The Iftar-party conversations are of Pakistan’s batting being starved of vigour and craving inspiration.
Some thought the magic wand that would replace Shoaib Malik, Imran Farhat and Kamran Akmal after the Champions Trophy stood at solving all the issues. However, Pakistan’s faltering run-chase in the second One-Day International – where the team failed to reach the magic 200-run mark for the fourth time in five matches – aptly illustrated the faltering and alien strategy that the team management has forced down the players’ throats. A change of personnel merely wasn’t enough.
Just like in England, Pakistan’s loss in the West Indies was not poor just because the batsmen failed to score. It was the manner of failure. Chasing has never brought out the best from the Pakistanis but even batting first, the aggression and the intent to impose themselves on proceedings, on the opposition bowlers, just wasn’t there.
In last 42 ODIs batting first, Pakistan managed a 270-plus score just eight times and managed to reach 300 just three times – it even failed to reach 200 seven times in that period. That surely can’t be down to lack of skill but instead, the approach – the defensive mindset perhaps. On display in Guyana were two attacking batsmen – Ahmed Shehzad and Nasir Jamshed – defending unnecessarily, often resulting in hesitant prodding and close shaves, unlike their true selves and ability that got them to where they were. There were no shots on offer and a complete refusal to take singles either – a trend in recent times.
Pakistan’s run-chases have always been similar to Karachi’s monsoon – a huge mess lies in wait and all preparations fall flat in the act. Every time Misbah ul Haq opts to field first – to check if his batsmen have learnt a lesson or to teach them one – the problem, often, presents itself in a larger, bolder and brighter font. But to confine the young attacking openers to dead-batting all that is thrown at them, the team management might as well force Shehzad to bat left handed and for Jamshed to give up the game altogether if that is the ‘guidance’ handed out to them.
It is especially depressing to see Jamshed go down that path – of him being moulded into that ugly defensive mindset, of forcing him to survive the first 10-15 overs by playing the dullest cricket of his short career. It’s as hideous as Azhar Ali diluting his pure cricket by jumping down the track and meeting thin air. Jamshed burst onto the international scene by carting Zimbabwe bowlers to all corners – especially cow corner – in a warm-up match in Karachi. Now, he’s battling heart versus orders, often ending up in a tangle. The team management even wanted him omitted from the Twenty20 squad last year, with a view of making him ‘a complete ODI batsman’.
Up until the tour of India, Jamshed’s 22 ODIs fetched him 955 runs at an average of over 50 and a strike-rate of 89. Since the loss in Delhi, Jamshed’s 11 ODIs have seen him score just 239 runs at 21.7. Shocking has been the drop in his scoring rate which stands at just over 56. While the matches have taken place in South Africa, England and now the West Indies, dearth of stroke-play, of taking singles, curbing his natural instincts of driving, flicking and pulling instead of an over-cautious, dead-bat approach has severely hampered his ability and average.
Jamshed, from the flicked maximums over extra-cover off Nathan McCullum to being caught in the slip or at the crease - as the words of the coach and captain resonated in his head - does not look a happy man. He has been forced into shackles given Pakistan’s frailty with the bat and the tendency of falling in heaps. He has hit just three sixes in the last 12 ODIs (an average of one every four matches), having his 13 in 21 before that (avg: one six every 1.6 matches).
Jamshed did end up reaching 50 against the West Indies in Guyana and at The Oval last month but the manner in which he scratched and laboured to that landmark remained far from pleasing. Playing for the national side does force one to take up responsibility and value his wicket but the strategy and planning should be questioned when talent and skills are being banished. Going steady is perhaps the need of the day in alien conditions but persistence with that approach is not only unnatural and uncharacteristic of most Pakistani batsmen but also a plan that has failed too many times in the past.
In their opening match of the Champions Trophy, Pakistan played 52 dot balls in the compulsory Powerplay. While chasing against South Africa, the score stood at 18-2 after the first ten and in that same failed chase, Pakistan failed to score off 168 of the 270 deliveries. In the West Indies, not much had changed. Misbah has done well as a batsman with the scoring and rescue acts time and time again. He is also fast becoming one of the best fielders in the side but the one-track planning for all conditions and imposing that on youngsters like Jamshed, Shehzad and even Asad Shafiq has not helped the individuals or the team.
Old faces gave way to young blood post Champions Trophy humiliation. A new wave of effort was guaranteed and not immediate success. The change now needed is of the mindset, an improvement in how a plan is devised and implemented on the field, not just personnel.
In Pakistan, parents try and force their young ones to use their right hands to write, eat and greet (even if the kid is left-handed by birth). Sometimes it works. More often though, they give up and let nature be. With Jamshed, and others, the aggression should be allowed to grow, to follow its natural path. The hunger should be kept alive, responsibility and reliability will follow suit. After all, time, patience and persistence are great teachers.
Faras Ghani is a freelance sports journalist and author of 'Champions, again.' He tweets @farasG