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Pace off

Published Feb 21, 2012 04:19pm


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Not that any further affirmation was needed, but Pakistan's plight in the ODI series against England underscores the immateriality of our batting in determining our fortunes on the field. Of course this is hardly an original point given that Pakistan has always been viewed as a breeding ground for legendary bowlers capable of changing a game and flawed batsmen guilty of squandering it. That's not meant to be a generalisation since we have given the world the likes of Miandad, Inzamam, Yousuf and Younis. But how instrumental have names such as those been in truly sustaining and perpetuating a winning culture when compared to names like Imran, Wasim and Waqar.

A test series against England provides a perfect barometer to gauge the continuing applicability of this fact. Some of our greatest victories have come against this opposition and, more often than not, the outcome was conclusively decided by the manner with which we mastered the leather rather than how we wielded the willow.

It has always been so.

Two decades ago it was Imran sprinting in to teach England a few lessons about the game they created. His successors, Wasim and Waqar, gave the colonial masters no respite and firmly reversed their way into the psychologies of their batsmen. Shoaib Akhtar brought them crashing down from a post-Ashes high (reinvigorating his career in the process) and, even in abject defeat, Asif and Amir proved that true genius can still stand out.

And so it remains, with our bowlers once again responsible for arguably our most memorable and certainly most emphatic triumph against this rival. However the weapons deployed this time around were not quite the same. Victory came from a familiar blueprint but executed through altogether different means. For the first time, Pakistan relied wholeheartedly on a spin centered bowling attack and it drew dramatic dividends, thanks in no small part to the exponents of the strategy proving to be exceptional pliers of their craft – one being a late blooming prodigy and the other a conservative strategist.

It's not the first time a spinner bearing a green passport has bamboozled the English batsmen. Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain and others have tasted success against this opposition. However, even at the peak of their powers the specter of the fast bowler always loomed. Wasim would match Saqlain blow for blow. Mushtaq would carve his way through a lineup but not before Waqar shed first blood. Even Danish had his day in the sun only made possible by the relentlessness of the class of seamers around him. Spinners have prospered but usually with the support of their quicker colleagues and certainly never at their expense.

Which is why this period of Pakistan test dominance is unprecedented given that it is perched on the fingers of our spinners rather than on the backs of our fast bowlers. Umar Gul is a fine pace-man but let's not fool ourselves here - someone or the other would have invariably scavenged the wickets he was admirably able to accumulate. From the opening day of the test series we have unabashedly placed our aspirations on the slow bowlers and they have not let us down.

A combination of factors can account for the effectiveness of spin at this point in time. Ajmal and Rehman deserve a fair share of the credit both for their talent and dogged discipline. We're all accustomed to the wolf-like tendencies of our bowling unit. Once we sniff a kill or sense of weakness we rush at it falling over ourselves to pick at the carcass. It is another matter altogether to respect your opponent’s ascendancy and patiently wait for a slip, not allowing your intensity to flag and maintaining faith that when the slip does come you are good enough to exploit it. As exhilarating as Ajmal and Rehman’s shark attack was during England's second innings at Abu Dhabi, the manner in which the duo waited out Trott and Cook in the first innings was equally impressive as was their measured deconstruction of the batting order in the final innings of the third test.

The tracks have certainly played a part though not to a disproportionate extent. Turn has not been extravagant and neither has bounce been variable, a far cry from some sub-continental dustbowls. However, the pitches have been slow, allowing the ball to grip off the surface and thereby amplify the key features of the arsenal of both spinners: precision and control. This is perhaps the best batting lineup in the world today and they were undone not by balls spitting of gaping rough patches. A strategy this one-dimensional would have certainly drawn the attention of England's support staff and analysts. Rather, it was the measured use of an accommodating pitch which paved the way towards England's downfall.

There is also a decidedly defensive aspect to this phenomenon which should not be understated. Tactically, spin bowling is conventionally viewed as a defensive strategy (particularly against tourists). This is especially true under our cricketing ethos where success has usually been reliant on pitches and conditions which favour seam and swing. Spin was relegated to a filler role, celebrated for its achievements only after the fast bowlers were given ample time to express themselves. Perhaps then it is almost serendipitous that two notionally defensive bowlers should be captained by an unapologetically defensive skipper. Given the composition and particular strengths of our bowling attack, this may have been the right time for Misbah-ul-Haq to exhort his philosophy of patience, discipline and the avoidance of temptation. Under him, Ajmal and Rehman (and other spinners) have all the time in the world to go about their game plans and wait patiently for the batsmen to fall into their subtle traps.

