After the loss against England in 2nd ODI, a respected member of our forums takes a look at what is wrong with the Pakistan team, the issues with Azhar Ali's captaincy, and various other topics.
By Sameer Mallick (27th August, 2016)
The last week has been a clear illustration of the turbulence of emotions that many faithful Pakistani cricket fans have to endure. At the start of the week, we were all celebrating the team’s achievements in the Test arena, gaining the World Number One ranking after some excellent cricket and fortunate weather conditions in the West Indies. By the end of the week, we are left scratching our heads, wondering how this team can possibly dig itself out of the ever deepening hole of ODI losses that it seems to be stuck in.
It was Imran Khan that famously gave the Pakistan cricket team the label of being ‘cornered tigers’ - a team that is most ferocious when its backs are very much against the wall. Yet thus far, the feline analogy most appropriate for this Pakistani team would probably be that of a timid kitten - always on edge and in a perpetual state of fear.
Many commentators have already made the obvious point that this Pakistan team is playing an archaic form of ODI cricket; the type where a team conserves its wickets for some hard-hitting in the latter part of the innings, in an epoch where a score of 250 was deemed a competitive score. The modern ODI game has changed significantly since then with the advent of power-plays and changes in fielding restrictions, changes which were introduced to encourage the batsmen to play their shots from the get-go; a chance for batsmen to score freely and express themselves. Playing in such a manner of course requires a certain amount of courage, and courage is one thing a timid kitten greatly lacks by definition.
Thus far, Pakistan’s batting has been extremely nervy. On a glorious day in Southampton in perfect batting conditions, Pakistan batted as if they were playing on a green-top, negotiating the bowling in an overly-cautious manner. England, on the other hand, showed us the true nature of the surface, as they played their shots from the outset, making Pakistan’s score of 260 look like child’s play. Then onto Lords, and Azhar Ali’s curious decision to bat first on a green-tinged wicket which was likely to offer something for the bowlers typifies the lack of courage within this team; traditionally Pakistan have not been good chasers of a target, and the thought of chasing was probably sending shivers down Azhar’s spine. The courageous decision would have been to bowl first and give his new-ball bowlers the best of the conditions, and back the batsmen to chase down a modest target. But this is a side lacking courage, which fears it would have made a meal of chasing down any score set by the opposition.
From Pakistan’s perspective, it’s a case of the same old story we have become accustomed to. In both matches thus far, the opening pair have failed to get off to a flyer, and the remaining batsmen seem to have a perpetual problem in rotating the strike. And as the pressure to score mounts, they throw their wicket away, leaving the lower-middle-order with the task of scratching their way to some sort of total. The best one-day teams in the world have embodied the free-flowing nature of one-day batting, yet watching Pakistan bat is an extremely laborious affair, and quite nerve-wracking for the Pakistani fan.
We are only two games into this series, but already questions are being asked about Azhar Ali’s suitability as captain. In some ways, this is a little unfair; after all, there is only so much he can do with the resources offered to him, and the absence of quality all-rounders is a major problem for the current side. His bowlers haven’t delivered either; Umar Gul was poor in the first ODI, Mohammed Amir seems to have lost the ability to swing the ball and Wahab Riaz has been leaking runs. For Amir in particular, this will be a true test of his character as a cricketer; his main weapon has currently deserted him, and he will need more tricks in his armory if he truly aspires to be an all-time great.
However, resources aside, thus far Azhar’s captaincy has quite simply lacked imagination. During both of England’s innings, Azhar seemed to be going through the motions – no imaginative field placings, and a lack of fizz in the field. Perhaps his only saving grace thus far has been his use of Imad Wasim in the early overs.
However, every cloud does indeed have a silver lining. Babar Azam has lived up the hype around him, and I believe he is probably the best batsman in this side. The batting needs to focus around him, and he will need to play a role much like Joe Root does for England, and Virat Kohli for India. One only hopes he does not end up going down the path of his infamous talented cousin. Sarfraz has also come of age on this England tour, and today showed the Karachi streetfighter persona in his batting, as he single handedly saved his team from being blown away with a fine century. Sarfraz has the right brain for one-day cricket, and one wonders whether the crown of ODI captaincy would be more suited on his head…
The all-rounders have also been impressive. Imad has had a good outing thus far with the bat and his Jayasuriya-like left arm sliders, and Nawaz too looked decent in the first ODI. Many commentators were puzzled at the exclusion of Yasir in the first ODI, and bringing him into the second at the expense of Nawaz was a selection error. I am yet to be convinced of Yasir as a regular in the ODI side.
Pakistan are two down in this series and with the next game due to occur at Trent Bridge, a ground famous for its swinging conditions, Pakistan have an extremely uphill task ahead of them, and their only hope of success in the remaining three games is for the team to somehow mature into a cornered tiger from the timid kitten that it currently is; the modern ODI game is a batting-centric one, in which pressure is applied on the opposition side by scoring a high volume of runs. It is all well and good for Sharjeel to cart the Irish bowlers around the park, but unless he can replicate that against the best attacks in the world, he will have a limited future in the side. Shoaib Malik also hasn’t done much thus far, and given the impotence of his bowling, one wonders whether bringing Rizwan in his place might give this side the batting lift it needs.
Pakistan have nothing to lose - they are most definitely the underdogs in this series, and near the bottom of the ODI rankings. Can this lead to the rebirth of the cornered tiger? Only time will tell.