• 03 Feb - 09 Feb, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

What was becoming a forgettable tour for Pakistan suddenly turned on its head and Pakistan have left the shores of New Zealand with their heads held high. So why am I not surprised? Well because that’s the way it has been in New Zealand most of the time as most teams struggle a bit to acclimatise to the conditions.

If you consider that in the ODIs, other than the captain Sarfraz and the occasional run scorers like Azhar, Hafeez and Malik, the batting line up comprising of Fakhar, Imam and the all-rounders Umar Amin, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Aamer Yameen, Mohammad Nawaz were playing there for the first time;Babar Azam and Haris Sohail had toured only once previously.

In bowling Rumman Raees and the bowling all-rounders listed above were still finding their feet in the albeit helpful bowling conditions. However, as even Waqar and Wasim will tell you, it takes time to adjust to even a greenish pitch if you’re playing in the conditions for the first time and have no more than two years regular international experience behind you.

And don’t forget the fact that in the ODIs Pakistan were in a winning position in two of them. Some bad luck and poor end bowling and batting led them into a whitewash.

But yes, by the time the first T20 came about they should have been ready. Well, there I would think they messed up by not playing the specialist opener Ahmed Shahzad and sending in Faheem Ashraf to open! Naturally such a move showed they were still experimenting and when you play players out of position in the very opening game of the series, you are signalling to the opposition that we don’t know how to beat you. That always spurs up the bowlers and in your own dressing room the players are nervous, not knowing clearly where they might bat. That resulted in Pakistan on the brink of being bowled out for under 50 and it took bold hitting by Hasan Ali (3 sixes in a 12 ball cameo) to take the fight back to the hosts. But 105 was never defendable.

Once again those who had to eat humble pie after 2015 when Sarfraz Ahmed shut them up with some brilliant batting and inspiring captaincy were shouting hoarse again and questioning his ability and leadership skills. And once again Sarfraz shut them up with a winning finish that had a lot to do with his run scoring and tactical manoeuvres in the field.

His tiff with Hasan may have been overblown but what is important is that when he wasn’t played in the third and final ODI, a crucial one considering it was a series decider, Pakistan still won with relative comfort defending a total of some 20 runs less than in the second ODI where Hasan played and bowled well. That clearly shows Pakistan have developed bench strength as Aamer Yameen took his role and bowled with maturity and cunningness to match Hasan Ali’s 1-27 in 4 overs with 1-25 in 4 overs. On top of that Yameen opened the bowling and therefore bowled during normally the most dangerous period for the bowlers.

If Hasan was indeed disciplined for his shunning of captain’s talk on the field he should be a bit alarmed. This is how he started, and if he pulls any more mischief Yameen could take his place.

In fact Yameen was one of the more sparkling performers of the T20 series. It is poignant to note that Sarfraz led his team to a 2-1 triumph against the No.1 ranked T20 team in the world playing at home, without his senior players like Azhar, Malik and Hafeez. And in the third game without the No.1 ODI bowler in the world, Hasan Ali.

That he was also without the options of Junaid Khan and Usman Khan Shinwari showed just how skilfully he used his bowling attack. And also how the rookie bowlers have matured to have done this against one of the stronger batting sides playing at home.

Among those who deserve special mention is Shadab Khan. Either because of his stint in the Big Bash or because of his own temperament he has improved tremendously. Or may I say, it has further improved. His series gathering of 5 wickets for 74 in his 12 overs with a strike rate of 14.4, and average of 14.8 was noteworthy, and best of all he got the breakthrough when Pakistan needed it the most.

Same is the case of Rumman Raees and Faheem Ashraf. They took 4-92 and 4-85 respectively but with higher averages. In fact the lowest wicket taker was Hasan Ali, who took only one wicket and that too for 55.

On the batting front, the most pleasing sight was the return to form of Ahmed Shahzad. After quite some time he scored not just runs but scored them briskly. His timing was almost always good and when he played aggressively, he played with confidence. It was a sight for sore eyes as he obviously has talent that he has wasted along the way.It put to ridicule the decision not to play him in the opening game. Had Pakistan done so the form he displayed in his comeback game at Auckland could have worked at Wellington too where Pakistan crashed to 38-6 in that game where Umar Amin was sent to open and returned with a duck.

Pakistan won the next two games because the top 3 were in the midst of runs clearly substantiating the philosophy that if your top 3 score and score at a fast pace, then there is every chance you’ll win the game. When you see the T20 averages, the top 3 in the batting order (Fakhar, Shahzad, Babar) were the top 3 in the averages. In the ODIs which we lost 0-5, the top 3 (Azhar, Babar, Imam ul Haq) brought up the bottom. Among the top order only Fakhar finished in the top in both the formats.

Along with Haris Sohail he was the man who performed in both formats, though I couldn’t understand why Haris Sohail wasn’t bowled more on the tour.

Returning now as the No.1 side in the world in T20s, and with an overseas series win against the team that held that No.1 title before the series, Sarfraz may well be given more flexibility to pick his men. Do I see the exits of Malik and Hafeez from the T20 side at least? Especially as the former hardly bowls and the latter cannot. Hopefully also dump Umar Amin permanently.

The Pakistani selectors should take note that if Pakistan can win a series against a top team on their own surfaces, then Sarfraz has to be trusted. Give him the team and players he wants and Pakistan could reign as No. 1 throughout the year. •