Comment: Pakistan are missing specialist batsmen, spinners

Published September 26, 2018
Have Pakistan played their cards wrong in the Asia Cup?— Photo courtesy: ICC
Have Pakistan played their cards wrong in the Asia Cup?— Photo courtesy: ICC

HAVE Pakistan played their cards wrong in the Asia Cup? Have Mickey Arthur and Inzamam-ul-Haq made the same mistake as they did against Sri Lanka last year; Mickey by not playing two spinners against them in the two-Test series which Pakistan lost 0-2 and Inzamam by not selecting more spinners, and specialists for each position/role?

As Lord Tennyson says in his epic poem The Charge of The Light Brigade, “Forward, the Light Brigade!/Was there a man dismayed?/Not though the soldier knew/Someone had blundered.”

By my analysis the reasons for Pakistan’s massive defeats against India and the great escape against Afghanistan was that they lack specialists for the positions and have played at least one spinner short. If India be the yardstick, they have attacked through specialists Chahal and Yadav plus all-rounder Jhadav and then added Jadeja in the second game.

Pakistan on the other hand have hardly used Malik as an attacking spin option and gone in with all-rounder Shadab in the first game, pairing him in the second with Nawaz, also an allrounder. Where is Yasir Shah? The UAE pitches cry for spin as Mickey admitted (and apologized) after the Sri Lanka Test blunder last year.

Imran Khan constantly selected specialists in his one day sides and his batting till No.5 and often No.6 had specialist batsmen; he himself was one in the final days where he averaged more than 50. In Asia Cup, all-rounders Malik and Sarfraz start coming at 4 and 5. In one game in fact they sent Asif, the only specialist batsman in the middle order, at No.7! And this is when they were chasing against Afghanistan, a match Pakistan would have lost had the non-specialist ‘keeper Shahzad not dropped Malik early on.

Sarfraz is struggling for form and before his laboured 38 against India, he had crossed 14 runs only once in his last ten ODI innings. You can’t send someone like that in a specialist position. And if you do then he must play like a Gilchrist as opener where he has the freedom to hit over the top.

Pakistan need to send Asif at No.4 and Malik stays at No.5. Perhaps they need to play Haris Sohail again and play him at No.6 if only to have another option of spin and share one quota with Malik. One game in this tournament is too less to gauge his strength in the eleven.

Sarfraz can then play with the tail and enjoy the powerplay as that gives options for stolen singles of which he is the master. You then send in Nawaz and Shadab who bowl their full quotas as well and play two seamers, perhaps Fahim Ashraf in place of Hasan Ali who is going nowhere on these tracks, and either Shaheen Afridi or Junaid for Amir who is completely off colour. With Faheem, Pakistan can bat deep till No.10.

I hope Pakistan can do this in today’s knockout game against Bangladesh as it gives them four spin bowling options leading to a minimum 30 overs. If one of the seamers doesn’t deliver fully, one of Malik and Harris can extend their overs.

And though it is too late but Yasir should have been in the side. He may not have delivered on the faster tracks but UAE offers him more. He can bat a bit too. I think Inzamam blundered by picking five seamers and picking no specialist spinner. Yes there is the question that Shadab is more a spinner than a bat and that a team can’t go in with two leggies, but it has been done before and worked for Pakistan.

I think Mickey also did a ‘Homework-gate’ on Hafeez. I would never take him in ODIs for his batting alone but with him having been cleared to bowl Pakistan needed him as an opening bowler option as Imad failed the fitness Test. All he had asked for is four days to get over a minor illness before he gave the fitness test but there is too much rigidity in Mickey’s approach. Hafeez could have been taken instead of one seamer and could have slotted in my above proposed XI instead of either Nawaz or Haris Sohail. His presence would also have guaranteed another 10 overs of spin.

Yet, whatever the combination, Pakistan have to go out and play to their strengths. They are not in the same league as Indians when it comes to correct technique and strokeplay but they are still capable of more than what they have shown till now. Pakistan can still reach the final tonight and then do a ‘CT Final’ on India. The Indians were on a momentum when they collapsed to Pakistan at The Oval.

But win or lose tonight or on Friday, the PCB needs to closely look at the techniques of our batsmen. They often look like baseball batters rather than cricket batsmen. We need stylists like Zaheer, Majid Inzamam or Yousuf. There is no fluency in our strokeplay; hardly any footwork or positioning for the ball.

Cricket is a stylish game, let’s not get crude about it.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2018

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