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Mohammad Hafeez and Umar Gul take part in a fielding drill. – Photo by AFP

Over the past week or so, the mood of the Pakistani team and management has continued to improve, as the loss in the Test series has become a distant memory. Misbah had talked, as far as back the third Test, about new players coming into the side and bringing a fresh viewpoint to the existing atmosphere. The presence of senior players who’ve been through more than most (the likes of Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi) has added to the momentum gained from the win in the T20 series.

The most obvious example of this was the hard-fought win over the SA Invitation XI in Kimberley where Shahid Afridi was a constant source of encouragement and guidance to the fast bowlers from his position at mid-on. And the work of the coaching staff, in the nets and otherwise, has helped Pakistan mentally move on from the series loss.

But the cause for optimism is still pretty shaky. Pakistan’s record against South Africa in South Africa reads 6 wins in 21 matches. This is particularly galling when you consider that Pakistan won its first three of those matches in 1993 – which has been followed by 3 wins in the next 18 ODIs. They’ve also lost both of the bilateral series they’ve played against the Proteas. And despite the series win over India in India, Pakistan’s recent ODI record has been a cause of concern. Over the past 14 months Pakistan have lost 11 of their 17 matches (removing the results from encounters versus Afghanistan and Bangladesh).

The reasons for this record are obvious. Pakistan continue to be one of the better bowling line-ups in the world, but in the fifty-over format, the batting has not been competent enough to complement the bowling. Pakistan have had to basically bowl the oppositions out of the game – as they did in India – for the team to be successful. And South Africa, with four of the best ODI players in their top-five, will be a bigger test than most.

The problems with Pakistan’s batting stem from the permutations of the batting order. There are four men in the squad (Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed and Imran Farhat), each of whom prefer to open, but barring Jamshed, all have failed to prove that they are anywhere near international standards. The jury for Jamshed is still out as he is far too fresh to be fully judged. Each of the other three, though, batting at the top of the order, average in the late-20s and early-30s over more than a decade of international cricket - those are not records that impart faith and confidence in fans and their teammates. ODI cricket, and batting lineups, have historically been based around the top-3 of any side – Pakistan have been very much the aberration from this widely held belief. It makes sense for your best batsmen to maximize their batting time. In Pakistan, though, the best batsmen have to be protected from the new ball.

In the practice match at Kimberley, Kamran Akmal batted at 3 for the Pakistani side and top-scored with a relatively fluent 47. He is likely to remain in that position if the indications from the team – and the drills he is doing in the nets – are anything to go by. This would mean that the likelihood of Hafeez moving down the order as he did in the T20 – and as I have advocated previously – are minimal. Jamshed and Farhat will fight for the final opening slot – a battle that shouldn’t be as close as it appears to be.

Pakistan’s best batsmen in this format, both in terms of potential and their skill level, remain Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq. I have talked before about Umar Akmal needing to come up the order if he is to become something more than a mere cameo specialist. The same could be said of Shafiq, who has grown immensely as an international player over the past 14 months, and he needs to be the bedrock on which Pakistan can build around. But the problem for Pakistan is that in the absence of bowlers who can bat, the sixth bowler is likely to be Shoaib Malik. Again, that is not a scenario that some Pakistani fans, including myself, endorse heartily. The cases for both Abdul Razzaq and Hammad Alam – two men at the extremes of their career – remain stronger than those of Malik’s. But neither of them was deemed selection-worthy for this squad.

The batting order problems are, of course, affected by the fact that Pakistan have both Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan in the middle order playing like its 1993 rather than 2013. The ideal batting lineup for Pakistan is probably something close to: Jamshed, K.Akmal, Shafiq, U.Akmal, Misbah, Hafeez and Razzaq. But the most likely will be a top-five of Jamshed, Hafeez, Kamran and the two old dogs, with only one of the youngsters playing with Shoaib Malik as the all-rounder. The former lineup might not be the greatest in the world, but that remains the best that Pakistan can possibly put out without compromising on the batting depth or their bowling strength – and maximizing from the talent they do have. But it’s the latter that we will likely see at Chevrolet Park on Sunday morning.

On Friday, Ryan McLaren talked about South Africa focusing on Pakistan’s spin-dominated attack, something that is a rarity in most international encounters. It’s not just that Pakistan has spinners; it is that Pakistan has good spinners. But yet again, this is going to be a series when they, as well as the fast bowlers, will have to play out of their skins for Pakistan to emerge victorious. It is not an ideal state of affairs, but it is one that Pakistan have forced themselves into.


