World T20 2016: Pakistan’s batting woes

Pakistan’s cricket team has been on a rotten run in the limited overs format. Yes the PSL was a good reprieve in between and certainly did warm the heart to see something Pakistan with the potential of becoming big in the years to come however fact is fact. In the ODI and T20 format our team has simply been awful. The results are there for all to see. And with the World T20 main round just around the corner and on the back of an extremely disastrous Asia Cup, a major overhaul is the only thing that seems to be the cure.

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From the batting to the captaincy to the management and coaching and maybe a tweak or two in bowling – a major overhaul is required. There are no two ways about it. Our batsmen made a hash of things in the Asia Cup and even before that against the Kiwis. They have repeatedly shown that this batting lineup lacks any solidity, character or consistency. The biggest culprits have been the openers and the middle order. Pakistan’s opening problem is quite old. Not since the days of Saeed Anwar have we found a single, consistent and world class opening batsman. And not since his partnership with Aamir Sohail have we found a consistent pair at the top of the order. There have been numerous openers and numerous pairing options with not a single consistent and world class pair or player emerging. The middle order has taken hits since the decline of Younis Khan in the shorter format of the game and afterwards the retirement of Misbah. Prior to that the departures of Inzimam and Yousuf did the same but we had Misbah and Younis. Now we don’t. Azhar is not a Misbah. There is no Inzi in sight to bank on for even 7 out 10 times. Simply put – batting has been our biggest area of churning out losses and bad performances. Even with a strong and completely fit line up our bowling has not been able to do anything about inept and schoolboy batting displays. The most recent example being the Asia Cup match against India in which we were shot out for 83. Our bowlers tried but just didn’t have a realistic enough target to defend. Senior players like Umar Akmal and Hafeez have to take more responsibility. They have to be more consistent and deliver. Sarfaraz also has to ensure that he continues to be a responsible player with the bat more often than not. He has done that somewhat in the past and will have to up it in the tournament.

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Captaincy is another issue. While Afridi has served Pakistan for a long time and has definitely provided in the past, it just keeps looking like he is running out of steam. Batting has never really been something that I have ever put Afridi on onus for but even his bowling is in decline. And with leadership comes responsibility. You need to inspire somehow on the field through bowling, batting or fielding the rest of the team. To galvanize them. To get them out of the slumber. However that really has been missing. Nor has there been a sacrificing rescue act to stabilize the ship. Something that was often the feature of Misbah’s captaincy and for which he was often given the stick by people left, right and center. I would again ask them – what else could he have done. And had he not done that the shambles that are the batting right now would have been the shambles then as well. Afridi’s captaincy of late has been neither inspiring nor the self-sacrificing for stability nor the leading from the front sort. His captaincy has neither been Misbah nor has it been anywhere near the heights he reached as captain in the 2011 world cup. We badly need that inspiration or leading from the front. And we need it now to have any sort of respectability at the World T20.

Including a batting coach now may very well be having left it too late. And not just any batting coach but an established, respected and accomplished figure. But it may just bring a little bit of semblance in the approach that our batsmen use. Khurram Manzoor was always going to be a disaster and recalling Ahmed Shehzad to the squad was all but inevitable. Even if it doesn’t really guarantee immediate success or consistency, it will at least add some experience. How far is that experience used by Ahmed Shehzad with the bat rather than social media is left to be seen.

The bowling department, yet again seems to be our only ray of hope. With the return of Amir to the team the attack has gotten a spearhead for attack even thou I was opposed to him returning on principle. I still maintain it but this is more of a practical assessment of the team more than anything else. And technically his inclusion is after due process of being banned and having served his time. Coming back to the assessment, with Amir the spearhead and having Irfan and Wahab Riaz in support our bowling will have the required bite. I would definitely keep Wahab Riaz ahead of Sami because he can give that required intensity more than Sami and can contribute a little with the bat as well. Irfan will remain an asset with his height. Spin is something that we are hurting in no longer having someone like Saeed Ajmal in the side nor Yasir Shah for that matter. Afridi as mentioned earlier is no longer the bowler he used to be. Hafeez cannot bowl due to his action being termed as illegal. Shoaib Malik can be useful, but that’s about it, he can just be useful.

