Pakistan need a ‘300’

Published August 30, 2016
Today’s limited overs cricket has no place for a few good men. — AFP/File
Today’s limited overs cricket has no place for a few good men. — AFP/File

Just past a third of the way into England’s innings chasing Pakistan’s moderate score of 251 on a small ground, with England 89-2 in 20.1 overs, Morgan tucked a ball to square leg and ran straight away.

It was sad to see Yasir not getting behind the stumps to run out Morgan, and even sadder that no one admonished him as he smiled through the lost chance.

That for me summed up Pakistan’s approach to this game.

A spinner needed a few seconds to get behind the stumps, collect the ball and take off the bails. Morgan was a foot out as the ball passed the stumps.

Yasir stood a couple of feet away from the stumps on the off side, leaving it to the fielder to hit the stumps. As it missed he clasped his palms above his head and smiled as if someone had just played a friendly prank on him.

Read: The rise and fall of Pakistan cricket's young mavericks

Morgan’s wicket then could have made the game interesting.

Even in the modern game where 325 is the new safe compared to 270 a few years ago, good batting sides have been contained, even bowled out, by incisive bowling sides which Pakistan have and by honed fielding sides which Pakistan unfortunately isn’t.

Had this been 1987, Imran would have glared from mid-off even if it was his favourite Abdul Qadir, shouted a few mouthfuls with his hands held questioningly apart; had it been a spinner making his debut, he would never have played again under Imran.

His vice-captain Miandad would have run from cover and demonstrated in no less than three ways how the bowler should have positioned himself and whipped off the bails. After the loss the bowler would have had to answer in the dressing room what he was thinking

This is what I feel is missing from this Pakistan side; the lack of intensity and commitment, even in a losing cause.

But for that you need a captain like Imran or Miandad, even Wasim Akram or Inzamam who themselves were never that agile in the field. Captains that drive fear into the hearts of young players who act funny when they are dead serious.

Misbah suffered in the shorter format because of this calmness, something that has helped him in the longer format where his bowlers get him more chances because of the time they have.

Read: ‘I can win matches with both bat and ball,’ says Imad Wasim

Azhar Ali unfortunately has no Test captaincy — at least not for the next few months as Misbah seems to grow younger by the year — to fall back on for his reprieve.

On top of that he has fiddled with the batting order to his own chagrin. When he was opening the innings he could at least take advantage of the powerplay to overcome his restricted strokeplay and inability to find the gaps frequently.

Putting himself at No.3 he has had to either come in when the powerplay is ending or at the fall of an early wicket which added to his burden of captaincy and made him think twice before playing every ball.

To come back to where I started. Pakistan is lacking the intensity, the seriousness of winning. There is not the hurt that comes with a loss.

‘It’s another game, there will be more’ goes the thought. Worse, I hark back to the 70’s that seems to be inflicting this limited-overs side. There getting close was the high. And losing was blamed on internal politics in the team.

In the 80’s, the captain with connections was protected; the one without was made an example. The one who spoke better English also had an edge over the perceived street smart ‘urchin’.

That I fear is what is happening here. Azhar is the decent, soft spoken person who Shahryar Khan would feel comfortable sitting to dinner with. The other choices don’t exactly represent the classic, white collar Pakistan.

Read: Cricket board not helping Kaneria for being Hindu, says NA panel

But what Pakistan need now is vivacity and a man at the helm who looks into the eye of the storm and charges the waves.

This is no time for the likes of Hafeez and Malik who might do the job to win the odd match and I do not mean their batting. I mean the rapid walk, the energy, the selflessness, the frown.

At least an Allan Border who shouted at century maker Dean Jones to get up and bat as he vomited on the pitch in the Madras heat, if not a Javed Miandad who urged on Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim at Bangalore as India advanced to a probable win which they eventually fell short of.

Pakistan missed the chance to give Wahab Riaz the captaincy after Misbah stepped down. They have made the blunder of bringing back the lackadaisical Shoaib Malik, the ascetic Sami Aslam and persevering with the edgy and now departed Hafeez.

On top of that they continue to play Azhar who has made it worse for himself and the team by stepping down to No.3.

Mickey Arthur seems to be making the best of what has been given him by sending Sarfraz Ahmed at No.5 when coach Waqar Younis, Azhar Ali and Shahid Afridi were adamant in degrading him to as low as No.8 at times.

I see the time not too far away when Mickey will send him up to open with Sharjeel Khan on this tour at least, until he brings in someone to replace the left-hander if he continues to falter. I see a place for Mohammad Rizwan too playing as a batsman alone.

In bowling I feel it was a blunder not to hold back Sohail Khan for the ODI series, the one attacking spirit especially in a shortened format. This was no place to test Hasan Ali.

Pakistan is lacking the body language, the intimidation that can overcome their shortage of runs. Today’s limited overs cricket has no place for a few good men. It needs a ‘300’ (pun intended).

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2016

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