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Changing of the guard

Published Aug 18, 2010 10:48am


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It speaks volumes for Zulqarnain Haider and Saeed Ajmal that, on the basis of their performances in only a single Test this summer, there are whispers that the two have made a genuine case for replacing Kamran Akmal and Danish Kaneria, two men who had become mainstays in their respective roles for more than half a decade.

But is that more of a testament to the quality of the new blood or to the failings of their predecessors because, come on, how hard is it to make Akmal and Kaneria look bad? If we are using the seniors as a benchmark then really, all that Haider and Ajmal had to do was show up and not mess up considerably to qualify as successful replacements.

Akmal is an abysmal keeper who has clung on to his place in the side on the basis of batting alone, which in of itself has been fairly average in the longer format. Kaneria, while immeasurably more skilled than Ajmal, has yet to develop into the consistent strike bowler Inzamam-ul-Haq always envisioned he would. He remains overly reliant on pitch and conditions and is a tad one dimensional if the batsmen attempt to throw him off his rhythm.

However, it is to do a disservice to both Ajmal and Haider if these two are to be measured against the men whose shoes they stepped into because those shoes certainly don’t take much filling.

Accordingly, before getting too giddy about how we may have turned a corner in our wicket-keeping and spin fortunes, we’re better off judging Haider and Ajmal independently.

Ajmal first.

Saeed has long been unfairly branded a limited-overs bowler, a blatant misconception given that he remains in a classical off spinner all formats of the game. Relying on flight, guile and turn rather than the traditional flatter trajectory which is the stock defensive tool of the standard limited-overs spinner, Ajmal’s approach seemed to be naturally suited to Test cricket. But an extended run never materialised at the Test level, perhaps due to the weight of wickets offered by Kaneria.

It’s a shame because Ajmal to me is more suited to Test cricket than his current mentor, Saqlain Mushtaq , ever was. Saqi simply had too much in his arsenal, capable of bowling 6 different deliveries in the span of an over. Ajmal really has two: the stock off-spinner and the doosra with everything in between being a slight variation or tweak of the same. In Test cricket that is all you need, really. It is more often the element of surprise that accounts for the batsman once he has been taken off his guard by four innocuously similar deliveries. 

As was the case with Paul Collingwood, who failed to read Ajmal’s doosra. By the time Collingwood fell, Ajmal was well and truly on a roll. Sure a couple were fired in, particularly when Kevin Pietersen was trying to impose himself. But for the most part, Ajmal simply transferred the skills exhibited in the limited-overs format to the longer version, with an added dash of patience and consistency.

Kaneria is ultimately a wildcard in the very true spirit of Pakistani cricket. As likely to take four quick wickets in an innings to trigger a collapse as he is to gift a pile of runs to contribute to an innings defeat. Ajmal has always possessed the kind of control which would suggest that, even on an off day, he could at least keep one end quiet. If that can be coupled with a decent strike rate, I see no reason for Kaneria to be picked ahead of him.

Haider next.

It has now been made clear that Haider will play no further part in this Test series. Which makes the mark he left in one match all the more impressive because for the first time in over five years it seems likely that Kamran Akmal is keeping the gloves warm for another.

Let’s not fool ourselves. Haider’s wicket-keeping was not phenomenal. He was alright, but if adequate keeping was all it took to unseat Akmal from his perch, Sarfraz Ahmed would have done so a while back. Akmal is in the squad because we have an incredibly weak batting order and, to our defensive selection committee, he provides some sort of added ballast.

Haider signed off the tour by playing the best innings by a Pakistani batsman this summer (not that competition is stiff in that regard). For Haider’s long term prospects, the manner he made his runs is more significant than the actual number of runs scored. Enough has been said about the courage and tenacity displayed by Haider (and Ajmal) for the way they faced down the English attack when both could have been excused for exiting and letting the top order shoulder the blame. In a span of almost five hours of intense concentration and dogged determination, Haider showcased that he at least possesses the concomitant mental attributes required of a decent wicket-keeper. If the kid has it in him to battle it out in that manner in the face of certain defeat, you can only expect that he has the discipline and focus necessary to hone and improve his primary role in the way Akmal seems incapable of doing.

All Ajmal and Haider had to do last week was have an average game to keep their places ahead of Kaneria and Akmal. Both of them chose to rise above the comfort of low expectations and produced two of the most memorable performances of the summer.

Welcome to Test match cricket boys.

Farooq Nomani is a Karachi-based lawyer who is willing to represent the PCB for free. 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.


