Writing in his blog, former Pakistan captain Aamir Sohail expresses his views on the matter of Shahid Afridi's farewell game, why Babar Azam deserves to be given a chance to play Test cricket and the difference in Pakistan's Limited-Overs batting strategy due to changes brought in by Mickey Arthur.
By Aamir Sohail (7th October, 2016)
Shahid Afridi farewell game saga
I have to say that I am totally perplexed by a story which has been doing the rounds in the news media and this is in regards to a bizarre request by Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi for a farewell match. Now let’s be honest here and recognize the fact that Afridi has served Pakistan well in the past. However, let us also remember that Afridi has announced his intention to retire on a number of occasions which doesn’t help his case. On top of that, when a player wants to play a final game, he would like to play that match in front of home crowds. Since there is no international cricket being played in Pakistan at the moment, how exactly will he have a farewell game in front of a home crowd? This is exactly why I feel that Shahid Afridi’s request should not be entertained and if there is a need for a special match such as an exhibition game in Pakistan or a game dedicated to Afridi at the PSL, then that would make more sense.
There is no doubt that Shahid Afridi feels strongly about being awarded a special farewell but surely the better way would have been to go in private to the PCB instead of playing this out in front of the media and thereby putting himself and the PCB in a very difficult position. That way if the PCB had declined his request, he could have shrugged his shoulders and moved on which is not an option for him now.
The other problem for the PCB is that Afridi has said he would retire on many occasions but not done so; why would the PCB then take that risk again by announcing a farewell game for him when he himself is not sure about it? I do wonder if this is all about a special retirement gift by the PCB which was similar to what Inzamam-ul-Haq asked for and received in his retirement game. There is absolutely no sense in an international retirement game for Afridi and one hopes that better sense prevails on all sides.
Saeed Ajmal's future in the hands of the Chief Selector
And then we have the curious case of Saeed Ajmal who has no desire to retire but there is talk of him being given a farewell as well. Apart from the comical aspect of the whole saga, everyone needs to understand that it is the Chief Selector and his colleagues who have to lay down the law here and inform Saeed Ajmal if they feel that Ajmal remains a valuable asset for the Pakistan team or not. The PCB can stay out of this topic and not worry about discussing a farewell game for Saeed as it will become self-evident when the selectors inform Ajmal. Confusion will reign supreme for all concerned if the selectors don’t make this clear to Ajmal.
Unwise statements from BCCI and Indian players
The recent spate of statements by the BCCI Chief Anurag Thakur and some players on the Indian side and reaction by Pakistani counterparts is in poor taste and not sensible. Some rather disturbing statements about India not willing to play Pakistan in ICC tournaments should be countered by the ICC which is the governing body for world cricket. Their failure to resolve this type of Indian recalcitrance in the past has caused unnecessary confusion and they really need to step up and put an end to this nonsense using their authority. For me the bigger influence on the matter will come from the ICC’s officially appointed broadcasters. In the past, they have always insisted on India-Pakistan games in major ICC tournaments due to the massive amounts of revenues which are earned in such games. I would love to see their reaction as I believe they are also from India. I am sure they will put some influence on the BCCI to come to their senses as this is about running a profitable business for them.
As far as the statements about not wanting to play Pakistan from the likes of Gautam Gambhir and others are concerned, I would like to remind them that at some point in the future, just like in the past, they may well play Pakistan again if the situation returns to normal again. At that juncture, their statements possibly made in the heat of the moment will look very silly so they need to think carefully before saying such things.
The meteoric rise of Babar Azam
Whatever one says about the quality of opposition which Babar Azam has faced in the UAE against the West Indies, the fact remains that three consecutive ODI hundreds against any team are no mean feat. He must be brimming with confidence at this point and this would be an ideal time for him to make an appearance in Test matches as well.
As the situation stands now, Younis Khan will miss the first Test against the West Indies due to fitness issue so my guess is that a player like Babar Azam needs to be given a chance to showcase his skills in Test cricket. Babar’s technique will be tested to the full in Test matches as in ODIs you can get away with weaknesses in your style of play. In Test matches you get found out easily and it would be a great opportunity for Babar to see where he stands in terms of his technique. There is really no doubt about his talent and he can further enhance his reputation if he is selected and is able to perform in Test matches.
At this point, I will urge a note of caution for all those hell-bent upon comparing Babar Azam’s talent with the likes of Virat Kohli and other accomplished players. Simply speaking, don’t compare him to anyone but recognize the fact that he has talent and let him work on his game by throwing him a challenge to prove himself. Comparisons with others at this stage of his career is of no use to anyone.
The Mickey Arthur effect on Pakistan’s ODI batting
To make a judgement on Mickey Arthur’s tenure so far is not wise as I believe he has some time to go before we can declare his reign of power as an unqualified success. However, there is no doubt in my mind that he has made a significant difference to the manner in which we bat in ODIs. Gone are the days, it seems, when our batsmen were struggling to rotate the strike. A month and a half back, Pakistan batsmen were struggling with a high number of dot balls and creating pressure on themselves. What we see now is a new found emphasis on singles and doubles, followed by a boundary or a six to help the scoreboard along. The dexterity involved in manoeuvring the ball to get those singles and doubles was missing but is now visible in Pakistan innings and to me this is a good start for Mickey Arthur and long may it continue.