Cricketing talent in Pakistan is going to waste due to inadequate mentoring at the national and grass-roots levels.
Pakistan's cricket coaching system is old fashioned
In many ways, the malaise afflicting Pakistani cricket can be attributed to exactly two factors.
One is the well documented and carelessly carried out attempt at management of the game in the country by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). The effects of their efforts at controlling cricket have not only damaged the game but have left the likes of the International Cricket Council (ICC) holding their heads in despair as well.
The country is a no-go zone for all cricket-playing nations due to security concerns and whatever respect the nation had in the international arena was blown away by the spot-fixing saga. Despite the antics of the prevalent management, Pakistani cricketers, by means of their raw talent, have soldiered on and just about kept the country's flag flying.
From the dizzy heights of being considered one of the best sides in the world, they are now considered a rag-tag team lacking the finishing skills needed to excel on the world stage despite having supremely talented individuals. This brings us to the second factor stunting the progress of Pakistani cricket - the level of coaching (or lack thereof) needed to refine the raw talent.
It is a well-known fact that the old fashioned coaching methods employed since Pakistan made an entry on to the world cricket scene were not making any significant difference to the quality of players. All that changed in 2004 when the Pakistani cricket management appointed the late Bob Woolmer. Woolmer, a qualified coach and an innovator, was known around the world for his "out-of-the-box" approach. He changed the concept of this important position in Pakistani cricket.
Pakistan cricket until that point had recognised the coach as someone who was a former international cricketer of repute and more importantly, was a Pakistani.
When Chacha Bob (Uncle Bob), as he was affectionately known to the cricketers, took over the role, it shattered the notion that the national squad could only be coached by one of their own. Various reasons were cited to counter the idea of a foreign coach, including the lack of knowledge of the local languages to the amount of money being handed out to a non-Pakistani.
All these charges were usually levelled by people who could not understand that the game had moved on from the time when the team talk was a gentle chat over a cup of tea. Now tactics are decided on computer screens, where each player's weakness and strength could be analysed in minute details.
What followed next was pretty much the golden era of coaching and development in Pakistan.
With Woolmer setting the standards for coaches in Pakistan, others started to look at this profession with a bit more professionalism.
All that came to an end in March 2007 when Woolmer died in a hotel room in Barbados. Geoff Lawson, the former Australia player, took over and continued the "Woolmer way" but the PCB stepped in to remove him. Pakistan thus reverted to square one. Back came the former player, who had recently retired from international cricket, possibly as the captain, and with impeccable credentials as a bowler or batsman. This was the good news.
The bad news was that he was still carrying scars of internecine rivalry from the days when he used to play and had little or no formal coaching qualifications to speak of. He commanded respect from the "junior" players as if he still ran the team as captain.
The coach-player professional relationship with clear boundaries was replaced by the tribal elder and junior horseman version. The recipe for disaster was now complete. The Waqar Younis-Shahid Afridi saga is an example of this approach.
At the grass-roots level things are even worse. With just one academy to speak of, the NCA, where a select number of players are "allowed" to practice under conditions available to most schoolchildren in the West, the future of coaching cricketers in Pakistan is bleak.
The PCB, to their limited credit, will bring "camps" to rural areas where they provide basic coaching.
However, these camps are more for spotting raw talent than for cultivating skills. If they are lucky, they will spot a Wasim Akram or a Javed Miandad, but they would have to develop their game on their own without any formal help.
For any aspiring coach there is no formal accreditation system in Pakistan. Those lucky enough to have the resources will usually fly out to England and pick up a certificate.
The PCB has, in the recent past, organised training courses for coach accreditation, but these are arranged as special events and only available to a select few.
When one considers the popularity of the sport in rural and urban areas, these feeble attempts at improving coaching standards in Pakistan is nothing short of a travesty.
Pakistan cricket cannot hope to compete at the highest levels with coaching techniques that belong to the middle ages - raw talent will only get them so far.
Given the ICC's special interest in fixing all that is wrong with Pakistan cricket one can only hope that the coaching profession and the coaching of youngsters will also deserve special attention.