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Comments (41) Closed

Imran A. Sep 07, 2010 01:57am
I live in Canada and meet lots of Karachites. I'm from Lahore; I think I'll have to live in Karachi to understand what bias goes on against them. From the few I have met, they don't stay physically fit, eat a huge diet and or take risks. Karachites rely heavily on their intellect rather than physical strength, so maybe they should focus on the batting side and balance out what our teams lack. The department of batting is open to be filled.
Shdhsn Sep 06, 2010 03:19pm
Guys get a life..... except Asim, all of these players from Karachi were given several chances, but they failed to prove themselves at an international level. How come these type of concerns are not raised when 3 to 4 players in the playing eleven are from Karachi. I love Karachi and my fellow countrymen from this region.
Shdhsn Sep 06, 2010 03:12pm
Agreed. These players are humanbeings as well. As long as we know they have given their best effort 100%, we should be happy with their performance. Only one team can win.
Shdhsn Sep 06, 2010 03:08pm
It is amazing so much talent gets wasted, because of personal agendas at PCB. I am hoping one day someone like Imran Khan will be given an opportunity to pwrform the cleanup at PCB administration and retain good talent with proper planning.
Naila Parveen Sep 06, 2010 05:32am
Ajmal and Zulqurnain are very good cricketers and performed very well. It
Karim Javed Aug 18, 2010 07:58am
A new guy comes in team and said this to captain that he cant play because of back pain and when PCB was sending him back to country his back and every thing cleared what is this.Is this PCB or a local cricket club
Razman Aug 20, 2010 05:35am
Rightnow Pakistan is not playing in England its Punjab Playing England in the Test Matches- 10 players are from Punjab- Pakistan Cricket Board is not representating whole Pakistan- Facts: 10 players from Punjab Coaches from Punjab Team Manager from Punjab PCB Chairman from Punjab Please tell me about that- Nobody is from Sindh (mainly from Karachi, hyderabad), NWFP, and many other parts of Pakistan.
waqas Aug 19, 2010 11:08am
I think zulqarnain is good batsmen like kamran akmal if you are talking about wicket keeper the best choice is Sarfraz Ahmed who i think much better keeper than both and he can bat too.
Abdul Ala Aug 19, 2010 09:32am
I have been reading comments made by the readers with interest. Some really do have weight in their contents. I would rather like to comment on captain issue only. The present captain Salman But though very young but has proved to be far better than all captains made during the last five years. He is chrismatic and intelligent and above all very cool to skip all controversies. However, still I feel the best person who could be most successful caption in the given circumstances is Misbahuddin. He is intelligent, educated and highly professional. I hope others readers will also agree with me.l
Fahad Hashmat Aug 19, 2010 09:36am
Sorry, this is @Karim Javed. Others, thank you for positive nods.
Sanjay Aug 19, 2010 08:37am
challenge is good for cricket. It's amazing that Pak is able to produce many individual talented match winners season after season. Only regret is none of them persists in long run. Reason is still a mystery to me. I am sure you guys have better idea!
Kashif Aug 19, 2010 08:01am
Give Fawad enough chances first. The kind of chances provided to umar akmal, kamran akmal, umar amin, shoaib malik, azhar ali, IMRAN FARHAT, etc ect and then judge the player. He is a gutsy cricketer. He may not be the best around but he is certainly better than the players mentioned above.
Kashif Aug 19, 2010 07:57am
There are some very useful players playing from the Karachi region as well. Players like Asim Kamal, Tanvir, Faisal Iqbal, Sarfaraz. Though it was good to drop kaneria (from Karachi as well) but there seemed to be some kind of bias prevailing against the Karachi cricketers.
Tayyeb Aug 19, 2010 07:09am
So far Fawad Alam has done nothing but disappoint at international level. Having said that he deserves a chance to play fo a longe period
Tayyeb Aug 19, 2010 07:07am
No this is Pakistan eleven When will get out of provinicalism, regionalism, sectorioism .... At a time when we need unity a useless comment.
Fahad Hashmat Aug 19, 2010 06:51am
Well, you have raised some good point here. All from Punjab (with the exception of Yasir Hameed who got the chance because Umar Amin was dropped, again player from Rawalpindi Punjab). This is quite a sensitive issue. Lets make this clear - I intend no attack on any region in fact I believe Punjab had and will always lead the way in producing some awesome players. But one question? Does this signify that there is no other player from the other three regions who will make any impact on the game? This, in fact, could raise serious concern on our board's competency. Team's composition is not balanced and confined to one region and to further push the dagger, they are losing and that too very badly. This is a Pakistani team, please at least leave this cricket place clean of politics and regionalism. I request the board to think ahead, think for Pakistan, and what is good for the country. Promoting and selecting our players only will only harm the game. I am sure there will good players from other part of the country, please give them chance.
