How the Cricket Fortunes of Pakistan and India Have Diverged This Decade

Khalid SiddiquiCorrespondent IIMarch 17, 2009

The 1990s was a decade of domination by the subcontinent in the cricket world, with all three of the test-playing nations India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka being dominant forces. However, the 2000s have seen the mantle shift more and more on to India, with Pakistan cricket faltering consistently.

So how is it that the paths of Pakistan and India have diverged so significantly over the last few years, in cricketing terms?

1. Captaincy: No inspiration since Wasim, and the journey from Sourav to Dhoni

If there ever was a natural successor to Imran Khan as Pakistan captain in the 1990s, it was Wasim Akram, and the cricket board at the time was proactive enough to appoint Wasim captain ahead of Javed Miandad.

Even though Wasim's image was tarnished to an extent by speculation about his possible involvement with the bookies, he was still considered to be the best man to lead the Pakistan cricket team, and in my opinion was probably only behind Steve Waugh in terms of ability to inspire teammates in that particular era.

Test series victories in England and India, and leading Pakistan to the World Cup final in 1999 were some of the high points of not only Wasim's captaincy, but for Pakistan cricket as well. Well-publicized spats with Waqar Younis and Rashid Latif, however, forced the PCB's hand in relieving him of the captaincy.

Since Wasim was removed as captain, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has struggled to find a leader in the same mould. Infighting and politics not only among the players, but within the PCB has overshadowed the battle for captaincy. Potential future captains at the time, Abdul Razzaq and Saqlain Mushtaq have since been sidelined.

The longest captaincy stint since Wasim's retirement has been enjoyed by Inzamam-ul-Haq. Sorry to say this, but Inzi was never captaincy material in the first place. Absolutely no motivational skills, and an overly relaxed attitude. Seniority does not automatically justify captaincy.

And in less than two years now, Shoaib Malik has made way for Younis Khan.

On the other side of the border though, the Indian captaincy has moved on from Sourav Ganguly to a very worthy MS Dhoni. The winning mentality that Sourav instilled in his teammates, has remained with the team as there have been no major flip-flops on the captaincy front, with the transfer of power being relatively smooth. 

Sure there has been politics, but the BCCI was quick to stem the rot following India's 2007 World Cup debacle. Anil Kumble didn't do too bad a job as captain, while MS Dhoni has taken the Indian cricket team's mental strength to another level.

India now competes at the level of Australia and South Africa in both the test and ODI arenas, with Pakistan struggling to avoid a slide into mediocrity similar to that of the West Indies in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

2. Better talent not forthcoming for Pakistan; India continues to roll them out

If one compares the two teams player-wise, it is quite evident that India have had the better luck in terms of discovering new talent. Even fast bowling, which at one time used to be monopolized by Pakistanis, is now something which the Indians are excelling at.

Let's take a look at some of the comparisons, and it is plain to see that India wins out hands down. 

Salman Butt vs. Virender Sehwag: Clearly Salman Butt is not in the same league as either Saeed Anwar or Aamir Sohail. Sehwag, on the other hand, is an indispensable part of the Indian batting lineup, and will always be the first man to be named on the team sheet.

Kamran Akmal vs. MS Dhoni: No competition here either, be it with the gloves or with the bat. It is still a mystery why the PCB continues to persist with Kamran Akmal and not give a chance to younger wicket-keepers.

Dhoni, on the other hand, has been as intelligent with his batting as with his gloves. He has refined his game to suit the needs of the team rather than continuing to be classified as a pinch hitter.

Shahid Afridi vs. Yuvraj Singh: The designated big hitters in their respective teams have had clearly divergent careers. Shahid Afridi's batting form has been the most inconsistent I've ever seen, but now it's more consistent in terms of its mediocrity.

On the other hand, Yuvraj has adapted his game to treat each ball on its merit. Sure, you have your rushes of blood, but Shahid Afridi thinks every ball is meant to be hit out of the park.

Younis Khan vs. Sachin Tendulkar: These two are probably the best batsmen in their respective teams, and the gulf is enormous. While Younis has been quite consistent, he has not become a batsman whom bowlers fear when he walks to the crease.

