The recently concluded Quaid-i-Azam Trophy final featured around half a dozen Pakistan prospects, of which some have already made very brief appearances in the national squad. The title clash, which saw Karachi Blues triumph over Sialkot, commenced on the day Pakistan were whitewashed 3-0 against a rampant South Africa, who completed the innings and 18-run demolition inside three days.
The natural reaction after such a comprehensive beating was to look inwards and towards the future. The sixth whitewash in the last thirteen years was a clear indication of the fact that no lessons had been learnt from the past as the team continued to expose its frailties against well-oiled, top class Test playing units in their own conditions.
After what seemed like a blip in proceedings in the form of the T20 win at Centurion, Misbah-ul-Haq’s men suffered a similar hiding in the first ODI. Although it is too early for a verdict on the ODI series, the team’s 125-run loss highlighted the confused mindset with which Pakistan is approaching limited-overs cricket. The lineup just did not appear to be settled on whether to stick with experience or back newcomers and the balance of the squad also seemed heavily tilted towards batsmen, who, once again, failed.
Under the scanner
Dav Whatmore, the high profile coach who was considered a messiah for Pakistan cricket (even though he joined the team when they had just whitewashed the then no. 1 Test team England, under coach Mohsin Khan), seems to be fast joining the club of ‘foreign flops’.
While one doesn’t want to blame the coaches squarely for the horrendous shows abroad, the fact remains that the work of the backup staff begins well before embarking on a tour. The teams put out for the first Test at the Wanderers and even the first ODI, clearly indicate a lack of planning and understanding of the players at disposal. Foreign coaches, it can be safely said, have hardly been the tonic for Pakistan.
Pakistan’s batting has appeared as fragile and brittle as it was in all the disastrous whitewashes the team has suffered in the last thirteen years. The batsmen were clearly in no man’s land with their techniques and were ruthlessly exposed by the South African attack.
As usual the blame was laid on lack of practice in these conditions, however, the collapses did not stop after the 49-run nightmare at the Wanderers.
In every Test, the story was the same; the batting collapsed from a position of strength as time and again, a dominant position was given away. This reflects that despite being exposed to the same attack six different times, the batsmen failed to counter the conditions.
A bowling attack devoid of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel even put paid to the hopes of Misbah’s men getting off of to a winning start in the ODIs, batting once again the culprit after the Pakistani captain surprisingly inserted South Africa in on a flatland.
The ‘Asian giant’ has four more games to salvage something positive from this tour.
Will the trend continue in the near future when Pakistan embarks on fresh foreign tours and the reserves make it to top flight cricket? That is the question that Pakistan’s team management needs to address urgently.
Let us mull on what can be done differently and rather than dwelling on the ignominy let us look for some remedies, lessons that need to be learned and more importantly adhered to in the years ahead. Pakistan’s next big test in the Southern Hemisphere is going to be in Australia.
The series is a few years away and the PCB must arrange a tour for the ‘A’ team down under before the senior team’s sojourn, to give exposure to players expected to feature in the squad for perhaps the more significant Test-half of the tour.
A lot of thought needs to go in the composition of the ‘A’ team; the ideal balance must comprise of players who are strong contenders of making the senior team for the Test tour, batsmen, bowlers and, ideally, a solid keeper.
Besides, the possibility of sending some players for grooming at the Australian Centre of Excellence in Brisbane needs to be seriously looked at.
The stint there would provide the trainees exposure to the Aussie mindset; the techniques that are adopted for practice, and most importantly, give them a taste of their pitches. The exercise should also condition them mentally and give them an understanding of how they can topple the mighty in their own backyard. It is something that the embattled Australian squad could have done well to adopt before taking the trip to India.
Players like Umar Amin, Umar Akmal, Khurram Manzoor, Anwar Ali, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Rizwan, and Harris Sohail should be in the fray for such an exercise.
Here is a possible squad picked on the basis of performances in domestic tournaments this season.
Sixteen members ‘A’ team squad:
Openers: Khurram Manzoor, Shan Masood, Sharjeel Khan
Middle Order Batsmen: Haris Sohail, Akbar ur Rehman, Fawad Alam, Umar Amin, Umar Akmal, Mohammad Rizwan (Wicket-Keeper)
Spinners: Raza Hasan/Zulfiqar Babar, Yasir Shah
Fast Bowlers: Anwar Ali, Wahab Riaz, Bilawal Bhatti, Ehsan Adil , Imran Khan
The players shortlisted are the ones who have had decent seasons in the domestic four-day competitions, Presidents Trophy and Quaid-i-Azam Trophy held over the course of the last three-four months.
This squad comprises of some of the most promising players on the national scene and before they break into the national fold, they need to have their skills honed at the ‘A’ level.
Let us dwell on some of these prospects, the notable mentions perhaps, that Pakistan is pinning its hopes upon for the years ahead.
