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Misbah must give Pakistan its best shot

Published Mar 27, 2012 04:14pm


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First thing first ...  congratulations Team Misbah on following up on Moin Khan’s side of 2000 and bringing home the Asia Cup but the victory alas does seem rather hollow to me. Why shouldn’t it when the ‘Tuk Tuk’ motorcade took the easiest possible route towards the checkered flag, spluttered barely across the finish line, and more importantly faltered woefully at the all-important Indian Pit Stop.

Lets make one thing clear, as fine an addition as this intricate work of craftsmanship must appear in Pakistan’s ODI trophy cabinet, there was only one real contest on the cards for Misbah’s men in Dhaka. Having thrashed Sri Lanka and Bangladesh last year, I for one would have been content if the results of the first two games were decided on a mere coin toss. What I was looking forward to, of course, was a chance at slight redemption for Mohali in a probable double bout with the current World Champs. This dreamy scenario of course entailed softening them up in the group stages followed by a solid knock-em-out punching job in the final. Even a false-hope-raising win for our archrivals in the first one, only to be quashed a few days later in the all-important final would have done the trick. But no ... Bangladesh had to go ruin it all with their well-deserved run into the final, leaving me with nothing but the most bitter after taste and an image of Kohli’s smug smile plastered across his face on the trip back to India.

Usually, I have a snarling retort ready for my Indian friends no matter what the magnitude of defeat/humiliation. But this time when one correctly pointed out that “it’s a bit more acceptable when you lose out due to your batting rather than bowling” I could do little but sigh in exasperation. She had a point of course, not being able to defend 330 when you claim to be one of the better bowling line-ups going around should not only hurt but is a tad inexplicable… plus it just looks bad when you fall short of an opposition that contains the likes of Ashok Dinda.

There was no reason we should have lost out to the Indians this time round. They were coming off one of the worst tours for a respectable touring team to Australia in recent memory. Pakistan had momentum on their side with hard-fought wins in the first two games and that man Ashok Dinda was also playing. Yet lose we did, and it wasn’t one of those “Oh ... it’s ok we played well, it just wasn’t our day” sort of losses (they never are with India). We were out played and out thought as the opposition stroked their way home to a comfortable finish, leaving us with little else but our unmentionables clutched in our hands. As well constructed and beautifully orchestrated Kohli’s symphonic innings might have been, it still shouldn’t and wouldn’t have been enough if Pakistan had given themselves their best shot at a win.

For that is what Pakistan has not been doing off late with their selections in limited overs cricket. We have drifted away from a strategy that actually finds its roots in ODIs only to be drafted into Tests much later to wondrous effects against Sri Lanka and England. I talk of course of the ‘spin strangulation policy’ and the effectiveness of playing a quartet of spinners simultaneously. There is a notion amongst fans and critics alike that Pakistan is over dependent on spin and that an attack of such nature is only suited to certain conditions. But it is a claim that has little evidence to hold water. There has been ample proof on display now over the last year and a half that Pakistan is best when playing Abdul Rehman alongside Ajmal and Hafeez in Tests as well as ODIs. It’s not like I wouldn’t love to have quality fast bowlers in the side being assisted by spinners, but with the crop we have at our disposal at the moment (Yes my finger is squarely pointed at you Wahab Riaz) I would take four spinners any day of the week.

It’s not like Pakistan is compromising by playing Rehman over Cheema/Wahab either. A much more economical as well as wicket taking option, any man who is capable enough to roll over the world’s number one side two Tests in a row should really be a shoo in at the ODI level. Here is a bowler who offers you a guaranteed quota of ten with a maximum of 4.5 to the over, adds variety to your attack and snaffles up a crucial wicket or two as well ... I mean why wouldn’t you play him? Not only that, having dependable bowlers like Hafeez and Rehman in Misbah’s artillery means the batsmen are forced to play more aggressively against Afridi and Ajmal and more often than not that automatically means more wickets.

