While Pakistan’s journey in the ongoing Asia Cup being held in the UAE is far from over, the team’s woeful display in all departments of the game remains a cause for grave concern, let alone the selection blunders that have only added insult to injury. With the exception of Pakistan’s first outing in the tournament against Hong Kong, the team has appeared to be out of sorts in almost all other matches. From the time Pakistan suffered an embarrassing defeat against arch-rivals India in the first of the three likely encounters on Sep. 19, till the team’s drubbing the second time they faced their unforgiving neighbors four days later, not much has changed. As a matter of fact, things have gone from bad to worse.
Pakistan’s openers have failed to live up to the expectations associated with them in the lead up to the tournament. Being unable to get the team off a brisk start with the bat, both Fakhar and Imam left the team tottering upfront in key matches which led to the middle order batsmen indulging in repair work & trying to make up for lost ground instead of stamping the team’s authority further. The ability to challenge umpiring decisions that could have been overturned in Pakistan’s favor is also an area where we have missed a trick, with Fakhar obediently walking off like a dutiful Naval officer on two successive occasions when given the marching orders, not realizing that he could have played on had he availed the DRS, which in turn, could have made the life of Pakistan’s grim batting line-up a tad easier.
Pakistan’s running between the wickets involving almost zero communication between the batsmen on crease is reminiscent of the Inzamam era, when the big man would get involved in bizarre mid-pitch mix ups resulting in ugly run-outs. Be it Shoaib Malik or Babar Azam, our batsmen have succumbed at key junctures to poor calling/coordination. The lack of firepower in the late middle order has disallowed the team from breaking free in the death overs. With the team in need of late acceleration after recovering from an early innings collapse, no real power hitter has emerged from the ranks. The team has been banking on the lone services of Asif Ali who can smack one or two, but is devoid of the temperament required to turn short batting stints into memorable cameos. All-rounders like Nawaz, Shadab, Faheem who many refer to as the “finds of PSL” have also been ineffective with the bat. Captain Sarfraz’s form continues to deteriorate and he can now be safely titled “dhokaybaaz”. Chances are that he won’t get any better as captaincy leads to automatic selection, which consequentially can make a player become complacent.
Spinners, who have generally enjoyed a great deal of success in the tournament have been used by various teams to absorb pressure and even take wickets. While quality spinners in Rashid, Mujeeb, Chahal and Kuldeep have been serving their respective countries in a fashion that cannot be commended enough, Pakistan struggle to find a quality spinner who could stop the flow of runs and has enough variety to baffle the batsmen. It seems the term “milking” in cricket was invented exactly for this feeble Pakistan spin bowling attack in Shadab & Nawaz (needless to mention part-timer Malik), who the opposition batsmen have played with utmost ease and have looked anything but threatening.
For years Pakistan prided themselves on their pace-bowling attack, and they had every reason to do so with the Wasims, the Waqars and the Akhtars. Guess who’s filling their shoes now? Mohammad Amir, who has just one wicket under his belt in the last 6 ODIs he has played. His line is erratic, his pace isn’t what it once used to be and he can’t generate any movement in the air or off the pitch, which means it is easy pickings for the batsmen. The nonchalance of the guy in spite of consecutive failures indicates he could care less about performing when his berth as the team’s bowling spearhead is almost guaranteed every time Pakistan play. Excessive persistence with Amir while Junaid has been warming the benches for ages is beyond every cricketing brain’s comprehension. Rumor has it that Junaid is not Mickey Arthur’s blue eyed boy (while Amir is, needless to mention the “Karachi Kings Connection”), but if the coach picks the playing 11 based on who he likes, we might as well start calling the team “Mickey’s 11” and replace the PCB logo on player jerseys with a picture of Mr. Arthur laughing in a sinister manner. Amir’s pace partner Usman Shinwari is no exception with his “fried lobia” helping him bowl well against weaker opponents like the Lankans but failing him against batsmen of a higher caliber. Shaheen has shown a bit of promise in his first two games and his potential could have translated into a larger tally of wickets had his colleagues in the field been more supportive.
Instead, Pakistan’s fielding is well & truly on course to reach the benchmark of “a dozen drop-catches” in the tournament, which should be achievable given that they still have one more super-4 match to play, and if by some miracle they beat Bangladesh in that game, the final too. “Direct throws” and “Pakistan” can only appear in the same sentence if Pakistan are batting. When it’s the opposition’s turn with the willow, Pakistan’s throwing is all over the place. But you can’t blame our fielders as they are only human. One must admit that it is hard to focus on the game as a cricketer when you are in Dubai and you have numerous things on your mind like when to go to the top of Burj Khalifa for a view of Dubai’s majestic skyline, what to buy for your wife from Dubai mall, what to eat from Bombay Chowpaty at Festival City and when to have a dip with your children at Wild Wadi Water Park.
The selection of Pakistan’s current 16 players touring the UAE has been under a lot of scrutiny. Perhaps our selection committee never came across the proverb “When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, which is a simple yet effective formula when you’ve found a winning combination. Last year Pakistan triumphed at the home of cricket (Lord’s, London) in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, a victory that will be forever engraved in the minds of cricket fans across Pakistan. Since then, except Imad Wasim, who is currently facing fitness issues, everyone else is in the right shape to represent Pakistan. That being said, why did the need to drop Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez and Ruman Raees ever arise? Are these players ever going to make a comeback? Or will their careers fizzle out as a result of influential uncles giving precedence to their nephews and indulging in a crime which is as heinous as match fixing? Pakistan needs answers. If we can’t get them in “Naya Pakistan”, when will we? Patron-in-chief, may you please intervene ?
We may still have the last laugh against India in the Asia Cup Final and be crowned champions, but it will be a crying shame if the issues hampering our team’s overall performance are brushed under the carpet and we continue to live in delusions stemming from short-term achievements.
By: PARVEZ JAMIL
CBM, Institute of Business Management,Korangi Creek, Karachi.