Pakistan has been going through a lean period in its cricket life. Other than a brief euphoria of reaching the 20/20 final, overall the team’s performance has been nothing but wanting. Our ranking on World cricket has begun to fall again and this time quite steeply. We are now ranked among the worst three cricket teams in the world. And our ability to lose matches at crunch time is also becoming a nasty habit.
This is all a far cry from a year ago, when Pakistan was among the top 3 teams in the world. But it seems, like Pakistan’s political turmoil, the cricket team is going through one of its own. Ever since the summer of 2006, and with the end of a disastrous English tour, Pakistan cricket is constantly on a slide downwards. The management at the helm of Pakistan cricket has changed, including the coach and the captain of the team. Yet, nothing that has been done is yet to produce the desired results.
Here are a few factors that we deem need more attention that is so far been given.
For as long as one day cricket has been around, Pakistan has played with some of the best all rounders the world has ever known. With hard hitters who bowled magnificently as well, including Intikhab Alam, Asif Iqbal, Mushtaq Mohammad, Imran Khan, Salim Yousuf, Wasim Akram, Asif Iqbal, Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi. At any given match, there would be atleast two or three such all rounders representing Pakistan. Today, sadly this custom and culture of our cricket is all but gone. Other than Shahid Afridi, who seems to have lost his batting ability, we have no great all rounder in our team. Even though Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood are available and so are some other wonderful youngsters willing to break into the team, but none so far have been selected to represent Pakistan. This has created one of the most acute problems for Pakistan.
No reserve bowlers
When the front line bowlers are hammered all over the park, there are no all rounders out there to take their place. Imran had so many all rounders in his team, that he would only play with four main bowlers and let the fifth be shared among part timers including all rounders. Today, if Shahid Afridi or Umar Gul are hammered into oblivion, the captain has no choice but to continue to give them the ball. He has no reserves.
Pakistan today plays with probably the longest tail in one day cricket. Apart from the front line five batsmen, and one occasional all rounder (afridi as far as batting is concerned), the rest have no idea what to do when they are batting. With Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar, Mohammad Asif, and Sohail Tanvir. Essentially, when Pakistan loses six wickets, chances are there will be no one that can score a big innings. In fact, this has been proven by numerous fantastical collapses that Pakistan has suffered against South Africa in the recent past. What is required is that atleast two of these bowlers be replaced by all rounders. Hence, Rao, Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir have be replaced by bowlers who can bat or batsmen who can bowl. Sort of the same class like Azhar Mahmood and Abdul Razzaq. This will once again guarantee that Pakistan can way down upto the last wicket. Hence, our chances of winning in crunch situations will improve dramatically.
A lot has been written about this and a lot still needs to said. Almost every match has shown a new combination with disastrous results. At times, one opener has clicked and at others, someone else. However, there has hardly been a situation where both openers have clicked together. The best opening partnership has not reached 50 in any of the recent matches played this season. One cannot expect to win matches and tournaments, when the openers are weak and classless. Salman Butt, Imran Nazir are probably the only two openers in the current crop who have shown any promise. Other than that, none of the others have the ability to last longer than a few deliveries. Yet, the two have hardly played together. In fact, in the current one day series, due to the longish tail, Pakistan is forced to play with only one specialist opener (Salman Butt) and the other slot is taken over by a late middle order batsmen. They have tried, Kamran Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik. None of them being able to carve out a place for himself. What is required is a series where the openers like Imran Nazir and Salman Butt be allowed to bat through the whole series and let them find their own mojo. They are both capable of doing that and should be given an opportunity. Not just in one day cricket, but also in the long version of the game.
When Pakistan cricket has thrived in the past, it is always when our openers were in the groove and scoring heavily. In the 1970s, it were Sadiq Mohammad and Majid Khan causing havoc. In the 1980s it was Ramiz Raja with sleuth of openers scoring heavily. In fact, he was one of the leading scorers during our 1992 World Cup victory. Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail in the 1990s. Their fast paced opening stands were a legendary and they created more opportunities for Pakistan to win matches than any other players.
Pakistan also possessed some of the game’s hardest hitters in the late order. What with Imran Khan, Inzimam ul Haq, Manzoor Elahi (in the late 1980s), Wasim Akram, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, to name a few. These hard hitters are the cornerstone of any Pakistani victory in the late overs. However, today, we rely too much on Afridi and he somehow is misfiring in every innings. If he is gone, there is no one out there who could take the challenge back to the bowlers. In other words, our cause is lost in the tense moments of the game. This is not just essential, but has defined our cricket from early days of one day cricket.
If Pakistan is to get back among the top two teams in the one day cricket, then they need think deeply and choose a combination that has won them matches in the decades past. Good openers, hard hitters, all rounders has always defined Pakistan cricket and will always be our culture. Abandoning it will not win us any laurels the world over.