This pressure valve leaks severely when Pakistan entrusts its bowling duties in the less capable hands of Wahab/Cheema, and the lethality of Misbah’s strikers (Ajmal & Afridi) is reduced to bits as the captain is forced to take on defensive fields for them as well. Remember the edge of Kohli’s bat as Ajmal flummoxed the set batsmen with his signature doosra in the first over of the batting power play. (If you are remembering a moment in the game when you suddenly scrapped out a good tuft of your hair, and simultaneously imploded into shouting obscenities at Misbah’s mother and sister, you remember correctly). That would have gone straight into Younis’s dependable hands at slip, if only Cheema hadn’t been clattered for a humongous six over square leg the previous over, forcing Misbah to just concentrate on blocking out the runs.

Let’s take the disastrous ODI series against England as an example. You would have thought after his performance in the recently concluded tests, Rehman was a sure shot selection. Deciding to re-live ground hog day instead the team management went in with Wahab, who obliged with 6.71 to the over. The left arm spinner was given a consolatory outing in the second ODI returning with appalling figures of 10 overs for 36. Alarmed at how much of a dent the egos of our sensitive faster men would take, the left arm spinner was understandably dropped for the third. Cheema was pursued with and went for a not too surprising 6.31 to the over. Carrying on with the consistent selection policy the old hand was given another go in the last game, disappointing the management and fans once again with paltry figures of 10 overs, 31 runs and the lowly wicket of the number three Jonathan Trott. Rightly enraged at this performance Rehman was shunned for the T20s and the entire Asia Cup.

The spinner’s only crime it seems is the fact that he doesn’t have his chest puffed out at delivery stride, and doesn’t have the thirty-yard run up to back that stride up with. The management and fans have become so blinded by pace that they can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that they actually don’t have worthy fast bowling options at the moment. It stabs at the ego of an entire spoilt generation brought up on a buffet of Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib and Asif to come to terms with the fact that it is indeed a quartet of spinners who are for the time being the flag bearers. The sooner Pakistan Cricket can swallow this false pride and realize the value of what is staring it in the face, the quicker it will relieve itself of having to sit through Kohli’s annoying angry young man celebrations…but more importantly it will mean that they at least would have given themselves their best shot.

Shoaib Naveed
A cricket nut since Aqib Javed’s bucket hair style and Wasim bhai’s poetic action took his fancy, the writer, fit only for a slogger is pretending to be a top order bat Down Under and blogs here.

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.


