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‘Umar Akmal can do wonders at number three’

June 07, 2012


In order to get the best out of him, Umar Akmal must be sent up the order: Moin Khan – Photo by AFP


In order to get the best out of him, Umar Akmal must be sent up the order: Moin Khan – Photo by AFP

From being Pakistan’s ‘man for a crisis’ behind the stumps to running a multi-purpose sports academy, former Pakistan captain and wicketkeeper Moin Khan has silently travelled a long way in his career as a cricket player, expert and now, coach. He is now back with his second column for, analysing Pakistan’s performance in the Twenty20 series, previewing the one-day-international series and sharing some insight on tackling the Sri Lankans in their backyard.

After the first Twent20 match, it was evident that a lot of Pakistani cricket fans were disappointed with the team’s batting collapse. If they were hoping for a quick turn-around following the appointment of a new captain and the induction of young players, they were wrong. Whenever teams are changed around, they are given some time to achieve the desired results, which is very difficult in places like Sri Lanka. Any team in the world can have a tough time adjusting to the conditions there. The ball seams around, there’s moisture on the pitch, it’s damp, hot and humid. For new players to adjust in such conditions is a tough task. Experienced players are still able to make adjustments relatively quickly, which is evident from the result of the second T20, where players like Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik handled the situation well for Pakistan. I know there was a lot of excitement over the inclusion of young players but you have to give them more chances to judge their performance. The selectors will have to stick to these boys to show their potential. That’s the way it is done everywhere in the world.

It’s the same with a new captain. In the case of Mohammad Hafeez, I think it was a case of double the adjustment for him as he was playing under tough conditions and was making his captaincy debut. Maybe he wasn’t able to cope with the pressure; it’s difficult to say on the basis of two matches only. He will have to be given some time to make his mark as a captain. Once you have decided to hand over the reins to him, you have to back him. If you keep on making changes, you will not be able to achieve good results in such a short span of time. Hafeez is a sensible cricketer and he must be given time, which will give him the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and not repeat them. The players, especially seniors, responded really well to his captaincy. Shahid (Afridi) has proved by his performance that he is backing his captain. Since is a former captain, it was being said that he may not be comfortable playing under Hafeez. People have this perception that Shahid doesn’t accept anyone else as a captain, which is wrong. It was a very good sign for Pakistan cricket and from Shahid that he performed well and won the match single-handedly. He earned Pakistan some respect by helping level the series after the loss in the first match. I would also like to mention Shoaib Malik here. He was a very calm man in the middle when Pakistan were losing wickets in quick succession. Earlier, when he didn’t perform well in the first match, it was being said that the players who have been tried and tested over and over are being given chances again. Malik is a very high-calibre player. He is a very sensible guy. We have seen some great performances from him in the recent domestic T20 tournaments and let’s not forget his performances for Pakistan. As they say, form is temporary but class is permanent. He was able to justify his selection in the team in the second match and should be given time. He is one of those players who have made their mark for Pakistan and knows that if he doesn’t perform, he will be out of the team. Such players should be backed by the management and selectors instead of to trying to push them out of the team.

Another such player is Umar Akmal. He is a very highly talented cricketer but lacks maturity. He shouldn’t be so hasty in his stroke-play and should calm down a bit. There has been some discussion over his batting spot. Apparently he wants to bat up the order but isn’t being given a chance there. Firstly, he should be ready to play wherever the captain wants him to. And not just play, he should do well at all spots as a professional player. However, I do believe that he really should play up the order. The way he is able to take singles as well as hit boundaries, he could be really useful at higher batting spots. His shot-execution is excellent. His defence is also strong. I feel that he should bat at number three or four, so that his best performance can be extracted. But again, it depends on the composition of the team and the captain’s strategy and the combination he wants. Personally, I think Umar can do wonders at number three.

Coming towards Pakistan’s bowling in the T20 matches, I would like to mention Sohail Tanvir’s contribution. Whenever a player is out of the team for a long time and gets a chance to make a comeback after going over the mistakes he had made in the past, a positive approach is required and you only find out about it when he is reselected and he performs. Tanvir made his comeback in favourable conditions and he did well. The ball was seaming and it is difficult for the batsmen to play under such conditions. However, his real test will come in the future, whenever he will have to play on flat tracks. He has also had fitness issues, so he will be mindful of that. The kind of cricketer Tanvir is, his talent is very limited. He is unable to generate a lot of pace because of his bowling action, which makes it very important for him to maintain his line and length. He should try and vary his pace, like all other good bowlers do in limited-overs cricket. That, I feel, is the only way he can survive. Although he didn’t give a good performance with the bat, he does have the ability to be a good all-rounder. In order to keep his spot in the team, he should keep on performing in the future. He is lucky to have been picked for the ODI squad on the basis of Nasir Jamshed’s injury. If he performs, he will be able to retain his place in the team. Otherwise, he will be out again.

