In the aftermath of Pakistan's humbling 4-1 loss in the ODI series to a far superior England side, an esteemed member of our forum looks at the issues Pakistan's ODI team has faced after the 2015 World Cup.
By Mansoor Khan (4th August, 2016)
There are humbling moments in sports when the underdog, after clinging on to the coattails of the stronger team, is finally shaken off. Like a Championship team that manages to frustrate their more storied Premier League opponent for 80 long minutes, giving their supporters the false hope they are their opponent’s equals, before ultimately undone by a final 10 minute burst. Or a tennis player ranked #100 in the world winning a set against their fifth seeded rival before the crushing reality dawns on them that they cannot compete with the quality of their opponent who is superior in all departments.
After the highs of the Test series whereby Pakistan managed to pull off famous victories at Lord’s and The Oval, and the dizzying heights of reaching #1 in Test cricket – Pakistan have been brought down back to earth with a bang. The ODI series against England has been humbling in many regards. Humbling that Pakistan are stuck in an outdated mindset, accepting scores of 260-280 as good when teams are now viewing 300 as a bare minimum. For England, hitting 400+ is now to be expected than be greeted with pleasant surprise.
It’s been humbling to see batsmen like Jason Roy, Joe Root and Jos Buttler piercing the gaps with ease compared to the likes of Azhar Ali and Sami Aslam having to play expansive slogs in an attempt to rotate strike. The amount of dot balls Pakistani batsmen consume puts excessive pressure on their partners who are forced to play desperate release shots and often concede their wickets. Babar Azam is one batsman ideally equipped to the demands of the modern game but failed to convert starts into meaningful knocks. Its humbling viewing the firepower England possesses. Their explosive power hitters, who can clear the ropes with regularity particularly during the last 15 overs, was once a hallmark of Pakistan’s 1990s team that saw batsmen like Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Moin Khan and Wasim Akram launch fearsome assaults at the death. Sharjeel Khan can be that blaster at the top of the order but must develop more off-side shots and show he can handle quality spin. Bowlers will learn not bowl on a shortish middle or leg stump line given Sharjeel’s propensity to pull through mid-wicket and square leg.
And what of the bowling? Pakistan’s bowling reputation is surviving more on myth and legend from the 1980s and 1990s than any factual basis, having the second worst performing ODI attack since the 2015 World Cup and that’s including Associates. Their wickets have cost 42 runs apiece and have been conceded at a rate of 5.63 RPO. Compare that to Bangladesh who possess the best performing attack in the same time-frame with wickets being taken at an average of 25, at a rate of 4.66 RPO. How times change. The loss of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez has cost Pakistan dearly given these two spinners not only had the knack of taking wickets but tying down the opposition during the middle overs. No recent spinner has been of the same calibre including Yasir Shah who’s struggled to make the transition from Tests to LOIs. Imad Wasim, though he bowled economically in Cardiff, with his action is unlikely to turn the ball sufficiently to trouble international batsmen whereas Mohammad Nawaz’s bowling is still developing. The time’s come to invest in promising specialist spinners like Zafar Gohar. Mohammad Asghar will be travelling to Zimbabwe with the A squad, however, could’ve been better served given his senior debut considering West Indies’s recent struggles against spin vs India.
One of the biggest issues is Pakistan’s inability to take early wickets. Pakistan have one of the worst wicket-taking records in Powerplay 1. You cannot continually allow teams to get off to a flyer and establish a platform for their middle and lower order to exploit, especially in run-chases when you don’t have big totals to defend. Hasan Ali is one potential solution – one of the few Pakistani bowlers to have emerged with any credit from this series, possessing an excellent seam presentation and extracted movement with the new ball. Mohammad Amir has bowled better on this tour than his figures suggest. Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz and the perennially unfit Mohammed Irfan however cannot be long-term bowling options. In fairness to the bowlers – with powerful bats, smaller boundaries, two new balls and flat pitches – bowlers have become sacrificial lambs. However, bowling attacks from other countries play under the same rules and their performance has been superior to Pakistan’s.
Whilst Pakistan were fairly sharp in the field during the Tests compared to England who were uncharacteristically sloppy dropping 14 catches – the ODIs have been a different story. Fumbling has become the norm and vital catches have been spilled. At Trent Bridge, the fielding produced comedy more befitting of a circus than a professional cricketing outfit. Questions must be asked regarding grassroots fielding coaching and why Pakistani outfields are poorly maintained, hindering development of ground fielding.
However the running sore in this team is the position of Azhar Ali. Not only is his role as captain generating a firestorm of criticism amongst the Pakistani public, but his place as a batsman and whether he possesses the range of shots, attacking play and dynamism needed in ODIs. The PCB says no immediate decision will be taken on the subject of captaincy, but already the names of Sarfraz Ahmed and Imad Wasim have been mooted as possible replacements. Either way, a decision needs to be taken swiftly to prevent the captaincy dramas that have often afflicted Pakistan over the years and given the volume of cricket coming up. Selectors must realise good Test batsmen may not be suited to ODIs, and youngsters must be invested in and granted patience whilst tried and tested options such as Shoaib Malik have reached the end of the road. PCB must invest in grassroots coaching so young players are equipped with the skills needed to thrive in modern game. A more competitive domestic ODI tournament is needed - it’s startling seeing international failures like Khurram Manzoor and Kamran Akmal look so dominant at domestic level. The turnaround will be an arduous process, but Pakistan must take inspiration from England’s recovery after the 2015 World Cup.