The long-term sustainability of a reliance on spin though is questionable and perhaps not welcome. Ajmal and Rehman are potent options on most surfaces (more so Ajmal), but all conditions and oppositions do not call for a two-pronged spin attack despite the legitimate weaknesses of non-subcontinental teams against spin. We have at our disposal a more than competent seam attack which has suddenly become the most underrated in the world thanks to the headlines garnered by our spinners. It would be a mistake to turn our back on the skill that has historically defined us. England’s rise to the top of the pile has been centered around the swinging ball and Misbah would do well to acknowledge this world-wide vulnerability in future team selection.

For him, it’s a good problem to have.


Farooq Nomani is a Pakistan-based lawyer who would not represent the PCB due to a conflict of interest. He blogs at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (22) Closed

Talha Feb 21, 2012 06:06pm
You have Sohail Khan, Sami, Mohd. Talha sitting at home, having coke and chips when you can see your only seamer included for the 4th ODI!!
Mohammad Feb 21, 2012 08:49pm
Need to move beyond Gul and Cheema, we need bolwers like Talha in this isde
Desihungama Feb 21, 2012 10:47pm
Your arguments against a repleted pace attack are weak. No team in the world(Cricket) can recover after losing two front men in Asif and Amir. Sure, I do not want to live in the past but their absence is clearly being felt. 1. We need to first hold fast bowling camps to identify bowlers. 2. Misbah needs to try bowlers like Talha and have confidence in them. 3. PCB and retired players need to engage ICC and try to get Aamir back sooner than we can afford.
Ali Feb 22, 2012 01:40am
Its a shame. I still dont understand the inclusion of Shoaib Malik in the playing 11 and someone like Hammad Azam was ignored. One seamer, I have never seen this before. Umar Gul needs to get his act together. Three No. Balls in a row, that didnt look good. We need a seamer who can ball a yorker when he wants to.
zaffar nagi Feb 22, 2012 02:05am
Bring in new youngsters,like Anwer Ali
ammar Feb 22, 2012 03:21am
Yes seriously. Don't we have young talent - who is this guy Anwar Ali, what about fast bowlers from our U19 team ?
cricketlover Feb 22, 2012 04:23am
This article attests to the fact that the Pakistani bowlers have brought laurels to the country in the past, and that too on a regular basis, just as they have done in the recently concluded Test series against England. However, it remains a different ball game when it comes to limited overs cricket. One has to adjust according to the conditions and circumstances. When Talha says that only one seamer was included for the last ODI, it was necessary as the team needed five regular bowlers, but had to reinforce the batting line-up as well, especially with Younus down with the flu. Now, it's another thing that Afridi was ineffective with a bad economy rate coupled with NO WICKETS. It does not augur well for the team ahead of the T20 series just around the corner. Moreover, Umar Gul seems to be a tired man and just needs rest, otherwise, he is perhaps the best bowler, besides Afridi, in those conditions. I just hope that Misbah and Mohsin can reenergise the team in the next day or so, and, at the same time, come up with the proper combination and strategy to down England in the T20 matches ahead of the World Cup.
Imran Feb 22, 2012 07:25am
Veena Malik ne farmaya, players like Mohd Asif can be found in abundance on the streets of Pakistan. I think we should request her to find one more Mohd Asif.
Asif Kidwai Feb 22, 2012 12:54pm
Well we have talent in adundance........for instance to name few we have Sohail Khan, Anwar Ali (Remember this kid who won us the Under 19 world cup, what happened to him. I am sure he did not have a big pawwaa or from karachi). What about Mohm Sami, Talhaa, Hammad Azam, Jr Ramiz Raja there is a line of talent sitting at home and being wasted because of our thugs..........People like Malik, and Farhat should not even make it to league game let alone playing for this great country. Asif
Mooda Feb 22, 2012 01:43pm
Hammad Azam could've provided batting depth and a seam bowling option. I believe Misbah was too defensive in his approach even after having lost the series. Spinners can only be effective when there is pressure being exerted through tight, attacking fields. I would've still played Umar Gul with Junaid Khan.
Pakistan politics Feb 22, 2012 01:57pm
All matches are fixed
ziad khan Feb 22, 2012 04:05pm
ye kabhi kabhi hota hy pakistan our team inshaallah t20 jeety gay
Tariq Feb 23, 2012 11:17am
We are impatient nation. We jump to conclusion very quickly. Uncharacteristically, spinning and turning wickets of Middles east was the surprise factor we failed England in Test series, otherwise the results would be more or the same as in ODI's. T20, is not the cup of tea of teams like England. Its probably meant and suites to Pakistan and Indians teams who hardly believes in Patient cricket. It will much evident whenever this Pakistani team visits England.
