THE VIEW FROM LORD’S: Advantage England

Pakistan have a fine record at Lord’s over the past tours to England, limiting to Test matches. Interestingly they have won here in some nail biting finishes, such as in 1982 when Mohsin Khan and Javed Miandad roared home against the clock to defeat England by 10 wickets; with similar close wins in 1992 (2 wickets), an overwhelming one in 1996 (164 runs) and then in 2016 by 75 runs.

They drew 4 of their first six Tests here from 1954 to 1978, and then did not lose another Test here till 2001, after which they lost two of the next three. The good news is that their last memory is of a win which is also one that is best remembered for Misbah’s salute and the push up celebration by him on reaching his hundred; and by the team after the victory.

So when the Pakistanis march into the hallowed turf at Lord’s what record will they have in mind? It’s all sqaure with 4 Test wins each at Lord’s from 15 played. Yet England have the experience to par with home conditions and this is a raw, young side.

Sarfraz will be fully aware that they are without last time’s match winners Misbah ul Haq (114) and Yasir Shah (10 wickets). Added to that they will also be missing experienced campaigners in Younus Khan, Mohammad Hafeez and Wahab Riaz – in fact only 4 of that winning eleven (Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammad Amir) survive from Lord’s 2016 if Pakistan drop Rahat Ali.

That seems on the cards after Rahat couldn’t get a breakthrough in the second innings against Test minnows Ireland last week. And against Leicestershire he couldn’t fill the last column either though the edges he created were missed twice in the slips.

So who replaces him? I would urge Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz to throw in an extra batsman in either Usman Salahuddin, who showed some fine strokeplay in his unbeaten 69 last Saturday at Leicester, or Saad Ali, who can also turn his arm over with military medium.

I say an extra batsman because Pakistan doesn’t really have anyone in the bowling ranks who is a speedster. Hasan Ali seems the obvious choice for an apples to apples replacement and can make the ball talk on his day. But it’s an experienced bowling attack (Anderson and Broad have nearly a thousand Test wickets between them – 941 to be exact) that Pakistan’s frail batting may well fall pray of. Even Mark Wood or Chris Woakes can do a bit on the slope at Lord’s.

For those who don’t know about this, the north-west side of the playing surface is just over 8 feet higher than the south-east side. Resultantly anyone bowling inswingers from the pavilion end will get palpable deviance in bounce off the pitch and when bowling from the other end to move away.

Which is why at Lord’s off spinners and inswingers are normally bowled from the pavilion end and leg spinners and bowlers with strong outswing from the far end. Of course that is a preference but not a hard and fast rule.

Also, in both the innings at Malahide, Pakistan lost their first two wickets at 13 and were half out at 150-odd. The England bowling line up is far more threatening. Though the forecast for the match is of dry weather but thunderstorms are expected which means overcast sky for a while leading to some swing and wobble. It is anathema for Pakistani batsmen who are ascetic in their footwork and shorn of technique against the moving ball. You normally see them edging or putting pad before bat or simply inside edging on to the stumps. Fodder for the swing bowler.

Pakistan can even consider Fakhar Zaman but I would guard against it. He is like Saeed Anwar but no Saeed Anwar yet. At the moment he can get into quite awkward positions and English slips should gobble him up if he doesn’t expose his stumps before that. Perhaps the only thing going for him (if Pakistan don’t go for a fifth bowler in Hasan Ali) is his experience of English conditions and runs in the Champions Trophy, especially against England in the semifinal where he fetched 57; but mind you, without Anderson and Broad playing.

I also think it’s risky to put Haris Sohail at No. 3 and I’d rather send in Asad Shafiq even though it would mean totally unsettling him after pushing him to number four from six. But Haris has a habit of edging through the slips and to gully early on when the newish ball swings more. I would play him at No. 4.

Babar Zaman should retain his place at No.5 and then we have the batsman from either Fakhar, Usman or Saad followed by the allrounders Faheem Ashraf, Sarfraz (who should bat at No.7 to get back his form rather than carry the burden of a specialist batsman at No.6) and Shadab.

By not playing an extra bowler, I don’t think Pakistan will lose much. The fifth bowler couldn’t do much when Kevin O’Brian and Thompson were batting. And Sarfraz never used Haris Sohail and Azhar Ali who have the potential of partnership breakers. He can do that at Lord’s.