zulqurnan Aug 19, 2010 06:30am
The problem with our nation is that they want our player to perform well all the time. As soon as they failed to perform people start criticism. Well you are right that Ajmal didn't perform well in last semi final of T20. So there is no other option for Afridi to give last over because we didn't have Umer gul with us. So in the previous T20 WC which we won, Ajmal performed really well and all guys start saying that we got a very good bowler etc. And now when he is not performing well in some matches so you guys start criticism. So be +ve and try to look both sides of the pictures. It is not possible that every player perform well for life time.
Masood Aug 19, 2010 05:09am
Well the writer is wrong in his views what Ajmal did in the T20 series the match we had won easily was shifted to aussies by this great man ajmal.. he is a very average bowler.. hussey threw him out of the park and again he was bowling on the same line and length... he must be thrown out of the team.. Kamran Akmal is kept out for 5 matches and than included in team he shows performance otherwise not. Farhat, Ajmal and Azhar Ali immediately be excluded from the squad
Manas Aug 19, 2010 06:14am
Its a great day for Pakistan cricket and the cricket as a whole. These young Pakistani players are proving that they can stand with the best. I hope that PCB does make the mistake of recalling any of the old players. With time, young guys like Wahab Riaz, Zulqarnain, Ajmal, Amer etc will do more wonders. It is always good to see the fresh and young blood on the field performing with enthusiasm and killer instinct. They may falter occasionally here and there but in the long run Pakistani cricket will find their new heroes. Cheers to these guys...
Tughral Aug 19, 2010 04:36am
Fahad's view is correct I think. We shouldnt rush into making national heros out of players based on one or two performances. Its consistency which counts. Haider should definitely be given a run at the national level now and given a chance to show if hes got what it takes, otherwise Sarfraz Ahmed should also be tried out. Akmal really should be rested, no matter who his replacement is. With his current form I think anyone can do a better job! Ajmal though is a good option in Kaneria's place and has also been more consistent with his performance. Kaneria seems to have peaked as a bowler and just doesnt seem threatening anymore. At least Ajmal looks like he can take wickets. I dont agree with the author that Ajmal is a better bowler for tests than Saqlain though. Saqlain was a genuine wicket taker who was always looking to attack. Ajmal is more of a container. Test cricket requires wicket takers.
Zulqurnan Aug 19, 2010 04:32am
Ajmal and Zulqurnain are very good cricketers and performed very well. Yes Akmal must be replaced by Zulqurnain, but unfortunately he got injury and couldn't play the 3rd test. I think Zulqurnain could play 3rd test as he said himself, but selectors didn't give him chance, may be they didn't want to take risk because it is the must win game for Pakistan.
iqbal Aug 18, 2010 06:50am
why is Imran Farhat still with the team ?????
Shahzad Aug 19, 2010 02:54am
So why is Zularnain out of the playing eleven.... way to encourage your fresh talent............ good job selectors............... I think Salman Butt should be dropped............
Nasir Habib Aug 19, 2010 02:39am
Is this Pakistan Eleven or Punjab Eleven?????????????? wahab Riaz - Lahore, punjab Yasir Hameed - Peshawar, northwest frontier Imran Farhat - Lahore, punjab salman butt - Lahore, punjab M. yousuf - Lahore, punjab Azhar Ali - Lahore, punjab Umar Akmal - Lahore, Punjab Kamran Akmal - Lahore, Punjab M. Amir - Gujjar Khan, Punjab Saeed Ajmal - Faisalabad, Punjab M. Asif - Sheikhupura, Punjab ..................................
Rizwan Liaqat Aug 18, 2010 07:51pm
lol. everyone knows the answer to that one.
Naeem Husain Aug 18, 2010 08:00pm
You are jumping to the conclusion. You surely forgot to mentioned that Kamaran Akamal has drop so many catches and has missed stumping chances on Kanaria's bowling. Just be fair!. He is the top spinner in Pakistan side and you are comparing him with Ajmal who got lucky due to the turning pictch in the last test with England. Ajmal is a good bowler but don't put Kanerai down. For your information it was pakistan's batting that failed and yet every body start pointing finger at Kaneria and made him a scapegoat. That's the problem, we start praising too soon and discard players easily who have contributed to pakistan's cricket so much.
Hanif Aug 19, 2010 12:58am
On one performance you wrote an artile, Karanira is very experienced leg spiner, our captain never used him efficiently, look at his performance in County cricket adn we are saying for years he is not good for one day cri cket. Similarly we Zulkarnain drop 2 important catched, we nned a good wicket keeper cum batsman not batman cum wicket keeper. Sarfraz is a good choice and I am sure he will not slected because he is from Karachi. Similarly we Kanaria is also from Karachi .... this 100th try to get rid of him as well. PCB (is Punjab Cricket Board ) not Pakistan cricket board. I have no hope of improvments.
