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Dawn Editorial 12 January 2021

What next in cricket?

WITH Pakistan’s catastrophic New Zealand tour, cricket in the country is yet again at a crossroads. The challenging tour, where the tourists received a thorough drubbing in the T20s as well as the Test series, laid bare the team’s many weaknesses. The batting was abysmal, the bowling lacked incisiveness and the fielding was an embarrassment as usual. There was a huge gap between the playing standards of the two sides, especially in the Test series where Pakistan failed to show a spirit of competition. The overall performance, in fact, was an aberration from the tall pre-tour claims made by head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis. The selection, too, left a lot to be desired. The experienced team management, regretfully, could not come out with any definitive strategy to counter the hosts’ onslaught. Even though armed with an unprecedentedly large squad of 35, Misbah & Co showed no flair or courage to make the right changes at the right time. Faltering top-order batsmen such as Shan Masood and Haris Sohail retained their places after the first Test debacle; the toothless bowling combination, too, got the management’s nod for the second Test with only debutant Zafar Gohar coming in for leggie Yasir Shah, a move that backfired. Talented fast bowlers Haris Rauf, Mohammad Hasnain, Sohail Khan and a few other remained on the sidelines as Pakistan’s lacklustre bowling attack collapsed.
The PCB’s cricket committee is set to review the team’s performance in a crucial meeting today and both Misbah and Waqar have been asked to attend. Not known to take many far-sighted decisions, the PCB regime is unlikely to deviate from its policy of ‘playing safe’. But with the South Africa series at home all set to commence in a week’s time, the defensive approach adopted by Pakistan cricket will not be a wise thing. The PCB and the team would be well advised to play positive, aggressive cricket in the series and induct some new faces which could save them from embarrassment.

 

 

Power blackout

THE electricity blackout that plunged the entire country into darkness late Saturday night is a stark reminder of all that is wrong with our crumbling power sector: poor governance and an incompetent power bureaucracy. The government has suspended seven employees of the Guddu power plant, which is said to be the original source of tripping that cascaded through the entire system leading to the automatic shutdown of generation plants in less than a second. It has also ordered an eyewash of an inquiry, but will not be able to hide the long-standing issues plaguing the power sector.
According to a report in this paper, the three key companies concerned — the Central Power Generation Company (that operates the Guddu plant), NTDC and the National Power Control Centre — have been operating without permanent heads. The post of managing director, NTDC, for example, has not been filled for the last three and a half years. That is not all. Ever since the government started implementing power-sector reforms in the early 1990s, the top jobs in public-sector companies have been handed to the all-knowing PAS officers and, in certain cases, serving or retired generals, replacing the professionals who should have been running the show.
Little wonder the sector has rapidly decayed under those who know nothing of technical issues, causing the accumulation of a debt of over Rs2.3bn, increased T&D losses, electricity theft, lower bill collection, lack of transparency and poor governance.
Power outages and breakdowns are not uncommon in countries. There can be multiple reasons — human, technological, environmental, etc — for such occurrences. But the increasing frequency of such happenings in Pakistan of late should be cause for concern. Although the PTI set-up has tried to blame the latest breakdown on lack of investment in the T&D network by its predecessors, especially the PML-N, there are questions it must answer. How come a system which transports nearly 24,000 MW of electricity without any problem during summer is not good enough to transmit less than half the amount in winter? There has to be some other reason for that.
The government must realise that political point-scoring will not help. It isn’t for the first time that a fault at the Guddu power station has triggered a massive blackout. There have been many such instances, mostly during winters. The fault lies in the way that decisions are made in the power sector, giving more weightage to generation costs (by supplying cheaper electricity to meet the demand of Punjab and KP from the power plants located in Sindh and Balochistan) rather than heeding professional advice. There can be different ways of fixing the poorly managed power sector. But all solutions to the present power muddle anticipate taking power-sector jobs from the bureaucrats and giving them back to those who have been trained for them — and with the freedom to take decisions.

 

 

Mass testing

IN the past week, Pakistan crossed the half-million mark for Covid-19 cases in the country. After a spike in deaths and heightened positivity ratios over several weeks, we are now seeing a slowdown. Still, daily Covid-19-related deaths are clocking in between 30 and 50, with new infections between 1,500 and 3,000. Although we have statistically fared better than many Western countries and even some regional states, our data has been historically weak due to low testing. This unfortunate half-a-million milestone in the pandemic, coupled with a death toll of over 10,000, could have been much lower.
From the start of the pandemic, Pakistan’s daily total testing has been very low. In the early days, the government had vowed to reach the target of 100,000 daily tests, but failed to live up to its pledge. At its highest, daily countrywide testing has been around 50,000, that too for a few days. In the past week, daily testing has been 35,000-45,000 — a sorry figure considering the sheer size of our population. At 32 tests per 1,000, Pakistan’s per capita testing is lower than Iran and India that clock in at 95 and 129 respectively. The entire point of increased testing is to test everyone, even those who may be unaware that they are infected, so that they can isolate themselves and prevent the virus from spreading to others in their community. With low testing, we have entered a data fog, which essentially means that decisions are being made on the basis of weak information. In the past, officials have claimed people are reluctant to get tested and that the demand is low, a scenario which points to a failure in public messaging on Covid-19. As the government prepares to reopen schools and universities, it must ramp up testing. A mass testing strategy is more critical now than before, as it will accurately identify which areas are Covid-19 hotspots. Based on this information, the authorities can make data-led decisions regarding the enforcement of targeted lockdowns in specific schools or localities. The current testing is far too low, given the unrestricted public activity and mass gatherings in the country. The government must make tests available and accessible, if it wants to limit the loss to lives and livelihoods. No doubt, there are countries which have had far worse trajectories, but we must strive to be like those who have performed at least reasonably well and not compare ourselves to the worst.

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