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Comments (29) Closed

Mushtaq Ali Mar 27, 2012 06:36pm
I loved the article. Its written very nicely and justifies what is said in the title. truely loved it :P
ash Mar 27, 2012 07:13pm
Its not the which is letting pakistan down its the bowling.
Osman Mar 27, 2012 07:58pm
This stuff gets published on Dawn??? the solution is to get better, younger fast bowlers and groom them for he future. We used to dominate the world in fast bowling and we should build on that strength, not walk away from it because we have (other than ajmal) semi-decent spinners.
Rehan Mar 27, 2012 08:03pm
I agree. We do not need another fast bowler unless we have another Shoaib, Wasim, Aaqib or waqar. We are one of the best teams in the world with a huge talent lined up to make their place in Team Pakistan. Why are we making compromises and giving chances to someone who has never been useful for Pakistan? On the other hand we have Abdur Rehman, who has proved himself many times. I personally do not like Misbah as well, he does not even have a sense of cricket that when to play what?
Salahudding Mar 27, 2012 08:44pm
Well-written Shoaib - your article was balanced and fair. I am a huge fan of the team - however I did not bother watching the match against India (I do not live in Pakistan at the moment so was easier to do this!). Having won against SL and Bangladesh, I knew the team would not be putting in the same effort had they had their backs against the wall. Secondly the team selection reeked of the decision by some of our team-members to earn the money to buy a few plots in defence rather than win the match...Wahab Riaz! Seriously?!
Salman Mar 27, 2012 09:33pm
Time to be a little more grateful!! It could have been worse.
Usman Lalani Mar 27, 2012 10:15pm
I agree. Cheema is not yet an international level bowler. I think he was very very lucky to not gift the game to BD in the final. Wahab Riaz is also not cooked enough yet. In fact, I don't think there are any really talented Pakistani fast bowlers (and that includes Umar Gul). Gul works because his yorkers work. Since Amir and Asif, Pakistan have not had a really talented pair of fast bowlers.
Hasan Ejaz Mar 27, 2012 11:03pm
Its ironic you say this after Cheema played a big hand in the final with those three wickets and a very good final over. Its important to remember that Cheema, Riaz and even Junaid Khan wouldn't have a sniff in this side had Asif and Amir not been banned, but alas we find ourselves in this situation so we have to manage with it. I don't understand who you think should be dropped in place of Abdur Rehman though, you mention that it shouldn't be Cheema/Riaz so that would only mean that it would be Hammad Azam or, even more nonsensically, Sarfarz Ahmed. Hammad Azam increases our batting strength while having a natural keeper is paramount for success. I think having three quality/good spinners should be enough. You need to have balance, can't throw all your eggs in one basket.
Hadi Mar 27, 2012 11:11pm
I dont agree with you. Even having the worlds best spinner Ajmal, didn't help us much against a very strong batting side India and even England. Its cause the rules of engagement in tests and odi are different. Different fielding restrictions. Different Everything. You need quality fast bowlers to stand a chance in ODIs
Imran A. Mar 27, 2012 11:57pm
I feel your pain Shoaib... it seems that you were writing about your personal life experience. Cricket does seem to bring the worst or best out of us. That's why I love this game so much. A win in Cricket feels like winning a lottery and a loss feels like the girl you loved decided to marry your enemy. But the wise say, All is well that ends well! so cheer up mate.
FR Mar 28, 2012 01:18am
we should get rid of afridi in ODIs to bring it Abd ur rehman. Because Afridi has no consistency with either bat or ball and get a performance in one of them after quiet sometime in order to hold his place in the team.
tariq k sami Mar 28, 2012 04:06am
Nice article. Very thoughtful. Very challenging. Rahman's 10 for 30 runs and one wicket that too of Jonathan Trott!!Hmmm.
Fred Mar 28, 2012 05:31am
You may be right but for ODIs he had to drop Rehman to accommodate Shoaib Malik. See? Against India - if your wicketkeeper can't hold to catches they shouldn't play international cricket really.
Shariq Mar 28, 2012 06:28am
The source of all Pakistani cricket problems used to Ijaz Butt...and it still is, after all he made an incredibly useless player like "Tuk Tuk" captain. I guarantee it, get rid of Misbah as captain, get someone aggressive (Afridi of course) to replace him and watch Pakistan win every series (not just again Bangladesh and Zimbabwe...oh and barely Sri Lanka). The reason India wins against Pakistan so much is because they play aggressive cricket, Misbah's passive captiancy is pathetic.
Masood Mar 28, 2012 10:02am
