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In his latest blog for PakPassion.net, Pakistan bowler Sohail Tanvir writes on a number of topics including his overall assessment of Pakistan’s ICC World Cup 2019 campaign, Mohammad Amir’s re-emergence as a top quality bowler, the importance of experience in the side as demonstrated by the inclusion of Wahab Riaz and what issues Hasan Ali needs to fix regarding his bowling and his hopes of seeing Shaheen Shah Afridi leading the Pakistan bowling attack in the next World Cup.

By Sohail Tanvir (9th July, 2019)

A mixed bag, the only way to describe Pakistan’s ICC World Cup 2019 campaign

Pakistan’s outing in the 2019 World Cup could best be described as a mixed bag. The loss at the start of the tournament to the West Indies was a terrible blow to Pakistan’s campaign and it continued to hurt us throughout the World Cup. Even if that result hadn’t gone our way, a reasonable Net Run Rate could well have made the difference in the final analysis and allowed us to progress to the semi-final stage. But we all need to sit back and give credit to Pakistan for making a brilliant comeback after experiencing a horrible low due to the defeat by India. 

It wasn’t just that defeat but the sort of criticism they received from fans and media which was terrible. I as a player know how one feels after losing especially when India is involved where you are under the pump and you are at the receiving end of criticism from all sides. So, it takes a lot of strength of character to fight against all the negativity and come out fighting and I feel that the way Pakistan took on the challenge to win the last four games is a positive sign for the future.


So, credit where it's due, but let’s also not mince words.

For the past three years or so, we were being told that preparations were in progress for the World Cup in 2019. The team combination was being groomed for this reason so one can also say that at the end of the day, the results show that this preparation came to nothing and we failed in our objectives. We were unable to obtain the desired results. We did not qualify for the semi-finals and that I am afraid, is the bottom line.

 
 


Only a clinical approach to this tournament would have yielded the right result

Whilst we can talk about the issue of Net Run Rate, the fact is that in a tournament of this stature, there is no room for ifs and buts. There is absolutely no room for chance and in order to be successful you have to be clinical in the way you approach the game, in the same way as the top four teams have who are now part of the semi-final stage. If you look at the examples of Australia and India, one thing that separates them from the rest of the teams is the dominating style of cricket they have played in this tournament and that is what makes them firm contenders for the title.


Pakistan’s inability to reach semi-finals was not a real surprise

To be brutally honest, Pakistan’s exit after the group stage was always on the cards. If you look at our performances in ODIs in the last few years, and the two series preceding the World Cup, coupled with an embarrassing loss to Afghanistan in the warm-up game, it was clear that we would struggle in the tournament. Yes, things could have been different had we somehow qualified for the semi-finals as after that point all sides have an equal chance of going through – at that point, regardless of the final result, I would have said “mission accomplished” for Pakistan. But sadly that did not happen and we ended up coming home before the semi-finals.


The ICC World Cup 2019 format allows every side an equal chance to succeed

I have to say that I am a great fan of the tournament format for the 2019 edition of the World Cup. Each side played nine games and there was nowhere to hide for anyone, and no one could claim that certain sides had it easy by being in weaker groups and so on. Every side had nine matches and to me sides that got to the top four section of the points table are genuinely good which goes to show how good this tournament format is.


Mohammad Amir is the best bowler amongst the current set of bowlers in the Pakistan side

Anyone who has been following Pakistan cricket for a while will agree with me when I say that Mohammad Amir is nowhere near the form he used to have. The swing that made him unplayable is still missing but the fact remains that Amir is the best bowler amongst the current set of bowlers in the Pakistan side. I have always insisted that Amir cannot be excluded from any Pakistan side and I am glad that he was eventually included in the final 15 for the World Cup as without him, Pakistan would have struggled badly. In fact, remove Amir and Wahab Riaz and your bowling line-up becomes toothless. It was great to see Amir come into his own at the right time for Pakistan and this was crucial for Amir’s career as well as it helped him revive his somewhat sagging fortunes. Now, one can say that Amir has been lucky in his career as he has received tremendous support from the establishment, even when he wasn’t performing that well. Any other bowler would have long been discarded but Amir was persisted with and to his credit he paid back for the faith that was put in him.


Hasan Ali needs to have a plan B when bowling

Any player can improve himself regardless of how badly he may be doing at any point and the same can be hoped for Hasan Ali in the future. Learning is a process which has no age limit and I am hoping that Hasan will improve his cricket and it's not right to say that he is done as a cricketer. 

We all know that he is a very talented player and the fact is that he is a very good bowler when the ball is reversing. We saw that ability in action during the Champions Trophy where the ball was reversing, and those kind of performances earned him the player of the tournament award as well. 

