• 28 Oct - 03 Nov, 2017
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

On the face of it the ‘greenwash’, and a dominating one at that, may have seemed a stunning reversal. But the fact is that Sri Lanka’s feeble resistance was expected and predicted before the tour began. The only reason they went on to ‘bluewash’ Pakistan in Tests was the blunder made by coach Mickey Arthur of not playing more than one spinner in the eleven. On dead tracks and in the heat throwing up the overworked Amir, and with two medium pacers, allowed the Sri Lankan batsmen to make hay two times out of four. That was enough for them to come on top, considering Pakistan succumbed to the three spinners Sri Lankan coach tossed at them.

Had Pakistan played even rookie spinners Bilal Asif or Mohammad Asghar, or included Imad Wasim or Shadab Khan in the selection squad for the Test series, we would have won both Tests considering how the Lankan spinners performed on the tracks, and considering how the Lankans were swept aside by most teams over the last two months, even at home. This was their third whitewash of the year in ODIs.

Of course, nothing should be taken away from the squad that trounced the islanders in the ODI series. Yes, the presence of Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Imad and Shadab tightened the screws on the visitors; after all they took 16 wickets among themselves in 103 overs at an average economy rate of 3.5 per over.

However, this time the young lot of Rumman Raees and Usman Khan Shinwari impressed with wickets (10 between them in 38 overs) along with the now reliable Hasan Ali. His 14 wickets in 43 overs bowled by him cost a meagre 11.28 each and less than four an over. He has now become the world’s No.1 bowler in ODIs and Pakistan could not be more proud of this young man whose energy is an asset for the team.

It would not be wrong, therefore, to say that Pakistan won the series because of their bowling. Of the top five bowlers in the series, four were Pakistanis, with Hasan and Shadab finishing No. 1 and 2, respectively. And if Panagamuwa Gamage took more wickets than the next in line Rumman and Usman, it was because he played four matches against Rumman’s three and Usman’s two.

And if two Sri Lankan batsmen finished in the top three in the run chart for the series, it was only because Shoaib Malik , at No. 4, batted one innings less than Tharanga’s and Thirimanne’s five outings each, and was not out in two of those four. In terms of batting averages, Pakistani batsmen took the top three positions with Babar at 101, Malik at 80.50 and Imam-ul-Haq at 73.50.

While Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik were expected to lead the batting charge, young Imam impressed out of the blue. Yes, he was clearly a nepotistic choice considering he had played no limited over games leading up to his selection and was picked because of the runs he scored in the three and four day format, he took his opportunity. His century on ODI debut was only the second ever for Pakistan after Salim Elahi; and the 13th overall in some 3900-plus ODIs over 47 years. Interestingly, he is the second youngest of the 12 from Test playing countries to have done so; the youngest being Salim Elahi who was around 19 years when he fetched one against, ironically, the Lankans in 1995. Yes, we should take our cricketers’ ages with a pinch of salt, but even then, being part of the 13 from among the hundreds who have had the opportunity is something to be proud of.

And while we celebrate the success of the debutants in the series – Usman and Imam – and the performance of the young Hasan and Babar, we really should credit Sarfraz Ahmed for having led the team with such energy and confidence. Even when he was defending a small total of 219 in the second ODI, he cleverly put on the pressure with his bowling changes and field placings. He’s been under pressure ever since losing the Test series, his first as captain. It takes a lot of self-belief to come back the way he did.

He may have gone a bit overboard in titling his bowling attack the best in the world, even though it is certainly among the best, but he had clearly got it right when he felt the batting should be better. Clearly, Hafeez and Fakhar Zaman performed under par given the conditions and the quality of bowling and Ahmed Shehzad disappointed big time, again. With Shoaib Malik signalling that his end is near when he said Pakistan should now try more youngsters, and with Hafeez’s bowling action under scrutiny again, Pakistan will need to try out fresh batting talent. Otherwise, they may not have the right mix for the 2019 World Cup.

This is especially true for the all-rounder roles. These days every ODI squad must have two versatile all-rounders and not just one. Hafeez since long has been the bowler who can also bat, but his failings with the willow have been more frequent now. And if his bowling is banned again, Pakistan loses an edge. Imad has not been scoring runs either and Malik, for all practical purposes, plays as a batsman. Shadab was always labelled a good bat, and his one half century in the series showed he can be groomed. But these are early days for reckoning him at No.6. Hasan Ali has the energy and wrist power to hit a few; same is the case with Faheem Ashraf, but then that’s all. The genuine all-rounder is missing.

The selectors have done little to address this while naming the T20 squad. In fact, they have recalled the much failed Umar Amin. He averages 12.66 with the bat in six T20 International innings, with 47 of his 76 runs coming in one knock. And no captain has had the confidence to allow him even one over in these 10 games. Even in domestic T20 cricket, he’s bowled in only 25 of the 64 games for 18 wickets at a high price. Likewise, Nawaz has been included again despite not doing much.

The third change, Aamer Yamin, is best known for taking a wicket with his first ball, which was also the first of the match, in T20 Internationals against England in 2015. Despite the dramatic entry, he is not considered good enough to play for Pakistan again in this format. In his debut ODI series, he was instrumental in partnership with Shoaib Malik to a near win in the second game. Chasing Zimbabwe's 276 for 6, Pakistan had collapsed to 76 for 6 before Aamer Yamin gave not just support to Shoaib Malik in a 111-run stand for the seventh wicket, but blasted 62 including 5 fours and 4 sixes. Strangely enough, he was never selected for another ODI after the three-match series.

Considering most of the top Sri Lankans will not be featuring in the three match T20 series, it would be prudent to rest Amir, Malik and Hafeez from these games and play youngsters like Yamin, Faheem Ashraf and Nawaz through the series. That may not be possible in the batting top five with no youngster included. I find it strange that Ahmed Shehzad has been retained and not Imam-ul-Haq who would have had a greater momentum going into the three-match series.

Perhaps, after the Test series setback, Mickey and Sarfraz want to take no chances in a format that takes only a couple of overs to run around. And with the finale in Lahore, a loss there would be deeply demoralising. •