He didn’t deliver in the Tests he featured in during the English summer of 2010, however, he scored big in the last domestic season. He is a useful bowler and a sharp fielder who can be groomed into an international class talent in a couple of years.
Since his debut hundred, the younger Akmal hasn’t exactly set the world alight in the longest format, yet the pedestrian nature of our batsman-ship needs someone who can break the shackles and attack. Umar has that ability found rarely in Pakistani batsmen of the current era.
Manzoor prospered in the only Test he played in Australia in 2010, scoring a patient back-against-the-wall 77 in Hobart as the tourists crashed to a heavy defeat. He sure deserves another chance and can be invested in for the assignment down under.
The talented batsman may have harmed his Test stakes after the injury to his ankle yet the consensus is that he is easily the best middle-order prospect in the country. Couple it with the fact that he bats left-handed and he will be a much-needed inclusion in the squad, devoid of a southpaw in the batting order. Before the Australian tour he should be given a taste of international cricket and allowed to harness his talent.
Riaz was in the spotlight throughout the spot-fixing scandal and since the horrendous episode, has made sporadic appearances at the highest level. He is easily one of the fastest bowlers at the domestic level and must be given an extended run; his whippy action should help him on the bouncy Australian tracks.
The Karachi pacer Anwar Ali, who made waves with his stunning swing bowling in the U19 World Cup final in 2006, is a capable fast-medium bowler besides being a decent batsman. He has not been played in an ODI or a Test for reasons best known to the team management. The 25-year-old featured in squads to UAE for Pakistan series against Australia and then India, yet he has not made a single appearance since his inauspicious T20 debut five years ago.
Rizwan is a promising wicket-keeper who has already scored three hundreds in first-class cricket at a tender age of 20. The Peshawar born player is already being hailed as a pugnacious character and the word is that Misbah-Ul-Haq, his captain and SNGPL teammate, wanted him to board the plane to South Africa.
Hasan displayed his worth as an accurate, wicket-taking slow-left arm bowler at the 2012 World T20. Injury has kept him out since, but he is looking good to push Abdur Rehman for a spot in the lineup.
Maximum exposure in the Australian conditions is the only way forward. If the think tank has any doubts, one simple fact should make them realize why this is of utmost importance.
Pakistan has lost not two, three or four but as many as nine Test matches on the bounce down under. The last three Test series have all ended in whitewashes, if this isn’t enough to wake up the cricket board, who knows what is.
Secondly, mental toughness is extremely important for our players who do appear battle-hardened when faced with top oppositions in their conditions.
Misbah and his men had a timid approach in South Africa and it was sheer torture to see them bat and not break the shackles in any of the three Tests barring the post tea session on the opening day of the Cape Town Test.
The sooner we get rid of the tried and failed philosophy of occupying the crease without any intention of maintaining a scoring rate of at least three runs to the over, the better.
Time and again the batsmen hung around at the batting crease for long periods of time without ever trying to break the momentum, as soon as a partnership was broken the inevitable collapse followed. The scoring patterns in the Misbah-Asad Shafiq partnership in Jo’burg, Misbah-Azhar Ali alliance in Cape Town’s second innings and the Azhar Ali-Imran Farhat’s stand in Centurion’s second innings is the requisite proof.
Contrary to expectations, the bowling performance was also a major let down in South Africa.
Umar Gul is unfortunately past his prime as a Test bowler while Mohammad Irfan doesn’t look like a long term prospect due to his gangly frame and subsequent fitness concerns.
Junaid Khan impressed in his first day burst in Johannesburg and his injury clearly dampened the spirits in the last two Tests; surprisingly the best haul by a Pakistani pacer was delivered by Rahat Ali, who snared six wickets in Centurion.
Rahat has a long way to go yet, however, he is likely to take the field in Pakistan’s next Test assignment in the West Indies following the Centurion performance.
Junaid should be partnering him with the new ball but one feels Umar Gul needs to be rested now, the search for a spearhead for the pace attack is the order of the day and unless we groom a couple of bowlers and give them sustained exposure before the Australian tour, the results are set to disappoint.
The spin attack hopefully would still have Saeed Ajmal wheeling away, since he is at present the only world-class bowler Pakistan possesses.
The wicket-keeping slot is also up for grabs, the ‘A’ tour or the session in the Australian academy would help in finding a capable replacement for Sarfraz Ahmed and the Akmals.
Will lessons be learnt?
When Pakistan lost the first ODI in Bloemfontein, many fans may have wondered whether, barring the T20 win, this would be a repeat of the 2009/10 tour to Australia. Clear heads can avoid that disaster and any potential ones that maybe in store for Pakistan outside of Asia. How things proceed after the South African journey will indicate whether administrators have learnt and have the will to change.