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Is it time for Misbah to take a bold decision?

September 09, 2013
If Hafeez plays in the second Test despite his poor run of form, he should at least be fit to bowl. -Photo by AFP
If Hafeez plays in the second Test despite his poor run of form, he should at least be fit to bowl. -Photo by AFP

When Hamilton Masakadza placed Tino Mawoyo at short extra cover, the plan was laid out for everyone to see. Tendai Chatara knew where he had to bowl, as did Pakistani vice-captain Mohammad Hafeez. After playing out seven dot balls that pitched in the channel, Hafeez popped one straight in the hands of the close in fielder. The professor had been outwitted like a school boy.

Hafeez has been nicknamed “Professor” through humorous sarcasm of his teammates. ‘Professing’ his thoughts very vocally on the field of play and in team meetings, Hafeez is the ‘Mr. Know it All’ of the Pakistani cricket team.

His economical bowling is very handy in shorter forms of the game and he has been consistent with the bat. Hafeez is currently ranked as the No. 1 ODI all-rounder and the No. 2 T20 all-rounder in the world.

However, it is Test cricket that has presented a different challenge for his skill set. While his bowling was always going to lack the sting required in the longer format, he has recently not been able to carry his batting form into the five day game either.

In 2013, he has averaged 40.66 with the bat in twenty one ODI games but as low as 8.00 in eight Test innings in the same period. The quality of the opposition might have skewed his numbers but his recent batting miseries in Test cricket are pretty evident. The Proteas have completely exposed and exploited the flaws in his batting technique, again.

Hafeez has the gift of time that is evident in his stroke play; this usually cannot be taught and is an invaluable asset to a batsman. More so, the technical glitches in his game are nothing new for a Pakistani batsman. They are exaggerated in adverse conditions but in friendlier, sub-continent like pitches cause lesser threat.

Hafeez is known to over analyze and over think, especially when it comes to his own game. This usually increases when a batsman is going through a bad patch. One tends to ask; are the feet moving well? Is the head falling over? Is there too much gap between bat and pad? Or is the bat fishing outside off? In clinical psychology, a person can experience fear of performing certain acts or having certain thoughts because of an assumed correlation between doing so and threatening calamities. In simpler words, if you keep thinking that you are fishing outside off, chances are, you will.

After Hafeez pulled his hamstring in the third ODI, he was a doubtful starter for the first Test. He apparently got the nod after an MRI scan and made it to the starting XI. However, heads turned when he did not bowl during the 103 overs that Zimbabwe gritted out in their first innings. It was pertinent to believe that Hafeez had gone into the game without being 100% match fit.

With Shan Masood and Faisal Iqbal in reserve, Hafeez could have easily been rested. It would have presented the perfect opportunity for Pakistan to test its bench strength and also give Hafeez the chance to recuperate.

However, Hafeez is going through a lean period in the longer format and his recent performances in the ODI series suggest that he is just an innings away from a big score. He probably also fancies his chances against a relatively easier opposition and wants to get some runs under his belt before the all important series against the South Africans in UAE.

Cricket is a physical sport but it is the mental strength that separates the over achievers from the also-rans. If he steps out on the field in Harare, it is imperative that ‘The Professor’ takes off his thinking hat, puts on his baggy green and lets his natural instinct take over. He might see the fielder at short extra cover move to deep extra cover very fast.

Most importantly, if Hafeez plays in the second Test despite his poor run of form, he should at least be fit to bowl.

Whether it is the malignant PCB bureaucracy, or a fast bowler steaming in towards him, or his own politically charged teammates, Misbah has always done well to avoid confrontation. It has been his way of doing things, in a lot of ways it is his pivotal strength but in some ways also the cause of his ill fame. As things stand, if declared fit, it is unlikely that he would take the bold step to drop his close aid, Hafeez.

Since November 2010, Hafeez has represented Pakistan in every single international match played across all three formats. Such has been his presence in the Pakistani dressing room, changing that would require a very brave captain.