Ahead of the much anticipated ODI series against England, a respected member of our forums takes a look at some of the potential reasons behind Pakistan's fall in the ICC ODI rankings, and analyses the available squad's strengths and weaknesses.
By Sameer Mallick (21st August, 2016)
Test cricket is supposed to be a slow and languid game; a game that ebbs and flows, as spectators enjoy sipping their tea and reading the daily paper as the cricket meanders along in the background. However, this Test series broke all the stereotypes we associate with the long format of the game. Pakistan’s tour to the British Isles has been an extremely entertaining affair thus far; we have witnessed some of the game’s best tacticians plotting and planning their way through the series, and some immense talent from both sides.
Whilst Pakistan’s achievements in the Test arena have been almost fairytale-like, their performance in limited overs cricket have been lacking in the recent past. Up until their first ODI against Ireland at Malahide, Pakistan had lost their last 5 international matches. It seems strange that a team so accomplished in the ‘true’ form of cricket can be so poor in limited overs cricket; for a team that may well find itself as the number one ranked Test side in the world, how can they possibly be languishing at the bottom of the ODI rankings? Obviously there are significant differences between both formats of the game, but that isn’t sufficient to explain this strange phenomenon.
With the modern game, there has been a move to having ‘specialist’ players, who are brought into the side for their expertise in the limited overs game. While traditionalists will argue that a true international player should be able to succeed in all formats of the game, the limited overs game has evolved immensely over the last decade, and there is a need in the modern game to bring in players whose skills are more suited to the shorter format. And this is perhaps the principal reason why Pakistan have struggled in modern ODI cricket; their apparent lack of accomplished limited overs specialists.
The key areas where these specialists can make a difference are at the top of the order and at the lower middle order. All-rounders are also an obvious indispensible asset in limited overs cricket. In the recent era, Pakistan’s ‘specialists’ have been Ahmed Shehzad, supposedly to kick start the innings, Umar Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood to finish off in a flurry, and Anwar Ali, billed by some as the replacement for Abdul Razzaq. Despite their continual poor performances, they inexplicably continued to be selected for the national side. Talent is only one ingredient in the making of a great cricketer, and it is by no means a necessary ingredient; there are many examples of great cricketers who certainly weren’t the most talented – too many to list here.
So with a changing of the guard in the PCB merry-go-round, we have a new Chief Selector in Inzamam-ul-Haq, who plucked up the courage to give these players the axe and bring in some youngsters who have shown they might have what it takes to succeed at this level. Sharjeel Khan finds his way back into the side as someone who has shown glimpses of brilliance in his clean striking of the ball, and with good performances recently with the A side to convince the selectors. Sharjeel played a brilliant innings in the first ODI against Ireland and is clearly a man in form. The question now remains whether he can show the necessary maturity to cement his place at the top of the order.
Sami Aslam also makes his way into the squad following his impressive outing in the Test series. Although not a belligerent striker like Sharjeel, Sami does look to find the gaps in the field and rotate the strike; something Pakistan have struggled with of late. On the bowling front, Hasan Ali gets a chance to impress; a right arm bowler who has the capability of seaming the ball in both directions. However, he does have a tendency to bowl loose deliveries and will need to bowl tight lines if he is to succeed.
Pakistan have 3 all-rounders in this squad; the experience of Shoaib Malik alongside Imad Wasim and Mohammad Nawaz. Imad recently impressed in the CPL, proving to be an effective bowler and also occasionally contributing with the bat. Mohammad Nawaz is also a left hand batsman and spinner who showed his capabilities in the PSL. Some have criticized Inzamam for selecting two all-rounders who are very similar, a criticism which I disagree with; I think they both have the capability to get quick runs at the end of an innings, alongside providing control in the middle overs with their bowling. Indeed, they are both left arm spinners but their bowling styles are different. And lets not forget, Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq were also both all-rounders who were right arm swing bowlers; nobody was complaining about their similarities back in their day.
Perhaps the player Pakistani supporters will be most excited to see is Babar Azam. A player who does indeed have immense talent, he also appears to have a level head on his shoulders and he promises to achieve some great things for Pakistan in the future. The time has now come for Babar to announce himself on the world stage; as his recently discarded colleagues will remind him, talent can only get you so far.
Overall, Inzamam has picked a very balanced squad, but if there was to be any criticism, the selection of Umar Gul seems most bizarre. In his most recent outings in the green, Gul has appeared to be past his best, and it seems he has been picked purely on the basis of his successes in these conditions many moons ago. He did however bowl an impressive spell against the Irish, and perhaps we just might look back at his selection as a stroke of brilliance from Inzamam. Many have also questioned Yasir Shah’s inclusion; I suspect he is there to provide the option of a leggie, as opposed to be being a regular member of the team.
And last, but certainly not the least, there is much lying on the shoulders of Azhar Ali. Azhar isn’t what one would describe as an ODI specialist, and he has much to prove purely on the basis of his batting in this side. However, I believe Azhar can potentially be the perfect foil for Sharjeel at the top, providing some stability and anchoring the innings, whilst Sharjeel is allowed to play his natural game. As a personality, Azhar certainly doesn’t possess the charisma that many ODI captains seem to have, and it will be interesting to see how this impacts his tactical play as he marshals his men on the field. The jury will most definitely be out on his captaincy.
Pakistan have a tough challenge ahead of them, but one that certainly isn’t insurmountable. They surprised many with their discipline in the Test matches, and if they can translate that into their one-day game, in conjunction with the potential that this squad has on paper, then they most certainly will taste the sweetness of victory. It’s going to be a cracking series, and I cant wait!