Pakistan Cricket team – Still a long way to go!
Written by: Omair Alavi
They might have won the second match to level the series but Pakistan cricket team still needs to improve a lot if they are to challenge the world’s best in the World T20 to be played in Sri Lanka, in 3 months’ time. The two-match series against Sri Lanka was a blessing in disguise for the new-look Pakistan side because it brought to the fore the mistakes that didn’t surface when the players locked horns in practice matches at home.
The first thing the hosts showed Hafeez XI was how matches are won through fielding. They held onto every catch that came their way – be it possible or impossible – whereas Pakistanis didn’t attempt diving to stop the ball, let alone try to catch it. Considering we have a high profile coach Julien Fountain, the performance in the field was pathetic. The fielders failed to hit the wicket directly even when the batsman had given up hope. The bowlers were nowhere near the stumps when the ball passed, resulting in failed opportunities for the visitors, and chances for the hosts. Since the World T20 will be played in the same conditions, the players must improve their fielding otherwise they would become laughing stock during the tournament.
Then there was the team selection – for a team always lacking in batting, Mohammad Hafeez’s decision to go in a T20 match with 7 bowlers was as stupid a decision as was sending Shakil Ansar at number 3 on his international debut. The result was expected, Pakistani batsmen failed to score and Shakil Ansar failed to score a single run on his debut. I don’t know why Umar Akmal, Khalid Latif, Shoaib Malik and Ahmed Shahzad are batting in the middle-order because they all think only after they club the delivery away. One or two of them should be in the team only and that too as specialist batsmen. Since Shoaib Malik is not an automatic choice as a specialist batsman, he must pave way for the others.
As for Umar Akmal, he needs to get his act right, or get out. Khalid Latif and Ahmed Shahzad are good enough to replace him because all Umar Akmal does is mindless batting. He has been dropped from the Test squad which should have made him rethink his strategy but sadly, it has made him an even worse batsman. Shahid Afridi must be promoted in the batting order since he is a better batsman than the rest, and can hit bowlers anywhere, anytime if he is in the mood. The team can also utilize the skills of Yasir Arafat and Sohail Tanvir who bat well in T20 cricket, and have shown their potential by striking the ball.
And finally, let’s talk about the bowling department. Why doesn’t Shoaib Malik bowl if he is selected as an all-rounder? No idea but may be that’s because if he does, he might have to prove that he is a good bowler in Mohammad Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal’s presence. Since he is not, he might lose his place once and for all, with all hopes of a comeback gone. When you have a more talented Hammad Azam waiting in the wings, who needs Shoaib Malik anyway?
The spinners are doing a marvellous job, with Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal leading the way, and Mohammad Hafeez supporting them, but it’s the fast bowlers who are posing threats for the team, their own team. Umar Gul has proven that in the final overs, he is a batsman-friendly bowler than a team-friendly one. No one needs a bowler who himself doesn’t know what delivery he would bowl next. He may have taken the most wickets for Pakistan in T20 but that doesn’t mean he is the best … Shoaib Malik has scored most runs and we are talking about axing him. Umar Gul should concentrate on Tests only as his team doesn’t need him in the other formats. With Mohammad Sami bowling at ferocious pace (and proving his mettle with 4 wickets in 2 matches), Sohail Tanvir bamboozling batsmen with his wrong-footed action and Yasir Arafat surprising with his variety, there is no place for Umar Gul who bowls more short-pitched deliveries than all three combined!
An advice to the management would be the best way to end this critique. The practice matches that were organized ahead of the series were played in friendly spirit rather than competitive, and that’s where things went wrong. The only player who did compete with the opposition was Asad Shafiq, who played well mainly because he was dropped from the T20 squad, and wanted to prove a point. Therefore, the next time the management does go for practice matches, they should schedule it before the announcement of the team so that everyone plays for a place in the side.