• 11 Nov - 17 Nov, 2017
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

As they did the ODI series, Pakistan have swept the T20 series against Sri Lanka as well. It was of course expected with five top Sri Lankans, who failed to stop Pakistan from pulverising them in the ODI series, opted out of playing the final game at Lahore for fears of their security. That meant they wouldn’t be considered for the rubber at all as per Sri Lankan Board’s directive: either you agree to travel to Lahore or you don’t play at all.

Pakistan have reached the top of the T20 rankings but at the time of writing, their position is not confirmed to last for long. If New Zealand have won the third and final T20 against India, then they will have regained the top spot. You, as a reader would know this by now.

Whether they retain the No.1 position or not, the jury is out whether Pakistan should rejoice at this success as it came with a weakened Sri Lankan team and in the second game they were given a run for their small target of 120. Pakistan eventually crossed the line with a ball to spare and only two wickets in hand when Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali scampered two runs to see Pakistan home after they needed 11 runs off the last 4 balls. A ball earlier Shadab had struck a straight six to set up the final push for victory.

It was, of course, a roaring finale at Lahore, not just to the series but to a Pakistan win that was the icing on the cake that celebrated a proper international match in Pakistan following Zimbabwe a couple of years earlier.

So what have Pakistan taken away from the T20 series? Well, first that the batting is still fragile. At the top there is still uncertainty as to the opening pair. As someone said, ‘every time Ahmed Shehzad fails his replacement succeeds’. In the ODI series, it was Imam-ul-Haq who got a ton on debut and finished with some 150 runs in the three games he played.

After Shehzad failed to get going in the first two T20s, Umar Amin got a near half century when he normally doesn’t open. It was of course unfair to many other aspirants who were genuine openers that Umar had even got selected. I had written on these pages before the T20 series that Umar “averages 12.66 with the bat in 6 T20I 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.”

For him to get an opportunity against a weak bowling attack to make his mark is absolutely discriminating after he has consistently failed when given opportunities at the international level and it is time to move on. After all they thought the same for Fawad Alam didn’t they? But when it comes to the players from the ’preferred’ regions there’s always hope and chance when the opposition is weak and the pitch is favourable.

In fact, now we hear that Fawad Alam has been invited for a fitness test. Are we to see him go down like Umar Akmal did? This fitness test, it seems, has become something of an excuse for the players Mickey Arthur or his bosses don’t want. Even if Fawad gets selected either for the West Indies series or for the tour of New Zealand, he will be up to play the limited format. He is actually made for the longer version where he was overlooked when it came to the two Tests against Sri Lanka.

Coming back to the T20 series, who really were the successes? I wouldn’t give much credit to Shoaib Malik (even though he got only one 50), as given his experience he was playing against rookies really. This leads one to wonder where the next set of runs will come from when he is playing a stronger bowling line up. I worry because there was no half-century by any other Pakistani batsmen. Other than Umar Amin’s 45, no one even came close as the next highest score by those who played more than two innings was Babar Azam’s 34 and Fakhar Zaman’s 31. It was the bowling of course that got Pakistan through. Accolades for Faheem Ashraf for his hat-trick – the first for Pakistan in T20Is – that helped him finish with 6 wickets and top of bowling averages. Hasan also got 6 wickets in his 3 attempts, and Amir 4 in the one T20 he played. Of course, Pakistan’s spin quartet hunts as a wolf pack, and therefore, the wickets are spread out so there’s this one star with 3 or 4. That shouldn’t take away the support that each gave when the other was on fire.

Sad then that Shinwari, who bowled that brilliant spell in the ODI game where he got 5-34 in only his second ODI, has gone out of the game for anything between 3-6 months with a stress fracture of his back. I recall that fiery young pacer, Mohammad Zahid, who suffered something similar in the 1990s after bring considered the fastest bowler at the time by no one other than Brian Lara. The West Indian genius faced four balls from him, was beaten for sheer pace by the first three and caught behind off the fourth. Zahid took 11 on his Test debut against New Zealand in 1996 finishing with 7 for 66 in the second innings. He remains the only Pakistani to have taken 10 wickets or more on his debut.

It’s been a super run for skipper Sarfraz Ahmed nevertheless; a whitewash against West Indies last year in the UAE, then a 3-1 win against them on their home ground and now another whitewash against Sri Lanka.

He now faces the Calypsos again at the end of November, this time at home. He has a great chance of another 3-0 triumph, especially as West Indies may just hold back a couple of players as they need to play a three-day game in New Zealand on November 25 and the first Test from December 1. A few West Indian players play both Tests and T20s and they will have to give preference to the only warm-up match in New Zealand before the first Test on December 1. The question will remain, of course, whether Pakistani selectors opt to try out new blood in this home series or continue giving chances to some old hands to up their averages against weaker sides. There are still good players out there, especially batsmen, with little or no connections who deserve an equal break. And they should be given that in the West Indian series, and not on the tough tour of New Zealand in January. •