• 20 Jan - 26 Jan, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

Misbah and Younis were not part of the ODI team for some time before they retired from Tests last year. The ODI team was being run by someone modelled around them nevertheless; that was Azhar Ali. That had taken them to the pits. And such was the difference between the No. 8 position and No. 9 that Pakistan were at the very precipice of not playing the Champions Trophy.

That they did and created history by being the lowest ranked side to win the title which pummelled them up the ladder thanks to some intuitive selection – Hasan Ali, Rumman Raees and Fakhar Ahmed – and inspirational leadership by Sarfraz Ahmed.

But New Zealand? Well that was always going to be another cup of tea for not just Sarfraz’s Pakistan, as it has been for the top ranked sides over the years. The best of batsmen from these sides have struggled against the wind and the seaming ball. On top of that, ever since Brendon McCullum took over the Kiwi captaincy there has been a complete transformation in not just their attitude but also their cricketing skills.

As such let us not get despondent from the performances of the Pakistan side, especially at Dunedin where a gettable score was a mountain too far. I put it down to the New Zealand effect.

However, it is time we realised we need some boldness in our batting approach. And for that we need to get rid of Grant Flower as batting coach. He was a fine batsman of his time but in those days reaching 270 meant a job well done, and almost certain victory batting first.

Today touching 300 makes you nervous going out to defend it. We need someone who works as much on the mental strength of the batsman, tells them what to expect, unravels the bowling plan and calls the shots on which batsman is fit to bat in terms of technique par the course; that depends on not just pitch but also the weather for the day.

That also does not mean that we chop and change every other game. But for a seaming pitch you need someone with good footwork and hand-eye coordination. For bouncier tracks you need someone who is good off the back foot. He must have a say on who opens keeping in mind the powerplay.

The Sheheryarian philosophy of picking those in the team who can pass for a gentleman, and his stated approach of sending that man up who can hold the bowlers at bay at one end is a thing of the past.

The batting coach that should have some say in the batting order along with the Head Coach and the final call should be made by the captain. I cannot understand what the logic was behind selection of Azhar Ali (12 runs in 3 innings). What he does in the final game if he plays will be irrelevant in his selectorial defense.

At least Azhar is off the charts now when it comes to T20 selection, but nevertheless he was one of the pieces who didn’t fit in the ODI strategy. Thankfully the selectors didn’t go the full stretch of including him in the T20 squad. But I just wonder if bringing in Ahmed Shehzad is the answer. He seems to have lost a lot of the flair with which he entered the Pakistani cricket team a few years back. He struggles to time the ball on helpful batting pitches and in New Zealand the sideways movement and the extra lift could put him into all sorts of problems.

Similarly, Umar Amin may have piled up some runs against an ordinary bowling attack in the domestic circuit but clearly he is not someone who lasts very long in international games. He may have been selected because Imad Wasim is still nursing his knee back home, but with Haris Sohail in the team, that would have been good enough for the vice-captain.

Perhaps Umar being a medium pacer who could get help from the pitches there could have been the reason. But in that case why has Hafeez been retained instead of a more hard hitting batsman like Asif Ali, who scored 178 runs at an average of above 36 and strike rate of 160 in the National T20 Cup this season? Hafeez’s last minute hitting in the 4th ODI comes rarely and even then the score did not cross 270.

Also, I would have retained Imam-ul-Haq and sent back Shoaib Malik. It’s about time we started easing out these boring seniors who shine occasionally, and throw the younger lot into the fire. They will burn initially but give them time and they will be far more effective than the exposed seniors.

I also insist again that at least in T20 Sarfraz should open himself and play the extra all-rounder. His half century at Hamilton is proof his form is back. As such his pairing with Fakhar or Shehzad (were Fakhar to fail in the first two games or is injured) will allow for Babar and Hafeez (included by me here as I know they will play him otherwise I wouldn’t pick him now that he can’t bowl which was his primary asset). Next comes Malik (far past his prime and little effective on the rare occasion he bowls and another man I wouldn’t play). In their places I would have played Imam but now that he isn’t in the squad would play Nawaz and send in Shadab at No. 6.

The reason of sending in two players who normally all bat No. 7 and down is to give them more responsibility. Young men develop that way. I would play them in all three games in that position just to test their mental strength.

Imagine then having Faheem Ashraf – it was ridiculous sending him up to open in an ODI (at Hamilton) – Aamer Yameen, Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir coming in, all of whom can belt it a bit and Pakistan bat right down to No. 10.

That would also allow plenty of bowling options for Sarfraz so that no batsman really settles down against a bowler. Amir and Rumman can open followed by anyone from Hasan, Faheem, Yameen, Shadab and Nawaz. That’s seven options in bowling. And if Sarfraz wants a left-arm spinner then Haris Sohail can take the place of any bowler and also add to the strength in batting.

Pakistan may have lost the ODI series but having been the top ranked team last year in T20, I feel there is hope. Not a strong word to start the series but at this point in time, it’s the most applicable. •