Ammar Feb 26, 2012 10:06am
Please don't tell me that great nation of Pakistan does not have any new Fast pacers. I know Pakistan is all about safarish and all that :0) What would it take to find another Amir !
Ali Khan Feb 27, 2012 06:46am
Pakistan is not short on pace bowling. Why has Anwar Ali not been utilized who is the King of swing. he destroyed India batting line up in u-19 world cup. However he has not been given a chance in the team. there are others as well Talha, Sohail Tanvir and why is Abdul Razak not in the team. I would like to see him bat earlier than how he was utilized in the world cup. Injury could be a factor for them not included. Bottom line for ODI T-20 and test you need players that are allrounders. we have one in the making i.e. Umer Gul Go Green Go!
Arnie Singh Feb 27, 2012 11:21am
Amir and Asif were too excellent bowlers from what we have seen in their short career.Unfortunately for Pakistan they were not guided properly to keep away from strangers and British media.Bowlers like them don't turn up in subcontinent every day.
Arnie Singh Feb 27, 2012 11:27am
You know what if UAE wickets has been as flat as we see in India and Pakistan home pitches England team would be struggling with their pace bowling line up.Don't forget same England team was thrased 5-0 by Indian Cricket team at home on the flat Indian tracks.Also do remember Pakistan beat Australia in one of test against Australia in England when it was last played there.
Haseeb Feb 28, 2012 03:28pm
Hi, Iam Haseeb a software engineer by profession basically from india. Iam die hard fan of pakistan cricket & pakistan team just because the way they played the game (1990 - 2011 World Cup) with aggression & flair. Its quite disheartening and frustating to see someone of Misbah's caliber as a captain who is not a matchwinner in simple words (eg: T20 2007 WorldCup, 2011 World Cup Semi Final, 2012 England One Day & T20 Series) take your pick. Its pathetic to see that flair, aggression & energy missing in the pakistan cricket team after misbah has taken over which speaks volume for itself as the results are before in the shorter format of the game. Not only that iam surprised big time that the fast bowling (tear away fast bowlers) which used to be pakistan cricket's strength is vanishing slowly & steadily thanks to misbah. Iam currently in singapore and i was watching the last T20 match on (27/02/2012) between England & Pakistan. It was very late in the night rubbing my eyes hoping for a pakistani win. After watching the performance of "Misbah" i have promised myself i will not watch any pakistan cricket match until misbah is retired or dropped.
AL Khan Mar 01, 2012 06:30pm
It was not surprising at all that Pakistan was thrashed by England in ODIs and T20 recently. The mistakes made by Pakistan were so profound that one feels there was a deliberate attempt at losing these matches. To name Misbah as captain for these games is foolish if not absurd. As one writer pointed out earlier, Misbah has been instrumental in losing minable games in the past. As soon as Misbah walks in at number 4 in the last match, I said we have lost te game. The number of these coincidences have become so common that it may be worth checking Misbah's bank account. Other factors for loss are as glaringly obvious except to the management. We have been bemooaning the derth of all rounders in the presence of Hammad who would have not filled that gap but given us the second option of medium pacer. This would have allowed to put in a proper wicket keeper in place of Cheema and spared Akmal to concentrate on batting only. He always appeared to be in torture while keeping. The lack of tactics as a captain by Misbah has been known to everyove apart from selectors. The defensive field placing in run chases at modest targets is unbelievable. Poor fielding is still not being addressed and I do'nt know if the players ever listen to coaches when it comes to practice. The Pakistani players are so unfit. It is amazing that they do not take pride in their profession. It is also very disheartening to see that the practice of introducing talented youngsters has vanished in Pakistan. The inclusion of Malik in the team was one of the biggest blunders ever made by any captain. There was never any justification for his inclusion.
Jibran Mar 02, 2012 08:10am
Umar Gul is about to get injured. It is surprising that he has been playing cricket non stop for a year, every test match, every one day, every t20 and he still haven't picked up a major injury. Testimony to his fitness perhaps but he must be tired. It is not easy to be a fast bowler on pitches that they have been playing on. He is a good bowler, he regularly swings the bowl. You give him pitches in Australia and he'll be touching 150kph too.
adil Mar 02, 2012 05:31pm
i agree with you buddy
Capt Mansur Mar 06, 2012 02:18pm
Do Not be disheartened my friend. Misbah is a good batsman and mature Captain. I do not know what went wrong with him this time, I am sure you will see an aggressive Misbah in Asia Cup.