Sachin, on the other hand, is well...Sachin. A batsman mentioned in the same breath as the great Sir Don Bradman, and among his peers along with the likes of Lara and Ponting.

Mohammad Asif vs. Zaheer Khan: Okay, this is one where I give the advantage to Pakistan, but Asif's career is probably never going to be the same given his tendency to experiment with drugs.

Sohail Tanvir vs. Ishant Sharma: This is a tough one, because clearly in the shortest version of the game Sohail Tanvir does hold the advantage with the unpredictability of his bowling action. However, moving on to the Test arena, there is only one clear winner in this comparison of young bowling talent, i.e. Sharma.

Misbah-ul-Haq vs. VVS Laxman: Misbah's career has clearly been start-stop. He is probably best remembered for his heroics in the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007. However, in terms of his ability to perform at the highest level, he has yet to prove himself. His footwork leaves a lot to be desired and he may seem overconfident at times.

Laxman, on the other hand, has played some of the most memorable innings ever by an Indian batsman. No one can forget the double century following-on against Australia.

Danish Kaneria vs. Harbhajan Singh: This is hardly a comparison because Danish Kaneria has consistently failed to deliver against the better cricketing nations. Harbhajan, on the other hand is a proven competitor in all forms of the game. He's even a much better tail-end batsman than Kaneria.

So why has the talent dried up for Pakistan? For one, cricket has become a much more scientific and technical game. Talent alone is not enough these days. Hard work, working on one's own weaknesses, and closely analyzing your opponent's weaknesses are all extremely important facets of the game.

Gone are the heady days of Wasim and Waqar running in and knocking over stumps.

Pakistan continues to be categorized as one of the weaker fielding sides, while India has built cavalry of young and exciting fielders like Yuvraj, Raina, Rohit Sharma, etc.

Secondly, the structure of domestic cricket in India and Pakistan has followed differing paths. The PCB is still confused whether it wants to hold matches on a regional basis, or on an institutional basis. The types of pitches prepared in both countries are similar, but footwork of Indian batsmen is still much better than that of the Pakistanis.

The power of money and an enormous fan base

The BCCI has definitely hit the jackpot with its marketing abilities, and the team continues to deliver important victories to back those marketing efforts. In India, cricket is followed with religious zeal, while Pakistan's inconsistency has resulted in dwindling attendances and sponsorships.

The threat of terrorism is much more pronounced in Pakistan, which doesn't allow foreign teams to tour the country. The lack of international cricket has also lessened interest in the game, while depriving players of top level competition.

Can you imagine a test-playing nation going a whole calendar year without playing a single test match? Pakistan holds that dubious record for 2008.

Indian cricket authorities have been able to invest in player fitness, while Pakistan has continued to suffer from injured bowlers.

Look at the number of products being endorsed by Indian cricketers, but Pakistan's cricketers have not endorsed anything meaningful since the day Wasim Akram retired.

It may seem like a virtuous circle for India, where winning on the field translates into more publicity and money for the BCCI, but the fact that the players work harder on the field is the main reason. It would be nigh impossible for Pakistan to even envision tournaments on the scale of the IPL, or even the stepchild ICL.

Of course, speaking of the ICL, several of Pakistan's better players have moved to play in the ICL after being disillusioned by the PCB's ability to reward them financially, as well as with a place in the team. Pakistan surely misses players like Mohammad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq, Imran Nazir (in 20/20), Rana Naved, and Imran Farhat.

Conclusion: Pakistani cricketers seem to have lost the will to work hard

All this has boiled down to the fact that in Pakistan, cricketers still try to do just enough to retain their places in the national team. On the other hand, Indian cricketers have developed a winning mentality.

India definitely holds the advantage in terms of mental strength on the field, while Pakistan cricket continues to be gripped by melancholic attitudes and players more intent on asserting their seniority. Following Inzi's retirement, there were at least six players who expressed their "willingness" to lead Pakistan's cricket team.

After all, which country's cricket team can boast to have so many aspiring captains in one team, that it continues to be embroiled in politics rather than concentrating on how best to win the game?