Another player making a comeback was Mohammad Sami. Sami is one of the most talented bowlers in Pakistan. The kind of pace he has is very rare. Pakistan hasn’t produced a genuine fast bowler for a long time, not since Shoaib Akhtar and Sami is the fastestwe have right now. His problem has always been inconsistency and nothing else, as his fitness has always been great. He is lucky to have been given a chance to play in the second T20 after giving away 22 runs in his first match. While he proved himself by taking three wickets in the second match, one match is not enough to justify his selection. Seasoned players must perform consistently for at least a year to retain their place in the team. He is a very talented man but he has a bit of an attitude problem. He doesn’t seem serious towards his game. If, despite being so highly talented and fit, you are not able to hold on to your place in the team, it means you are not focussed, composed and serious. He can become irreplaceable if he stays focussed.

In the first match, another indifferent performer was Umar Gul. The kind of bowler he is, I don’t think he can be very successful in Sri Lanka because he generates pace and relies on the pitch. When he plays in suitable conditions – flat tracks and dry and hot weather – he can be lethal. In countries where the pitches are seaming and it swings, a pace-generating bowler is not quite effective, which is why he was dropped in the second match and Yasir Arafat was preferred over him. Being the senior-most bowler, he will have to adjust to the conditions, which is the sign of a big player.

Nasir Jamshed’s injury has led people to wonder if Imran Farhat will be used to open the batting for Pakistan or will the management try out Sarfraz Ahmed. In my opinion, the specialist opener should be used in difficult Sri Lankan conditions, since they are not ideal for trying out a new batsman. If Farhat doesn’t perform, the case is solved for Pakistan. He has been in and out due to his inconsistency. This is his chance, with Jamshed out. If he doesn’t score, then you can try new boys at opening spot. He should be given a chance, also because right-hand-left-hand combination can be useful for the team. A new player shouldn’t be tried in such conditions; it will only dent his confidence. A youngster shouldn’t be sacrificed in order to save the senior players from looking bad. Whenever a young player made his debut under my captaincy, I always tried to make him play at his usual spot. Even if he failed, I tried to ensure that he was given a proper chance, at least one whole series, to prove himself. If he is not capable enough, he will be pushed out of the team automatically, but captain’s confidence is very important.

Looking ahead to the ODI series, I think Pakistan will have difficulties dismissing their batsmen. In T20 cricket, you have to score runs, so you are liable to take risks. In ODIs, their top order is so good at rotating the strike that they don’t even have to go for the big shots too often. The conditions also favour Sri Lanka as they are able and maintain their fitness despite the humid weather. Pakistan will have to work really hard to win. Our spinners have been doing well in recent series but the quicker bowler will have to help them and basically they have to play attacking cricket, otherwise, the Sri Lankans are quite capable of putting up big scores if they play out their 50 overs. For the bowlers, confidence is the key. If a bowler is confident, he will go up to the captain and would want to bowl. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene are brilliant players of both fast and spin bowling. The best tactic against them would be to bowl wicket-to-wicket. Whether it is spinners or fast bowlers, your only chance of getting them out is when they miss and you hit the wicket.

As for Pakistan’s batting, they will have to re-think their strategy. You can’t take a bowler like Lasith Malinga on. His pace variations help him take wickets, for instance, the double-paced bouncer that got Umar Akmal in the first T20.You mustn’t try and play big strokes against him. He should be identified as a bowler that you don’t give your wicket to. Even if you score four to five runs against him in an over, it is good enough. He is a wicket-taking bowler, their only one. If you don’t give him wickets, it will make things difficult for the other bowlers. Since they are seam bowlers, Pakistan seems to be having difficulty against them. But the batsmen will have to make adjustments. When it swings, you need to step out of the crease a bit just to cope with it. That way, the ball doesn’t get a lot of distance to swing. Pakistani batsmen will have to adopt similar techniques to kill the swing.

Another important note should be to not hit every ball to the boundary in the power-plays. Power-plays are a wonderful addition for the batting side. Whenever you have batsmen settled at the crease, you should take the batting power-play, regardless of what over it is. Sometimes, teams try to push it to the end and fail in using it to their advantage. This was because batsmen try and hit every ball for four or six. Even if you get a boundary in an over and you go for singles, it is good enough. If you try to hit very hard, you are not able to time the ball well. It is better to use the pace and try to push the ball through the gaps. Poor deliveries should be put away. With such tactics, it shouldn’t be difficult to get eight runs in a power-play over. If you try to hit every ball, you are giving the bowler a chance to take wickets, so when you lose wickets, it builds pressure and you are unable to utilise the power-play.

I have been asked to give my predictions for the ODI series. This is tough, but I will go with a Sri Lankan series win. Although Pakistan is the most talented team in the world, conditions play a big part in this series and they obviously suit the hosts. However, if Pakistan bat first, they must play out their 50 overs and when bowling, they must dismiss Sri Lanka before their the 50 overs are up.

In the first one-day international against Sri Lanka on Thursday, Pakistan dropped a number of catches. speaks to former captain and wicketkeeper Moin Khan about the basics of fielding, anticipation and how this particular aspect of the game can be improved.

Moin Khan played 69 Test matches and over 200 one-day internationals for Pakistan from 1990 to 2004. He will answer a selection of your questions related to this column. Answers will be posted on Monday, June 11.