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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Pakistan’s South African Blushes

We have lost the test series already. The last one should have been for pride. To consolidate. However as the stumps were called on the 2nd day of the Centurion test, Pakistan lost 11 wickets, are playing after follow on was enforced and have started their second innings in roughly the same manner they finished their first. We trail the Proteas by over 200 runs and have already lost an opener in the 2nd innings. Should we press the panic button, call for the downfall of Misbah and blame everything on the brothers Akmal? I don’t think so.

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For one things the Akmals aren’t even part of the squad in SA so the management really hacked it’s own feet in terms of coming up with or having a ready made excuse in front of them for the disaster. Downfall of Misbah? As an individual player… maybe … as a captain … only to the point where he is batting himself and should be leading by example …. but that takes it back to his own individual performance as a player. But as a captain on the field… well I think as a captain on the field he hasn’t done too badly.

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Yes there is plenty of room for criticism in terms of perhaps taking the foot of the pedal when it was required to finish of innings in the last match and what not. But the captain is not really in any position to be blamed when the team goes out to bat. The captain doesn’t have the liberty of being on the field constantly to talk to the batsmen on the pitch. So the batsmen have to be held responsible themselves for extremely poor technique and lack of ability to negotiate the bounce and movement of the new ball on these pitches. Some part of that blame can be given to the management in terms of not planning the tour well enough to give team more preparation time in SA before the start of the official tour. One 4 day game before the first test is not good enough when you haven’t played a test in SA in the last 5 – 6 years. Nor is it a good idea when you are going up against the number 1 test side on their own home turf. Also I think they really needed to go with a wicket keeper who can bat. Sarfaraz Ahmed isn’t an exceptional keeper and his batting prowess is absolutely horrible. There is no technique whatsoever. In the 2nd test the manner in which he got bowled by Peterson is evidence to this.

Panic Button need not be hit.. but certainly a call to action to examine all that has gone wrong and why. The third test as things stand seems to be in the South African’s hands so that’s that really for the test part of our long tour of SA. There are the ODIs and T20s to follow. Which brings us to the recall of Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi to the ODI team. Why? Is it a panic response to the poor showing in the tests? If so how is it going to be helpful to recall Afridi? He has been extremely out of form for over a year now and well hasn’t really done anything on the domestic or even friendly matches front to merit a recall. Feels more like a last chance saloon situation for him. I have been a hardcore Afridi Fan for the last 6-7 years and I think the man deserves a lot of respect for all that he has achieved in his cricket career for Pakistan.

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However the time has come for him to call it quits… at least in the ODIs. T20s maybe he can evaluate after the SA series. But even in that department I feel now is the time from when we need to start building for the next world cup and I don’t see Afridi being around till then. Not because of age or fitness… but I genuinely feel his talent pool is in a decline and he will be done within this year. So why not give the future players a chance to start showing what they are capable of. Let them prove themselves for regular selection and then allow the team balance to get settled in and gel over the next 3-4 years till the time of the T20 world cup.

I was hoping that the test encounters will be much more intense and daunting, you know in the way that great test battles can be. That it will be a match up between a scientific, efficient approach (SA) versus the instinctive, raw talent approach (PAK). The scientists handed us our asses, the batsmen anyway. Graeme Smith and his men have performed to show a gulf of difference and a continued summer of success. 

Oh well … here’s to hoping for redemption in the shorter formats!