Billy Aug 18, 2010 06:43pm
Because of his father-in-law (he is a selector).
akhan Aug 18, 2010 06:40pm
well if we are pushing zulqarnain on his batting performance then we are doing the same what we did with akmal after his mohali test century. zulqarnain didn't have a great match as wicket keeper which is his main job, batting is bonus. i am not saying that he should not be considered again but things needs to be kept in perspective.
Shahab Raza Aug 27, 2010 02:05am
"Saqi simply had too much in his arsenal, capable of bowling 6 different deliveries in the span of an over." Are you serious? What sort of cricket do you watch? Too bad Wasim survived test cricket. Was his arsenal not big enough?
Abdul Sallam JP Aug 18, 2010 03:44pm
Well written ! Send this to the PCB .. Replace Farhat please - bring back Fawad Alam
Sunil Gautam Aug 18, 2010 07:54am
Very well written, Farooq. Great read. Insightful, objective and detailed. Well done.
Muhammad SHoaib Aug 18, 2010 07:49am
@ Fahad Hashmat I just want to say that when u will compare the starting games of Haider and Ajmal you will say that they are good option rather than saying that they are better. I think kamran akmal is a good bastman than the wicketkeeping i think he should now start playing cricket as a batsman rather than a player.
Karim Javed Aug 18, 2010 07:45am
But what will you say when Wasim Akram himself compares Aamir with him even better then himself he said ;) " Aamir is Cleverer than me when i was 18"
syed tanveer Aug 18, 2010 07:35am
want to improve team's performance then get rid of Imran farhat and Akmal brothers. Are these selctors naive.?
Muhammad Danish Aug 18, 2010 07:28am
The major deficiency of Kaneria is inconsistency. There is no use of taking 3-4 wickets (of tail enders) after bowling 40-50 overs when the opponent's batting line have made plenty of runs. Saeed Ajmal should have been called earlier. I think there is no need to discuss the case of Kamran Akmal...
Aamir Saeed Aug 18, 2010 07:23am
I am fully agreed with the opnion of Fahad Kashmat
M. Asghar Aug 18, 2010 09:57am
In cricket like in the other sports, one has to know and be able to practise the subtleties of the game in a steadfast manner in the team. One or a few good performances may be very misleading, particularly, when the performer is placed instantaneously on a hero's pedestal and granted unjustified financial or other awards which tend to loosen the player's need and urge to remain focused on his job. Moreover, for a consistent performance, the trainer and the captain must be clear sighted and firm, but just in their attitude and behavior towards the players on and off the ground.
Fahad Hashmat Aug 18, 2010 06:38am
Well, this is the case with us! We have simply judged haider and even ajmal on their one good performance. If we look at Akmal and Kaneria's past performances, I am sure they will have some fantastic performances attached to their names yet we simply discard those and judge on what is recent! By no means I am saying Akmal and Kaneria are the better two or the other two do not deserve the chance but all I intend to mention is that it is too early to judge. Like Azhar Ali's crucial fifty does not mean he has replaced Yousef or Younis but give the new players some time to play. Another point: we are too quick in transforming players to national hero, remember how many players have we labeled the "next Wasim Akram"? Muhammad Sami, Muhammad Asif, perhaps Shabbir as well and the latest is Muhammad Amir...the list will continue. Wasim Akram did not happen over night. Let's stop our quick player-to-hero-transformation mindset.
akbar Aug 18, 2010 06:14am
It,s too early to say about, that Haider is a perfact replacement for Akmal but Ajmal is definitely a step forward. Kaneria is too predictable & thus prone to concede crucial runs before taking wickets. His 6 or 7 wickets for 200 or more runs in a dead match doesnot signify his brilliance. Ajmal has a genuine claim to replace him. Akmal on the other hand is a real batting talent,leaving aside his keeping lapses. But one thinks that if we had to replace Kamran,it should be with a wicketkeeper rather than another batsman. Haider too was not clean in his keeping in his first outing for the national team. If we need a real WK , Sarfaraz Ahmed may be a true replacement for Akmal.
mansoor Aug 18, 2010 06:12am
ajmal and zulqarnain, both have performed commendably well in the birmingham test match, and had they stayed together for the rest of the day they would have provided a stiffer target to Strauss and Co. It is high time that Kamran Akmal must be replaced and both Zulqarnain and Sarfraz who are younger as well as leaner compared to Akmal may be provided more international exposures. Ajmal, on the other hand, had always been dubbed as a one day bowler, who went on to prove his point when he took his first five for and did not allow England to take a huge 1st innings lead and had catches off his bowling been taken in the 2nd, the course of the match would have been totally different