Monthly Archives: December 2011

The next step….

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Gambling of any sorts is unlawful in Pakistan, yet many have seen and heard punters from all over the country, take risks and bet a huge amount of money on cricket. We have had our share of maverick cricketers, who not only took chances on the playing field and came out triumphant more often than not, but also indulged in taking risks off the field. The cricketing world finds our brand of cricket exciting due to its impulsive nature.

Yet, ever since the trios of spot fixing Pakistani cricketers were exposed, there has been a dearth of unpredictable actions, arcane simplicity and downright dullness being associated to Pakistan cricket. A Pakistani cricket fan is used to high octane action on the field, and there is still plenty of that as long as Shahid Afridi is around in the limited overs international. But, there has been a visible lack of positive intention from our test batsmen over the last 12 months or so.

Nobody can argue the solid results under the leadership of astute captain Misbah ul Haq, but the batting approach against lower ranked teams leaves a lot to be desired. Now I am no adrenaline junkie (it is desired at times though), but using a more positive batting approach will actually help the test team in order to win against quality opposition. Whilst batting has been solid, it is our bowling which has allowed Misbah’s men to have a winning record ever since he took over.

Team Misbah - solid but unspectacular

Our first test win this year, against New Zealand was courtesy of our bowling line-up which bundled up the wafer thin New Zealand batting line for a 110 in their second innings to secure a win in 3 days. Whereas the second test against NZ, where both teams batted under the RR of 3 in their first innings, and our bowlers could not wrap up the opposition for less than 250, ended up as a draw due to the safety first approach (nothing wrong with that) by batting at a RR of 2.45.

Pakistan’s only test loss came against the first test during the tour of West Indies on a tricky pitch, where once again our bowlers were superb, but the batsman failed to raise their game up a notch against a virtual minnow and were un-successful in chasing a modest total of 219. Pakistan scored a grand total of 160 and 178 in the two innings, both at a RR of under 2.50 – needless to say that Pakistan won the 2nd test and drew the test series after a much positive batting display where they piled up the runs in the second innings at 3.35 runs per over and restricting the opposition to less than 250 in both innings.

The upcoming series against England will be an important moment in shaping up the legacy of Team Misbah, it could either make or break his reputation as the best captain Pakistan has ever had, after Imran. I recently asked Pakistani cricket fans about the inability of Pakistani batsmen to score freely in test cricket, and whether this approach will be successful against a strong batting line-up of England. Most of them responded by saying that this conservative approach can be used to beat lower ranked teams, not the best team in the world.

What we are up against...

England has scored at a run-rate of 3.81 this year in test cricket, meaning that on an average, they have scored 342 runs in a day. Whereas Pakistan, have only managed to score 256 runs on average. It is the second worst of all test playing nations, just beating Zimbabwe.

Runs per six balls this year

Rotating the strike is one of the most undervalued cricketing ability in Pakistan. Not only does it keep the scoreboard running, it also helps release pressure and throws the opposition bowler off his plan. We might not appreciate it when batting against the likes of Shahdat Hossain, Lakmal or a Darren Sammy but come crunch time against England; their wily bowlers will use this shortcoming to exert pressure on our batsmen. And it is only a matter of time before it ensues into another classic collapse against a quality opposition.

If you ask Misbah, he would tell you that he plays the game to WIN. While going berserk is not being advocated, but showing the hunger to win, being upbeat while batting and taking risks can bring no harm to Team Misbah. It is the only natural step; they have to take to reach the top and be truly worthy of being compared to the unpredictable yet exciting yesteryear teams of Pakistan.

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Aamb Chupo

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He has scored 840 runs in 16 innings so far in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at an average of 70. He has scored 3 hundreds and a fifty, at an impressive strike rate of 71. He has had another stellar season on the domestic season, but Fawad Alam still finds himself out of the national team. The lean run-making machine is despised by fans of pajama cricket, on the bogus postulation of his un-ability to hit boundaries. Fawad has played some very valuable innings for Pakistan, in spite of the constant mistreatment of his abilities by the team management – he has it in him to be a solid all-round cricketer in Test and ODI cricket. Yet, he gets dropped for his shortcomings in a format ill-suited to the brand of cricket he plays.

Scoring 168 on test debut, away from home, from an unfamiliar position – where the rest of the team crumbled around you, is a significant feat. Such is the misfortune of Pakistan cricket that the precious talent found him out of the test team after just 2 more tests. He was presented to New Zealand as a sacrificial goat, due to the cowardly attitude of the senior players (read: Shoaib Malik) in the team, who refused to bat at #3 on a green top in New Zealand.

Fawad has represented Pakistan in 54 international matches in all three formats of the game; almost half of those have been T20I – a format of the game which is not suited to his approach of batting when sent at #6 or 7. Out of the 17 innings he has played in T20’s only 4 of them have been at his natural position of #4, 5. His two most noteworthy contributions in T20I cricket were his; 8-ball-23 against Sri Lanka in Canada, and his run out of Albie Morkel in the semi-final of the T20 WC 09.

Fawad along with Umer Akmal was the solitary bright spot during the Australian shambles of 2010. After being ignored for the first 2 ODIs, Fawad complimented Umer well, and formed superb partnerships with the Lahore Dynamite, which were a treat to watch from a Pakistani fans point of view. He came in to bat under complicated circumstances when the team was 4 down for as little as 39 runs, but ran hard, took singles and built partnerships.

In the sheer gloominess of the tour wash, he was being looked as a steadfast and responsible young talent, with a sane head. He averaged 39 in ODI’s against Australia, made valuable contributions in the England ODI series after the spot-fixing trauma, with an important 64 in the Umer Gul ODI. He also played a very useful hand at Abu Dhabi, in the Razzle Dazzle Show. Nearly got Pakistan home in the 3rd ODI against Saffers and was then unceremoniously dropped from the team in New Zealand after one T20 failure.

Another substantiation of his grown-up attitude can be found in his absolute silence on the issue of his non-selection. He has thrown no tantrums unlike other ‘stars’ in Pakistan, has not run his mouth off in the media, has not blamed anyone – but has promised to try his level best to get back into the team, on the basis of his domestic performances. Boy has he delivered on those promises.

Those who rubbish his domestic performances are naïve. Averaging 58.60 (the highest ever) in the history of Pakistan cricket is no mean feat, at any level of cricket. There is no point of having a domestic structure if you are not going to select players on the basis of how well they have done there.

His critics often question his lack of a proper technique as a reason why he shouldn’t be in the team. To them I say, aamb chupo.