|England never lifted off the paddle, while Pakistan kept searching for it.|
Monday, February 20, 2012
Pakistan's Inevitable Loss
For many it has come as surprise but for those who know cricket a tad better than many already saw this coming. The recent failure of Pakistan in the limited overs leg of England's tour to UAE is shocking in the same way as it’s shocking to see someone drive into a wall, as opposed to accidentally.
The first problem that is glaring into Pakistan is the selection of some rather refutable choices which has been a matter of talking point among experts as well as casual cricket-watchers. It starts from the top itself, with the selection of Imran Farhat who has just proved to be an ordinary cricketer with ordinary batting skills and that too in a career spanning over a decade now. It may be argued in his defense that he was never given a consistent run of play in the shorter version of the game, but considering that he has now played 13 games straight since Misbah-ul Haq took the charge, his numbers are again hardly appealing, let alone worth talking about.
The second problem is the selection of players like Azhar Ali, who without a shadow of doubt have a done a tremendous job at the top of the order in the Test triumph but isn't exactly a limited over material to start with. His selection is purely on the basis of form instead of skill, which I argue clearly lacks for one-day cricket. Umar Akmal also seems to be a result of poor management of the selectors where he has been asked to keep wickets and take the pressure of scoring quickly when the asking rate was already touching the roof because the top order was either non-existent or were too circumspect in conditions that never was famous for being too demanding for batsmen. His is a case of poor management instead of poor form, where he has fallen victim of some conservative captaincy and directives.
The other point in the selection process that raises a question mark is opting for Shoaib Malik into the team where he clearly looks out of sort for international cricket and he is unlikely to get any favours from Misbah and the team management as well. If the team management didn't had any soft-corners for Malik and don't trust Hammad Azam to deliver the goods, one wonders what was exactly wrong with Abdul Razzaq?
While Pakistan played some brilliant cricket in the longer version of the game, they were ought to struggle in the one day arena because of their mentality. It's not a secret for anyone to know that Misbah-ul Haq is a defensive captain – at times overly defensive. The result of it has been a decline in the form of players like Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Akmal who rely more in playing their strokes instead of playing a Misbah-style innings. In fact, an interesting statistic that came to our notice is the disparity between the strike rates of the two batsmen – Hafeez and Akmal – when they played under Shahid Afridi and, now, under Misbah-ul-Haq. Akmal's average may very well be impressive but it is at the cost of his own attacking-approach.
The other that has steadily and rather suspiciously become an issue for Pakistan has been the spineless performance of the pace bowlers, even if we let go of the slower bowlers on the basis of their recent past performance. It had never been an issue for Pakistan to churn out a new fast bowler from anywhere in country, from the remotest of villages to the street-packed metropolitan centers. Pakistan was always blessed with a factory of fast bowlers which would spring out like frogs in a rainy day. However, things have taken a bit of a back-step for Pakistan as no new fast bowler (barring the banned Mohammad Amir) has managed to become an apple in the eye for the country as well as for the cricket experts. The loss in form of the spear-head, Umar Gul, has also left Pakistan with a conundrum as the team finds itself overly-dependent on spinners without a strike-bowler in the pace department. The dilemma with Umar Gul is that he may be excellent on one particular day with the bowl but his ability to fall from grace on the very next day makes matters worse for every one related to Pakistan team. Not surprisingly, his tad below 40 bowling average in the last 14 matches clearly translates into poor form but he has also picked up a knack of leaking runs at a rate seen only in the shortest format of the game. Umar Gul may be the problem but it brings us back to square one, is he being handled properly? Umar Gul averages a fraction below 23 under Shahid Afridi while nearly 40 under Misbah-ul-Haq. The stats are numbers, but they can reveal slightly more than just figures.
Apart from Umar Gul, no fast bowler has been able to back up or act as a cover for an inconsistent Umar Gul. Aizaz Cheema, Wahab Riaz or Junaid Khan, all have been tried but none of them have struck the minds of people who have seen Pakistan's hay days.
Probably this was inevitable for Pakistan to happen and glad it happened sooner rather than later. England has capitalized on an aspect that ought to be taken down and that is overtly defensive mindset that seems to be creeping into Pakistani team for no obvious reason. The decision to play Umar Akmal as a keeper in place of a regular wicket-keeper is a sign good enough to suggest where and what the think-tank have on their minds – not to lose the match. Misbah-ul-Haq and his team have had tremendous success in the Test arena because they had time to reverse the good sessions or good days of the opposition. Now though, he seems to be lagging behind in the one-dayers where decisions are to be taken promptly as well as with a foot on the gas. The effect of this mindset, and consequently of the loss, has been that Pakistan has looked flat, less vibrant and short on energy on the field, where consistent performers like Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal have also struggled in the yet-to-be-concluded one day series.
Pakistan might not necessarily require a change in the leadership as much as it requires a change in the mind. If the mind thinks positively, results will naturally be positive. But if the mindset can't be altered, then Pakistan better look for different options while they still have.
It shudders us with pain when we think that we will be having the same captain and same captaincy in the shortest format - Twenty-20. Wake up Pakistan team.