WHEN Imam-ul-Haq gifted his wicket to Australia while trying to pull a delivery down the leg-side — that would, otherwise, have been a wide had he left it alone — it perfectly encapsulated the struggles of Pakistani batsmen.
The game was hanging in the balance until then and it was Pakistan’s to lose from there. And that they did in a manner that would put even minnows to shame.
They weren’t up against the Aussies of old days. This Australian side, when put under the gun first by Mohammad Amir with the ball and later by Imam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez with the bat, showed that it, too, can crumble. It was unfortunate then that Pakistan missed a golden chance of bagging two crucial points.
Shoaib Malik, for all the experience he brings to the side, has failed to live up to the expectations or has he? After all, a paltry batting average of 14 in England suggests that perhaps we expected too much from him. The real question now is: when will the team management stop treating him as a senior player who gets a free pass and hold him accountable for all the failures he has had in the tournament so far?
Asif Ali, too, hasn’t looked at his best since the England series last month. And quite understandably so, since he has had a very difficult time off the pitch, lately. It’s up to him whether he wants to continue playing for the team or he wants to take time off. Whatever his decision is, we have to respect it and give him the space he needs at the moment.
There was also a lot of talk before the tournament began about Hafeez being a liability on the team, but in the three games (match against Sri Lanka not included due to it being a washout fixture) that he has played, he has shown that he can be very handy both with the bat and ball. That said, Hafeez, too, should be held responsible, to some extent, for the collapse against the Aussies.
Twice in the tournament has Hafeez got out to a seemingly harmless delivery, a full-toss. Being a senior player in a relatively young squad, Hafeez should have known better that the situation demanded him to stay at crease with Sarfraz till the 40th over. Had he done so, Pakistan would have won the game.
But, what’s gone is gone now and the team has to prepare for the contest that awaits them. Pakistan will be up against India, their arch-rivals, on Sunday, in what could possibly be the biggest game in this World Cup or the biggest anticlimactic game.
Either way, Pakistan will have to bring their A-game to the fore because India are no pushovers. They will test Pakistan to the hilt in all three departments of the game.
And for Pakistan to stand a real chance, they must bring their ace-spinner Shadab Khan back in the team in place of Shaheen Shah Afridi. It was really bold of the team management to drop one of their best white-ball cricketers for their match against the Aussies. The move did not only fire back but it also made it clear that Pakistan cannot go ahead with four bowling options against a quality side. They can’t afford to make such mistakes against a side like India because if they do, India will make them pay heavily.
Malik’s inclusion in the team depends heavily on the conditions in which the match is going to be played. If it’s overcast and damp, Malik should make way for Imad Wasim. The latter gives Pakistan the option of late-hitting down the order. Asif Ali, too, should make way for Harris Sohail who had a brilliant series against the Aussies in the UAE earlier this year. If Pakistan make the necessary changes to their playing XI and play to their potential, who knows, they might break their World Cup jinx against India this year.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2019