is the mind-set of the Pakistan player which inspires the impartial observer to think they are the team who will eventually beat Australia. In the 1980s Pakistan was the only team to live with the West Indian world champions. Led, or lorded over, by Imran Khan they drew three consecutive Test series 1-1. Pakistan have proved they are no respecters of reputations, while England are. Flair and aggression seem to be welcomed more warmly in Lahore than London. In the 1992 World Cup final between England and Pakistan, the better team lost to the more aggressive one.
In the decade after Imran’s retirement, Pakistan’s cricket was damaged by decadence in various forms, most infamously match-fixing or, as it evolved to be, ‘exotic’ betting during a game.
Since the World Cup in March, however, Pakistan have laid solid foundations for a revival by removing the old lags whose names do not deserve to be remembered by posterity. Pakistan cleaned up their act — with precious little assistance from the International Cricket Council or the Anti-Corruption Unit — by installing five men in key positions: Rameez Raja as chief executive, Haroon Rashid as team manager, Aamer Sohail as chairman of selectors, Javed Miandad as coach and restoring the 34-year-old Latif to the captaincy which he briefly held in 1997-98. Between them these five testified in front of Justice Qayyum that match-fixing had taken place, named Pakistan players, cited matches and accused the old lags of either corrupting younger players or getting them dropped from the national side.
Latif went furthest of all, producing tape-recordings and copies of cheques made out to Salim Malik, the former captain who was then banned for life. It must rank as one of the bravest acts by any cricketer, given that the mafia syndicate who were behind the players are based in Latif’s home city of Karachi. To date he remains the only active player to have named match-fixers, though after his hasty retirement the late Hansie Cronje implicated Henry Williams and Herschelle Gibbs, in his South African team.
When speaking in public or on television, in English or through an interpreter, Latif does not make a favourable impression. This is deceptive. His fibre is better judged by the scar made by the ball which hit him in the face on Tuesday night: he still carried on keeping wicket, without a helmet, because he feels uncomfortable in one. And he is rare, if not unique, among world wicketkeepers in that he only appeals if he believes the batsman is out.
“We have changed the dressing-room attitude since the World Cup,” Latif said in presentable English, away from any cameras. “We used to have six or seven star players, here we are 22 teammates living together and respecting each other. No junior, no senior, that concept is finished. One team and no ‘I’ in the team. That is my philosophy.” And a completely novel one in a country still bound by traditional hierarchies.
“We are teaching them how to play cricket on and off the field [an implicit reference to the new code that they have to report any approach from bookmakers or be expelled from the team]. I told the boys: ‘Don’t be scared of failure, take the risks but calculated risks, and never give up’.” He noted several of the new players when out of the Pakistan side and playing domestic cricket, and recommended them to the new selectors.
He also got the match fees of junior players raised from a few hundred dollars to $ 1,000 per ODI and is lobbying for central contracts. Latif also set up his own academy in Karachi, an idea born of his personal experience. “My father was a sobaidar [corporal] in the Indian army. When my parents came to Karachi we lived in a very poor area, no clean water, no school, no facilities. Four brothers, one sister, we lived in one room.” It was only when his father became an accountant for the Gulf Oil Company that he was able to educate his children, and Latif was studying civil engineering at university when he was selected for the 1992 tour of England.
But he did not forget his origins, set up his academy before the eight regional bodies which the Pakistan board has just opened, and does not charge the pupils, three of whom have graduated to the current party. Since Latif took over, Pakistan have won a one-day tournament in Sharjah and been runners-up in Sri Lanka and, above all, won back their integrity. The Sunday Telegraph