Thursday, June 18, 2009

Science vs Art in clash of cultures

I couldn't stop myself from dedicating a post for the ongoing T20 WC. What could be the best time to have a post than the mega semis? Now that the maze is set and all the four titans are defined, lets talk about the first clash. It's first a clash of ethos, of philosophies and even of time, more than a semi-final. Here is truly man against machine, the art of cricket against the science of it, cricket's future and cricket's past. South Africa's progress to this point has been smooth, well-planned, calculated and inevitable, as if their players were born to do this. Pakistan have got here in shambles - losing games, winning some, treating it all as a bit of fun - and the players not so much born to do this are struggling to discover why they are doing it at all.
South Africa lack nowhere and nothing. If Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith are the efficient drones at the top, there is heart in the middle, with the ever-frail skills of Herschelle Gibbs and the creativity of AB de Villiers. Even Albie Morkel, in whom there are glimpses of Zulu, thankfully smiles more. They've always had pace, but now they even have spinners, who are not batsmen forced to bowl. Sure, they are a little one-dimensional (watching videos of Umar Gul's yorkers?), but they are spinners - South African and successful; how often have we said that in the past?
The whole machinery is intimidating, determined to iron out all kinks, the mission pre-programmed; with seven consecutive wins in this format, they have apparently also taken the inherent unpredictability of this format out of the equation. They are well-trained, well-oiled, and their psychologist talks about
120 contests and of processes over outcomes and how choking is not really an issue anymore. They win even warm-up matches and the dead games because every game counts. They are cricket's future.
Pakistan are the past. They are wholly dysfunctional, but just about getting along, though unsure where they are going. They don't control their extras, they don't run the singles hard and they field as if it were still the 60s. They are least bothered about erasing the flaws because any win will be in spite of them. They did hire a psychologist though, and you can only imagine what those sessions were like and how much they actually talked about sport and cricket. There are permanent mutterings of serious rifts. They may not bat, bowl or field well all the time, but sometimes, they do what can only be described as a 'Pakistan': that is, they bowl, bat or field spectacularly, briefly, to change the outcome of matches. You cannot plan or account for this as an opponent because Pakistan themselves don't plan or account for it.
It can come from any person, any discipline, but on evidence, it is likelier to come from the bowling. The batting needs Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq to really get their show going. A piece of fielding brilliance cannot be discounted, but generally both Pakistan and West Indies have happily disproved the dictum that in T20 cricket you have to be Jonty Rhodes to get anywhere. Heroes will likely be found among the Umar Guls, the spinners and maybe even Mohammad Aamer, who is a throwback to the late 80s and early 90s, when Pakistani fast bowlers were born ready to play international cricket.
The pressure on South Africa however, will be greater. They are expected to win this and anyway they will always have the whole 'chokers' tag to deal with until the day they actually lift a big trophy. It doesn't help that they look as good as they did during the 1999 World Cup, though they are easier on the eye. Pakistan, as Younis Khan said before leaving for England, won't much mind a semi-final spot. They may have had an easier ride to the semis than most but no country has had a rougher two years. Clearly they'd love to win it, but they have already achieved more than many thought and a loss wouldn't be the end of the world. But importantly, as the only side to make it to the last four in 2007 and 2009, they have underscored their significance in this brave new, T20 world, a world in which they absolutely cannot be ignored.

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