You gotta be kidding me. I agree that Abdul Rehman is a very good spinner but playing 4 spinners is out of question. Sometimes coach and captain predicts that the pitch is suited for spinners and it turns out the other way. Spinners do not get any assistance from the pitch and its the fast ballers who come to the rescue. The way our ballers perfromed during the India match is certainly not expected from them. Ofcourse we miss the class of Amir/Asif.
Buff Mar 28, 2012 10:51am
Mr. Down under, while your comments on our pace and spin capability are spot on, they are wide on Captain Tuk Tuk... he beats Boom Boom and the other charecters hands down with his composure and leadership, he is probably the best since the Khan.
R.Kannan Mar 28, 2012 11:19am
Shoaib, your comments are intresting. Pakistan won the WC in 1992 but lost to India in that tournament as well. We did not hear Imran or Javed Miandad saying they would have prefered to beat India rather than win the WC!!! I think Misbah is happy to have won the Asia Cup rather than the India game. I supported bangladesh in the finals and was disappointed at the end result. However, if Pakistan were to play Australia or England, you can be sure I will be hoping for a Pakistan win.
N. Hussain Mar 28, 2012 11:58am
Good article. Innovative, aggressive and logical thought. Uptill the time we do not groom a world class fast bowler, it is worth trying the world class spinners that Misbah has in his troops. Once again great thought Shoaib- I hope Whatmore pays some attention.
Zishan Mar 28, 2012 12:41pm
I like your article Mr. Shoaib, But cheema done well job in final & also in first match against Bangladesh,He bowl very well in last 5 over crucial moments, So he should give more chance for earning experience, Moreover rehman do well in the dead spin pitch in Asia ,Pakistan should take concentrate in fielding & they should try to make good batting line up like India
Mehmudah Rehman Mar 28, 2012 02:49pm
First things first. Article is delightfully written. Writer, take a bow! Secondly, you need to groom your fast-bowling as well and plays guys like.. err.. Ashok Dinda. However, Abdur Rehman should have been given a chance, I agree! W Riaz looked totally out of sorts because he was suddenly drafted into the side with little match practice.
Zain Mar 28, 2012 03:00pm
The author has no idea of cricket.
Syed Mar 28, 2012 05:14pm
I can only second all is dependent on pitch, condition, team, counter part / team, team selection generally, performance over a period of player, fitness, etc., etc.
JD Mar 28, 2012 06:50pm
Never commented on any of your articles (some have been good, some bad), but dude, are you suggesting we skip the most essential component of cricket? The way I see it, we need to find express fast bowlers ASAP. If you are bowling on a super-dead pitch that has nothing in it for the bowlers, not Ajmal, nor Murali are going to be your saviours... it will either be a 160 kp/h yorker coming to your rescue, or a rare 'extra-effort' bouncer disrupting the rhythm of the batsman. These are the bowlers who will see you through and will not depend on 'conditions'. HINT: Remember the old West-Indies?
Sheikh Mar 28, 2012 06:57pm
This damn right! Pakistan cricket does not mean to play cricket with India only!! Just note it for next time.
Moosa M. Mar 28, 2012 07:51pm
I agree.
Salman Mar 28, 2012 10:09pm
I disagree - Afridi's capitancy record is hardly impressive.
Capt Mansur (Namibia Mar 29, 2012 01:06pm
Misbah is the best Captain Pakistan has at the moment without doubt. We need to find genuine quick bowlers not stand-ins like Wahab/Cheema, until then why not try four spinners with Hamad as the other medium quick bowler.
Syed Mar 29, 2012 09:07pm
If your analysis would have been spot on, we would have been WC Champs by now. I'm sorry, but afridi needs to make room for players who educated themselves in sports and raise their level. Afridi is starting to weaken with every day. Be it his batting or bowling. He might be a good brain, but brainless when waving with the bat.
saythetruth Mar 30, 2012 02:01am
Pakistan always struggles with batting and our team always plays cricket in a panic mode. Historically we relayed on one or two batsman to do the job and not the entire team. I don't remember Pakistan ever putting a winning batting combination. The only reason Pakistan is doing well these days is a little bit less politics and they are playing away from Pakistan in foreign lands. Even if a batsman performs poorly the options are limited to replace him and this allows a fair chance for a batsman to rethink and make adjustment instead of continue to think of being kicked out of the team. I see a lot more honest Pakistani team but it is still a team in making. It requires slightly better batting combination in the middle order and a good fast bowler i.e Asif or Amer. In the absence of Asif/Amir our pace attack is very weak. Umar Gul is hot/cold and Pakistani spinners performance depends on wicket condition. In Asia spinner will do the job for us but any non Asia tour will be a big challenge for team Misbah. Pakistani team is setup to play in Asia but if this team gets chance to in English, Australia or even SF conditions due lack of serious pace attack and very weak middle order batting we have very little chance to win a series.