Keeping all of the above in mind and given that our group has India, New Zealand, Australia and one qualifier from the initial rounds (most likely Bangladesh) it will be nothing short of a miracle if we qualify from the group. Australia are perhaps the only team we can be more confident of beating given their T20 side is not that good. India has a curse on us in tournaments and will most likely be victors against us especially in front of their home crowd. The Kiwis are a strong unit. Bangladesh (if they qualify) are going to use their recent victory against us in the Asia Cup as an inspiration to repeat that victory and can achieve that.

So as usual prayers for team Pakistan but doesn’t seem like it is going to be a very good cup for us. Sad to see Afridi sign off from international cricket in what looks more and more likely to be the above scenario. He has been a great asset for the team in the past and has had an interesting, part glorious part chaotic career in the green shirt and one would have hoped for him to depart on a high.

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World T20, 2012

So as we approach the final match of the group stages of the 4th edition of the World T20 tournament I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the matches so far. Yes there have been big scores and yes there have been outstanding individual performances. But the drama and suspense and the nail biting factor has been missing.

Part of it is because the ICC has in all it’s wisdom structured the tournament in such a way that everybody knows who they will play after the group stages. The teams were seeded before the tournament and based on that seeding they knew exactly who they will play. Also the scheduling had the heavyweights playing each other in most cases after having played the minnows or rather the ‘associate’ nations. That kind of took the impetus for half the teams out of their second group matches. The Sri Lanka vs South Africa game was pointless in terms of progression. So was India vs England. Had those been played earlier then the losing side’s match against the lower ranked side would have been more fun and could have been edgy. And the heavy weights own game itself would have been fantastic to watch.

The other downside has been the weather. It hasn’t been well accounted for in terms of the scheduling. This is monsoon season in Sri Lanka. The Australia West Indies match which could have potentially been a cracker (thou Australia were cruising at the time the rain stopped play) was settled by duck worth lewis. Sri Lanka and South Africa even thou pointless was turned into a 7 overs a side match. And today, the first straight shooter of the tournament so far between WI and Ireland was washed out after 1 innings of play (that too 19 overs). So that has also been a dampner and threatens to be the same as the tournament progresses. Doesn’t make for a happy fan.

Lastly on the group stages I think the 3 teams a group format is just not fun. And I have never been a fan of the second stage being a super 8 or a 6. One of the key factors of the 2011 world cup being wonderfully exciting was the simple knock out format after the group stages. This tournament should also have been 2 groups with quarter finals, semis and final to follow. Would have been more exciting.

Anyway moving on to the super 8 stage. Assuming Pakistan will not be on the bad side of their unpredictability tomorrow against Bangladesh we will have the following two groups

Group A: NZ, SL, WI and Eng
Group B: Pak, Ind, Aus and SA

Suffice to say the second one is the tougher group. But starting with the first group. England’s performance with bat hasn’t been confident against good sides on these pitches. They scored really low totals against Pakistan in the warm up game and yesterday against India. The fireworks only came against an inexperienced but determined Afghanistan side. Their attack hasn’t been bad but hasn’t been exceptional either. I doubt the current world champions will progress beyond the super 8 stage. Broad and company will not be enjoying the next 10 days.

West Indies, its hard to say what they will be like. Their batting did a brilliant job dismantling the Australian attack. However the same fate was being suffered by them when the Aussies were cruising with a 100 in 10/11 overs. Then Ireland posted 129 in 19 today which wasn’t bad and could have been defended in a do or die match before the rain played it’s part. So no, the West Indies do not inspire confidence in being a sure shot qualifier for the next round. Besides the huge total was partly due to the Gayle factor. A factor which comes and goes as it pleases without any trend or consistency. That makes it harder to call.

The Kiwis have a fairly good side. I think they haven’t been seen as a team to go all the way for this tournament but in Southee, Vettori, Mc Cullum and Taylor they hold good chances of doing very well. They are for the me the dark horses this time around and wouldn’t be surprised if they are in the final. They almost took the match against undeniably brilliant Pakistani attack (possessing the top 3 wicket takers in international T20s). Well that’s until Ajmal decided enough is enough and put an end to it!

Finally the hosts. Sri Lanka have a very good team. They have the home crowd and ground advantage. They have the flair of Sangakarra, the wizardry of Mendis and the menace of Malinga. They will be a tough side to beat. 7 overs a side matches notwithstanding they have a good chance of being crowned champions.

