Writing in his blog on PakPassion.net, the former Pakistan fast-bowler Mohammad Zahid analyses the failure of the Pakistan bowling attack in the recently concluded series against New Zealand, Wahab Riaz's continued inability to improve his LOI form, Umar Gul's future, Mohammad Amir's comeback and Pakistan's chances in the World Twenty20.
By Mohammad Zahid (30th January, 2016)
Pakistan's T20 performance against New Zealand
I, like many other Pakistan fans, am thoroughly disappointed with the recent results of the Pakistan T20I games against New Zealand in which we lost the series 2-1. Whilst the quality of our performances may well be to blame, I have a feeling that the team is lacking one important ingredient which is unity. Then our bowling for whatever reason failed to click in a big way. It is possible that we were expecting too much from our bowlers but the reality is that they did not perform to our expectations. The Pakistan pace bowlers have not been delivering for quite some time.
No team can ask for a better bowling coach than someone with the track record and expertise of Waqar Younis. To me this is a matter of how the bowlers execute the plans that have been handed to them and if they don’t do well then the results are there for all to see. Waqar can teach them what he likes but he cannot bowl for the bowlers; this is something they have to take on and put into action.
I have to also admit that I had some high hopes from Mohammad Amir in terms of bowling but it looks like he needs to spend some more time with the Pakistan team to get back into rhythm; something he did show us in the 1st ODI so all is not lost there. Then there is our batting which collapsed and flopped in a spectacular way; this is something we are almost used to but even by our standards this was quite remarkable and the newer talent in batting also proved to be not too impressive when put to the test.
One can sit and pontificate on why a Pakistan team has failed in recent times but that as we know is a fruitless exercise. There are so many factors here which could have affected the outcome of the T20 series. What was going on in the minds of the players? Was their form the best that a national team expects? How was their overall fitness? Above all I get the feeling that unlike the ODI and Test sides, the Pakistan T20I side seems to be in a perpetual state of transition. There is no unit or combination as such and this may well be the underlying cause of failure to deliver.
Is this the best talent Pakistan can offer? I may not have been involved in Pakistan cricket for a while but I hope and pray that the country has better T20 talent. Someone like Naved Yasin who has been a top performer for years needs to be considered but without going into specifics one cannot believe that there aren’t better batsmen or bowlers compared to the current lot in the Pakistan squad. Why such talent is not coming to the fore and not being considered is another issue.
Wahab Riaz’s inability to make an impact in T20Is
As far back as I can remember, pitches in New Zealand have helped pace bowlers. The inability of Wahab to deliver in such conditions is therefore shocking to me. It’s not as if he is new to limited overs cricket. When will Wahab Riaz learn to bowl yorkers? He is a veteran of 68 ODIs and 15 T20Is since 2008 so there is plenty of time to learn to bowl yorkers which he has so far failed to master. As we know that in the shorter format of cricket, the whole game is about bowling in the block-hole in the death overs. Why is Wahab not able to help Pakistan there? Is his bowling form low or once again, is he lacking in fitness to deliver that ball? Is he so out of rhythm that bowling yorkers has become a chore?
I repeat that in Waqar Younis you have one of the best fast bowling coaches in the world but why is Wahab not able to apply that training in a match situation? If I could sit down with Wahab, I would like to ask him what was he thinking when he watched his own bowling being carted around the ground. He was regularly being hit at square-leg, cover; you name it and he has been hit to that boundary! Where was his bowling plan for each batsmen? This is international cricket where you have to analyse as things change on the field. You have to think about each of the six deliveries; Should I bowl a yorker? Should I change the length etc. There is no point running in full steam on every ball and getting hit around the park with the same speed because you are being predictable in your length!
The blame does not lie with Shahid Afridi
Shahid Afridi has come under a lot of fire for these defeats but to be honest, concerns about captaincy are only raised when we lose games. Fact is, all experts jump in when we lose and every person has their two cents to contribute on Afridi’s captaincy credentials. I really don’t think we need to look at the captaincy for reasons of this particular failure.
The most balanced T20I squad in living memory?
Pakistan has gone through a lot of crises in the past five years. We lost some good bowlers in the shape of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and then suffered another blow in the shape of Saeed Ajmal’s issues with his action. Recently, we have had to do without the services of Yasir Shah as well. Despite all those setbacks, I genuinely felt that after a long time, we had an excellent balanced squad going into this series. Mohammad Amir is back and had shown so much promise and Umar Gul was also making a comeback after a period of time. We also had some good spinners in the squad so all in all, this was as balanced a squad we could hope for. On paper, we appeared to have an excellent bowling attack but the reality, unfortunately, was different.
Disappointed with Umar Gul's comeback
As I mentioned, with Umar Gul back in the line-up, there were genuine hopes that we could beat any other team in the world. What we saw from Gul in these games was very disappointing which leads me to think that he is fast reaching the end of his international career. Based on this performance, it is going to be extremely difficult for the selectors to give him another chance to represent Pakistan in the future. I understand that he had an injury break and that can happen to anyone. What is important for his return to the Pakistan team is not just recovery from the physical effects of the injury, it is also the match practice he was supposed to have had before he was brought back into the fold. I would have expected him to have bowled close to 300-400 overs in domestic cricket as a proof of his full recovery from injury. That would also help in regaining form and building rhythm. But clearly that is not the case.
What is more troubling is that despite having experts of all types associated with the national set-up, no one was able to spot the obvious lack of form and rhythm in Umar Gul’s bowling. This is really worrying as the coaching staff should be able to see issues with bowlers before they take the field for Pakistan.
The solution to Pakistan’s batting problems
If you were to ask me how I can resolve the age-old issue of Pakistan’s frailty in the batting department, then I will simply point you to what Imran Khan has said and continues to repeat today. The quality of our domestic cricket needs drastic improvement if we are to produce batsmen who can challenge teams at the international level. I have looked deep and hard into our domestic performers and to be frank, I do not see anyone who will set international cricket on fire with his batting skills. I, like many others, had great hopes for Sohaib Maqsood but he is batting like a tail-ender! I really do not see a Pakistan batsman in the current set-up who could become a superstar with some embellishment in the future.
Surviving in today’s “power hitting” world
Let me also add that I hear a lot about the stress on fitness for this team. This aspect is crucial if we are to embrace the much touted “power hitting” culture that other teams are adopting and improving upon every day. We have an army of trainers and sundry staff who are and should be dedicated to this aspect. They seem to be busy with the team but the results seem to point to the contrary.
Mohammad Amir’s form is heartening
I watched him in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and was impressed by his form there but he seemed to hit some issues in the T20I games against New Zealand, although he wasn’t all bad. He seemed to improve a lot in the ODI game. I am hoping that he will soon start to get seam and swing back to his bowling which will be a tremendous advantage to Pakistan in the days to come.
How will Pakistan fare in the World T20?
It wouldn’t be wrong to rubbish any expectations of a Pakistan victory in the upcoming World T20 based upon the outcome of the series against New Zealand. But remember this, the sub-continent and especially India is no longer a place of mystery. We have foreign players playing in India in the IPL all the time so the mystery factor is no more. What that means is that the tournament is now open for all teams to win and no specific team can claim an advantage. Pakistan will also be in the mix and how their players rise to the occasion is to be seen but I am hoping that Mohammad Irfan who was overlooked for the T20I games against New Zealand will be back in the line-up and should make a difference for Pakistan. I am also heartened by Mohammad Amir’s recent performances and then we have lot of variation in bowling supplied by the likes of Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik which could prove vital for our chances in the World Twenty20 in India.