Where he is lacking and what he needs to work upon is in the area of hitting the good length when bowling at a time when the ball isn’t doing much for him. So, this is the time when there is no lateral movement or conventional swing available for the bowler to use which seems to happen a lot in today’s white-ball cricket. This is where he needs to learn to survive in such conditions and apart from hitting the right areas on the pitch, he needs to bring variations into play which can get him wickets. He needs to have a plan B which he is clearly lacking at the moment.

Take the example of Amir who was extremely economical even at a time when he wasn’t taking wickets. He knew where to bowl on what kind of pitch and was using his common sense to not give away runs. This is what Hasan Ali needs to learn which is to learn to survive with a low economy rate when the ball is not doing anything. He must also remember that bowling isn’t only about running in hard and giving it all, you have to hit 140-145KpH with very little to show for in terms of wickets as well. 

Another example for Hasan is Shaheen Shah Afridi. He was all over the place during Pakistan’s ODI series in England and in the early stages of the World Cup but then he made a change to his tactics and his performances changed for the better. One only has to look at his pitch map to note that he was regularly hitting the good-length area in the latter part of the tournament and that was the key to his success and the same template can be used by Hasan Ali to improve himself too. 


Wahab Riaz’s performance in the World Cup showed that experience does matter

What Pakistan lacked in the bowling line-up when the initial 17 players were named for the series against England was the strength of experience and I am glad that the selectors saw the light to bring in Wahab for the final 15 for the World Cup squad. Wahab chipped in with some excellent performances, especially in the death overs where he was superb. This sort of ability was missing during Pakistan’s ODI series against Australia and England and Wahab covered that deficiency with extreme ease. He performed very well, especially with the older ball and to me that is because of the improvements he has made to his bowling in the last year or so. He only bowls away-swing to right-handers because of his wrist position and that was a problem for him as previously he was only bowling over the stumps which made it difficult to get wickets. Now that he has changed to bowling from round the stumps at over 140KpH, there is a definite improvement in his bowling in terms of getting wickets. When he targets the stumps with the ball angling in first and then straightening at the last moment, its near-impossible to play him. This sort of bowling is tough for regular batsmen to face so just imagine how tail-enders must feel when facing Wahab.


The presence of experienced players in any squad is vital for success 

I have always insisted upon the fact that experience brings in awareness of the game and one learns about one’s strengths. Take the case of Wahab Riaz and how with experience he has realized that going wide of the crease and angling the ball in can get him good results. No one would have taught him that – he would have realized that with the amount of experience he has amassed over the years. In fact, his performances in the World Cup showed to all that experience does matter. Of course, you must always back your young guns, but you cannot depend on them all the time and it's always useful to have a good mix of youth and older players in your team as could be seen from the composition of the other sides in the World Cup. On a lighter note, I spoke to Wahab when his name was announced for the final 15 and jokingly told him that look you represent the experienced bowlers in the country so don’t let us down and I am glad and relieved that he did not fail us at all!


Mohammad Hasnain should be a better player after being part of the World Cup squad

I will be the first to admit that after Shaheen Shah Afridi’s below-par performances initially, I was shocked to see that Mohammad Hasnain was not played as a replacement. But then, Shaheen bowled exceptionally well in his ‘comeback’ games and one must applaud the team management for what was a brave decision to persist with the youngster; a decision that proved to be a success for Shaheen and for the side as well. 

Coming back to Hasnain, I feel that it would have been a tad too early to play Hasnain in a big tournament like the World Cup. Especially, when Wahab Riaz was brought into the squad, I could really see no reason for playing Hasnain in the team. From Hasnain’s point of view, I am sure this was a great learning experience for him as he became part of a World Cup squad at such an early age. He was present with the squad throughout the tournament and must have soaked in the atmosphere of such a high-profile tournament as well. All this will help him a lot in the future and I feel that Mohammad Hasnain will be a better player after being part of the World Cup squad.


Shaheen Shah Afridi maybe leading the Pakistan bowling attack in the next World Cup

What Shaheen achieved for his side and for himself at a stage like the World Cup is something I am sure he will treasure for a long time to come. As is always the case, a bowler needs just one good performance to make a difference to his career and I believe that moment came when he picked 3/28 against New Zealand. He then followed it up with four wickets against Afghanistan and then bowled superbly to take six wickets against Bangladesh at Lord’s. All this is also good for Pakistan cricket moving forward as he and players like him, represent our future and are great long-term prospects. I feel that the low phase of his career is now behind him and he is full of confidence and I do hope that we will see him leading the Pakistan bowling attack in the next World Cup.

Discuss!