Coming now to the tougher lot.

Australia regardless of their ICC rankings in the shortest format are as always a formidable side. They have taken their time to take this format seriously and focus on it but now they have. They were the runners up in the last tournament losing out to England and this time around they will be fired up to add the T20 world title to their impressive trophy case. They will most certainly be determined to ensure that they are not tagged as a non-t20 side from now on. Individually they have been great t20 performers in the past especially thanks to the IPLs of the this world. But as a team they have not really shown the same formidable nature as the other two formats in this one. Something they have been working on changing and have to quite an extent. With Warner and Watson making up a explosive opening duo they can very well smash their way to the end.

Solid batting line up. An extremely in form Kohli. A remarkable return of Yuvraj. And the cool head of Dhoni. Will that be enough for the former champions to go all the way? Seems doubtful. Their weakness is their bowling. The spin department is still somewhat ok and actually good if bhaji can continue being the same as he was against the english yesterday along with Ashwin and Chawla. Their pace attack is not up to the mark. It can quite easily get smashed around the ground. India’s bowling failed to defend 180+ in the warm up against Pakistan. And they almost at various points let Afghanistan cause an upset. They performed well against England but that was also because England performed woefully. And their batting isn’t as ‘formidable’ and ‘dominating’ as people are used to it being. It is solid without a doubt but for some reason looks like it can be restricted if not bowled out. Afghanistan managed to restrict them to 159. With their batting depth, that total should have had at least 30-35 more runs. I doubt if India can make it past the semis even if they progress from a very tough Super 8 stage.

South Africa has the best and most balanced squad. They haven’t seemed to break a sweat so far. They seem efficient and clinical in their performances. A solid opening pair, good middle order and menacing attack you would be a fool not to pick them as the hot favorites to lift the cup. However you would also be a fool to not take into account that this is the case with South Africa in almost every ICC tournament. They are always clinical and efficient and almost dominating and well balanced and all that hooplah. That is until they reach a knock out match. That’s when they inexplicably almost always choke.

 

They are the most famous chokers across the board in comparison to any other team in any sport. The Proteas have a painful history with this. Apart from the 92 world cup (that one dealing them an unfair and unlucky hand with the rain and D/L) each successive world cup they have simply choked on the big stage. At the knock out stage. In 1996 it was against the West Indies. In 1999 it was in the semis against Australia.  2003 their management got the D/L calculation wrong and they didn’t play it out as they should have resulting an exit from the group stage in a do or die against SL. And then in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 (with the T20 world cups starting in 2007 there has been a choke a year for them for the last 4 years). So if you are a proteas fan then you know they have every right to win the damn thing if they can just get past their mental block.

And finally, last but not least the men in green. Pakistan are what they always are in every match, tournament, tour or series. Unpredictable. Therein lies their greatest strength as well as their worst failure. Hafeez & company have since the t20 series against the Aussies in UAE been showing that they have an excellent squad and without a doubt one of the more dangerous and balanced attacks in the format right now. Actually same applies for the ODI and to an extent test formats as well. But focusing on T20s. The batting has also been strengthened by in form Jamshed putting in regular solid performances along with captain Hafeez at the start of the innings or rather 1 down in Jamshed’s case. With these 2 in the top 3 spots of our batting line up chances of a good base being set for the rest are high. There on you just need 1 or 2 more players to click and a good total is almost guaranteed. Something that has happened with some frequency in the last couple of months. Ajmal, Afridi, Gul and Hafeez will be deadly with the ball and can dismantle any side with ease on their day.

The problem is you can’t ever know whether it is their day or not. In either department! The everlasting heartache of a Pakistani cricket fan.. that they are mercurial. So the next 10 days as a Pakistani you would hope that the excellent Pakistan keeps showing up and not the flat one. On their day… Pakistan can literally dismantle and take the game away from anyone. And not on their day they can fail to chase down a target of 112. So you can’t really predict anything for these guys.

We can but continue to cheer for Pakistan and hope that we are crowned champions at the end!

My honest predictions:

The final would be from the following three : SL , Aus and Pak.

A cousin mine says that the trophy will be lifted by the winner of the Pak vs India game. If history is anything to go by in the head to heads between these two at ICC tournaments then I hope he is wrong!

Your thoughts/predictions ?