It was after ages on Friday that fast bowler Hasan Ali finally managed to deliver an unplayable yorker — the first by a Pakistani pacer in the Nottingham ODI — to dismiss a well-set Tom Curran. Just why yorker is no longer a regular weapon in Pakistan fast bowlers’ armoury is a million-dollar question for the team management to answer.
England, of course, are on a roll ahead of the all-important World Cup. Brimming with confidence, they are belting Pakistan bowlers at will on placid batting tracks at home. It would be no surprise if the World Cup produces mountain of runs. Indeed, a Herculean task lies ahead for all bowlers.
The healthy-looking totals in the range of 330-360, and that too in England, do not appear safe anymore as the first three ODIs between England and Pakistan signified. England have done the job smartly if compared with Sarfraz Ahmed and his men. No doubt the English bowlers were smashed almost the same way as the Pakistan bowlers were thrashed by the home batsmen but the hosts have somehow managed to assess the target better than the tourists in all three ODIs.
Fingers crossed for the World Cup, one has to acknowledge that Pakistan batsmen have done fairly well in England so far. Scoring 340 or above in three consecutive ODIs was never expected from the Men in Green, and that too in England, no matter how easy the pitches are. So give them a break.
However, it’s the Pakistan bowlers — looking completely clueless at the moment - who need to shape up with less than two weeks left in the mega event. Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Faheem Ashraf along with a budding pacer Mohammad Hasnain, and spinners Yasir Shah and Imad Wasim have been absolutely toothless in front of the rampaging England batsmen. Adding to the woes of the Pakistan camp, the out-of-form Mohammad Amir who was tipped to lead the country’s pace attack a couple of years ago, is recovering from chickenpox and is currently not available.
And when the bowlers are put under the spotlight because of their consistently poor show, it is only logical that the report card of the bowling coach should be scrutinised.
Head coach Mickey Arthur and batting coach Grant Flower are often criticised whenever the team flops. And rightly so. But what about Azhar Mahmood, the bowling coach? It is only pertinent to ask just what has he achieved to improve Pakistan bowling department ever since his appointment in November 2016?
Pakistan seized the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy from nowhere. After this stunning triumph many expected Sarfraz and company to rise further in world cricket. Conversely, the performance graph gradually dropped. While batting had been Pakistan’s primary weak area, bowling — the nation’s forte for decades — also started deteriorating. And no wonder we are no more capable of defending totals in excess of 350! What Azhar has done to stop this rot must be looked into seriously by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) high-ups. Pace bowlers in Pakistan are are a rich commodity and many of them are naturally gifted. Most of them have passion to outdo the rival batsmen on any surface. What they only need is a brush-up for demanding international contests. If the bowling coach is not even able to do that, then he ought to be shown the door, immediately.
Amir during the last couple of years, has lost the venom he had; Hasan after his fabulous show at the Champions Trophy is struggling to regain that rhythm; Junaid, once a penetrating bowler, is not coming to the level he was expected to after demonstrating his superb limited-overs show earlier in his career in India and South Africa (in 2013); Shaheen, Faheem and the newly-inducted Hasnain look naive and conventional. If all the bowlers are falling short at the same time, then there must be something immensely wrong in the set-up. In the ongoing series in England, the length ball, lots of them, has caused carnage of Pakistan bowlers who have appeared less than ordinary and not able to defend strong totals of 340 and beyond.
As regards the spin department, Yasir proved a mega failure in England limited-overs games and never deserved to be in the squad in the first place.
Of course, the bowlers cannot be absolved of their own faults. But if they are not coming up to the expectations again and again, then raising questions about their instructor’s role is only natural and logical.
The depressing scenario Pakistan bowlers face on docile tracks in England does reflect the failure of Azhar as the team’s bowling coach ahead of the World Cup. The former all-rounder, earning a hefty packet from the PCB, has not been able to produce or groom a single match winner in all these years which is lamentable, to say the least.
If a coach cannot help his players produce results consistently in two and a half years, then there is a strong need for the PCB to replace him. Can we expect a genuine performance appraisal of the bowling coach by the PCB then (though it is already too late) ?
The World Cup is commencing after a few days. Critics and ardent fans in Pakistan will be hoping against hope that their bowlers will pull up their socks for the toughest battle ahead. Azhar’s role, no doubt, will remain under the spotlight.
Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2019