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Comments (14) (Closed)


Capt C M Khan
Mar 08, 2013 10:40pm
Pakistan must give a big farewell to Shoaib. The Akmal brothers have lost the trust of the nation, whenever they play Pakistan looses from a winning position. Moin and Rashid should go and find a Wicket keeper batsman instead of criticizing the coach..
Umair Khalid (@umairkd2011)
Mar 08, 2013 11:24pm
my ideal team would be: nasir, kamran, mohd hafeez, umar akmal, asad shafiq, shoaib malik, shahid afridi/abdur rehman, junaid, umar gul, irfan/wahab, ajmal. we have 3 fast bowlers & 4 spinners. we have proper batsman uptil number 6 and bowlers who can bat a bit uptil number 9 (including umar gul, shahid afridi/abdur rehman and wahab riaz)..time to get rid of younis khan and misbah in ODI's! about time hafeez is made captain on ODI's too. what is PCB waiting for?
Rauf
Mar 09, 2013 09:18am
Problem is not this player should play and this shouldnt play.Problem is the selection comitee. They must be independent to select players based on talent and suituations.they must not be under any pressure from zardari or other political figures and ex cricketrs to select there favourites. The head of the selection commitee should be corruption less and should be willing to stand to any pressure tactics or threats. Just need one honest person as the head of pCB rest all will take care by itself. no need of forign coaches or bouncy pitches or fast or spin pitches.
Mahmood
Mar 09, 2013 11:32am
razzaq should be brought back immediately, and Misbah should be shown the door. please!
Abdullah
Mar 09, 2013 01:35pm
Bangladesh reached the final in Asia Cup, have beaten West Indies at home in an ODI series and have beaten New Zealand in an ODI series in 2010. Unfair to take results out against them. They are not an easy side to beat at home in the shorter formats anymore. Give them some respect. They also beat England at home in 2011 World Cup.
Karachi Wala
Mar 09, 2013 01:46pm
It is about time Pakistan look for a keeper in the mould of Adam Gilchrist. Pakistan has never had a dependable keeper who can be trusted as a front line batsman. The record book shows Imtiaz Ahmed who opened the innings and kept wickets could be the best keeping allrounder Pakistan ever had. Wasim Bari was good enough keeper but poor batsman as he batted 9,10 and sometimes at 11. Moin was a poor keeper to begin with and did not deserve to play for as long as he did. Rashid Latif was a safe keeper and reasonable keeper but for some reason has become a bitter person.
Abdullah
Mar 09, 2013 03:10pm
Fact of the day: Misbah ul Haq has beaten or drawn against 3 higher ranked sides in a test series (South Africa, Sri Lanka and England) Misbah ul Haq has beaten 2 higher ranked sides in an ODI series (Sri Lanka and India) Misbah ul Haq has won 1/1 3-team+ tournament as captain (Asia Cup)
sali
Mar 09, 2013 08:59pm
Again, bad selection decisions are going to kill Pakistan's chances of winning and restoring some proide in ODIs. There is no place for guys like Shoib Malik on South African tracks and against classy pace bowling. We already have 6 bowlers with Hafeez and Afridi. Guys like Umer Akmal, Ahmed Shezad and Asad Shafiq should be in the team. Kamran Akmal, Nasir Jamshed, Mohd Hafeez, Umer Akmal/Yonus Khan, Misbah, Shafiq, Afridi, Gul, Ajmal, Junaid, and Irfan are the correct eleven to play.
Boss
Mar 10, 2013 03:04am
"of Jamshed, Hafeez, Kamran and the two old dogs," writer should not use this word 'dogs'
Nadeem Mirza
Mar 10, 2013 05:23pm
I was mor thinking for kicking Shoaib OUT, no need of a farewell...Younger Akmal id the best ODI talent in the team and should be treated as such. Send Umar Akmal up the order. Kamran, I agree is the lost cause... and....This is not Moin's and Rashid's job to find the keeper. What are selectors paid for?
Hassan
Mar 10, 2013 05:34am
Razzaq is past his prime and we have a fine replacement in Hammad Azam who Misbah dosn't like. I agree that Misbah should be shown the door. How long are we going to depend on old hogs and keep believing that Umar Akmal is the next Afridi... Pakistan needs to bring in as many youngsters in as possible to prepare for the long run. Players are just like politicians who don't want to leave.
Hassan
Mar 10, 2013 05:40am
Problem is not with Pakistan's batting order but it is poor selection and the worst batsman is team's captin on top of it. Why not bring in youngsters like Ahmed Shehzad in permanently for ODIs? Pakistani think tank has a habit of shooting themselves in the foot and then later come up with excuses. Winning and losing is part of game but at least playing eleven should consist of players in form. I am sick and tired of 50 for 3 and then Misbah making his usual 15 in 44 balls and then getting out after hitting a token six over long on.
Azeem
Mar 10, 2013 07:13am
I think misbah needs to retire asap
sal
Mar 10, 2013 05:12pm
their batting is just terrible and lacks any depth. they never looked like they dominated the SA bowling, more like they were uncomfortable against anything with bounce or movement, and then terrible shot selection...I mean what was up with the 2 hook shots that resulted in outs today?! and then fishing ouside the off stump for yunis..really? a played with that kind of experience shouldnt make such basic mistakes.