The ban on Pakistan’s classy off-spinner Saeed Ajmal has created a strange panic among cricket lovers in Pakistan.
"It is unjust”
“It is a conspiracy by the Big Three and the ICC against Pakistan Cricket”
“Oh man, we have been thrown out of the World Cup six months before its launch”
From social media, to discussions in the drawing room and offices, the verdict is quite popular, if not unanimous: An apocalypse deliberately unleashed to destroy Pakistan's World Cup prospects.
But what's most disappointing in all the fuming and fomenting, is that Pakistan’s own cricket officials have partaken in it.
At a critical time, when the World Cup was just around the corner, Pakistan Cricket Board’s Chairman Shaharyar Khan maintained that the ban on Ajmal was a major setback for Pakistan, and it had come hard on Pakistan’s World Cup strategy.
Former national cricketers were no different. Saeed Ajmal was heaped with praise while the ICC was showered with unending allegations, and this continues to date.
Let's also not forget some of our wannabe analysts and columnists, who got so discouraged by ICC’s decision, that they claimed Pakistan now had no more than zero per cent — yes, literally zero per cent — chance of winning the World Cup.
The ICC bashers refuse to acknowledge that the bowling action of this top-ranking bowler was also once reported during a domestic match in 2006, one umpired by our very own Riazuddin.
What did Pakistan’s cricket authorities do then?
Rather than taking the matter seriously, PCB decided to “let it go” and signalled “carry on” to itself.
Why have we forgotten that the PCB Chairman personally admitted that Ajmal's arm bends more than 40 degrees, far too higher for any conspiracy to make it appear suspect?
|Skipper Misbahul Haq poses with ICC World Cup 2015 trophy during a ceremony in front of Badshahi Masjid in Lahore. — Photo by AFP|
Agreed, the Ajmal ban is a major setback for Pakistan.
But the question is, why is everyone acting as if everything has been lost here?
Is team Pakistan nothing without a spinner?
Can we not win the Cup without Ajmal in our ranks?
Upon a closer scrutiny of facts, it can be ascertained that in fact, we can.
Saeed Ajmal is already 36 years old. Had it not been the ban, he himself would have retired from cricket in the next couple of years.
Those worried for Ajmal’s replacement must be aware that Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, and Misbahul Haq are also about to play their their last World Cup, and will be saying good byes to international cricket soon after that.
Do we even have “potential” replacers? Currently, it seems, the answer is a big, fat no.
Let's remind ourselves that cricket's next mega event is being hosted by Australia and New Zealand, places famous for their fast and bouncy wickets. New Zealand's wickets, especially, are a treat for seamers.
Luckily for Pakistan, it has to play its group matches against the heavy weights South Africa and West Indies in New Zealand.
Barring the past few years, when the Hafeez-Ajmal-Afridi combo proved to be the best component of our attack, Pakistan’s bowling has always been known more for their pacemen.
To that end, we currently have Muhammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz, Muhammad Talha, Anwar Ali, and Bilawal Bhatti; a supreme pace attack capable of demolishing any lineup on Kiwi and Aussie pitches. If our fielders are up to the mark, the results could be even better.
|Hafeez and Afridi's off-spin/leg-spin combo could be lethal on its own. — Photo by AP|
Now, let's visit our final XI.
We have Hafeez and Afridi, both all-rounders, and both wicket-taking spinners who are usually very economical when it comes to conceding runs.
So, it's more than reasonable to include these two.
Now, if the final XI includes Saeed Ajmal too, the question is:
Would it be a wise move to risk playing three spinners on fast wickets?
Not to undermine Ajmal’s capabilities, but no team in the world will step into the arena with three spinners on wickets famous for their pace and bounce. Afridi and Hafeez’s combination of off-spin and leg-spin could alone create difficulties for any team.
Calling Ajmal our trump card essentially seems to be acknowledging the lack of strategy in our preparations for the tournament.
Instead, what Pakistan direly needs is a fast bowling all-rounder, who can belt out a few in the death overs and follow it with a decent bowling performance.
Batting has always been our nightmare. And this nightmare gets even more horrific on fast and bouncy wickets, where our batters seem to be racing each other on their way back to the pavilion.
In this scenario, Anwar Ali and Hammad Azam (now banished into obscurity) could have been a good option. But the PCB, with its unvarying penchant for boring, assembly line-type lineups, didn’t ponder on any such option.
Ajmal is pure class, no doubt. But calling Pakistan a flop without him is gross exaggeration. The off-spinner has participated in one ODI World Cup before, and four T-20 World Cups. Three out of these five series were played on Asian wickets, which we all know are paradise for spinners. Still, it's hard to recall Pakistan as recording any exemplary performances in any of these.
What do happen to be on record, are the many pandora's boxes which when opened, exposed internal rifts in the team, followed by a change of captain.
Events like the Cricket World Cup are always won with ambition, teamwork, and good captaincy.
A team cannot win a mega event, if it contains the best players but lacks in enthusiasm and team spirit. Take the World Cup 1999, despite being studded with stars, Pakistan feebly surrendered in the final.
On the other hand, teams with solid cooperation and a competitive captain made history. For example, West Indies in 1975 and 1979; Pakistan under Imran Khan in 1992; Sri Lanka under Arjuna Ranatunga in 1996; Steve Waugh’s Australia XI in 1999; and Mahindra Singh Dhoni’s India in 2011.
If team Pakistan wants to make history, it not only requires zeal, but a good captain too. The winning players are there. If Misbah puts his captaining experience to use, there is no reason Pakistan couldn’t shine in the World Cup Hall of Fame once again.
A team or a player is never favorite for winning. It is the on-field performance on that day which essentially makes winners.