Cricket: Captain's example welds Pakistan together

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The Independent Online
ADAM GILCHRIST was not as surprised as the first international cricketers to face Wasim Akram but he was not far short. All the hype had been about the frighteningly quick Shoaib Akhtar but before the Australian opener could even face the Rawalpindi Express he had gone.

Just three balls and Gilchrist had his wicket rearranged by the Pakistan captain. He had been caught by cunning, a ball that deviated off the seam and clipped the off-stump, when the anticipated menace had been raw pace.

Wasim, 32, is no longer the teenage tearaway who was asked to provide bowling practice for Pakistan's batsmen and so shocked them with his ferocity he won a place on the 1984 tour to New Zealand, but he can still conjure a quick one when he wants. Gilchrist will testify to that.

Guile as much as pace is Wasim's weapon now and you suspect he will need plenty of the former if he is going to cajole and encourage a young Pakistani side who might be good enough to win the World Cup but would astound no- one if they failed spectacularly.

Any Pakistani side is unpredictable, as likely to combust with internal division as to make the most of its talented parts. Imran Khan urged his players "to fight like cornered tigers" before they won the 1992 World Cup - and they did. Except they have continued to do so since, going through captains like batting gloves in a series of disputes.

Wasim took over after Imran and is now in his third spell in charge. On the first occasion he was ousted by a rebellion by his fellow players and the cost of the Pakistan Cricket Board's failure to support their captain on that occasion was the criminal wastage of talent. "If they had stood firm and backed Wasim I believe the Pakistan team would have dominated the world of cricket for the past five years," Imran said in yesterday's programme. Instead they tantalised rather than achieved.

On top of this potential tinder box again, it is clear Wasim is not going to let previous experience temper his personality. In the field he is constantly clucking over his young charges, who include two teenagers and four others under 25, and when he bats he does so by urgent example.

At Durham last week it was his explosive hitting that finally extinguished Scotland's hopes of keeping Pakistan to a reasonable total and while he does not always come off - 13 off 12 balls yesterday was leisurely in comparison and cost Inzamam-ul-Haq's wicket with a bizarre run-out - his enthusiasm and eagerness must rub off. Whether that can be allied to skillful captaincy could dictate Pakistan's World Cup. Yesterday Wasim gambled by introducing off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq just as Australia were beginning to accelerate and was rewarded with two wickets in three balls. Later he used Shoaib to cramp the middle order.

Ultimately, Wasim had to look to himself. His return forced Michael Bevan to edge to point just as Australia seemed to be within sight of victory, and in the last over he bowled Damien Fleming and Glenn McGrath to finish with 4 for 40.