Yes, there is the fear if fitness of Amir but from what I was told by sources inside the squad was that at Malahide it was more cramps than a pulled muscle. Sarfraz got panicky and sent him off but he is quite fit to bowl as he showed in the lunch session at Leicester when he bowled full throttle on the side pitch.

Abbas and Shadab are the ones against whom the England batsman will have done their homework. Sarfraz should try Shadab more and more from the far end to take advantage of the slope. But I have a feeling that the English batsmen will play both with confidence. It was Yasir’s guile that got them two years ago. Shadab is someone who more often than not pushes the ball through and the English batsman like the ball coming on to the bat. They are likely to counter him by rotating the strike.

Regarding Abbas, the Englishman play his type for their bread and butter in the county championship. Yet he can be dangerous if only because he sticks to a good length and like McGrath and Asif, can be annoyingly accurate.

Overall England have the edge I believe. I also fear for an under 150 score by Pakistan in one of the innings. The best thing they can do if they win the toss is to bat and spend time at the pitch but to be not too defensive. Both Anderson and Broad can smell the fear a mile away. Strike rotation is essential.

Sarfraz also needs to be aggressive and play to his instincts. At Malahide he took the second slip away too quickly when the key partnerships were developing in the lower order. He has to attack England. Otherwise their bulldog spirit can totally overwhelm them. And he has to let go the shorter format temperament and let go the attempted cut outside off stump.

It’s going to be tough, very tough against England. The record show that when Pakistan have won at Lord’s they’ve mostly squeezed through and when they’ve lost they’ve lost heavily. Its 4-4 as I said but the advantage in this game is decidedly England’s.

END

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Nerves on Both Sides – A round-up and preview of Pakistan’s strategy against Ireland

When Sarfraz Ahmed walks out to toss with William Porterfield, he will be as nervous as Ireland’s captain. While William will be tossing up for the first time in a Test match — and will join J Lillywhite (England), DW Gregory (Australia), OR Dunell (South Africa), K Nunes (West Indies), TC Lowry (New Zealand) CK Nayudu (India), AH Kardar (Pakistan), B Warnapura (Sri Lanka), DL Houghton (Zimbabwe), Naimur Rahman (Bangladesh) who did so for their countries. Sarfraz will be aware that should it be overcast, his experienced men and young batting charges will be batting as if with fishing rods.

He will be hard pressed to decide what his batsmen’s true worth is – Canterbury or Northampton. For that matter is Hobson’s Choice for both are Division Two Teams. Worse, Pakistani batting fared poorly against Kent who were placed fifth in Division Two last season.

Yes, it was overcast, the ball was seaming but if one watches the dismissals of top batsmen there was the perennial playing over the inswinger, the dab to the wicketkeeper or first slip, the pad before bat ploy and the mistimed cut for a play-on to the stumps.  All reeking of lack of technique and a limited overs attitude.

And with the weather forecast in Malahide, in the Dublin suburbs set to be cloudy, even the aging Boyd Rankin (33) and Tim Murtagh (36) will pose some serious questions even to the better prepared touring batsmen. Sarfraz will be most worried that the one batsman who hasn’t been in the runs in three outings has been the one he is most relying on to defy the Irish opening bowlers — Azhar Ali. The Pakistani opener, with a Test average of 46.62 (that turns into 31.92 in Test matches in British Isles) has scores of 15, 9 and 10 (run out) on the tour so far.

Normally a poor run going into the first Test weighs on an opener who needs time at the crease to fully acclimatise to the swing of the new ball. All that can be hoped is that Azhar will weigh in with all his experience against what is a goodish attack but not unplayable. Sarfraz needs him there to give not just a good start but confidence to the young wards coming in after him.

But before they do what of his partner? Surely it has to be Imam-ul-Haq, someone whom many, including myself, were questioning as to whether he deserves a place in the squad ahead of Fawad Alam.  Yes, the point rises once again that these are Division Two bowlers against whom he has scores of 61, 11 and 59 not out. If I was the tour selector I would have played Sami Aslam and Imam-ul-Haq at Northampton to give both a level playing field in better weather conditions. But now playing Imam-ul Haq is a no brainer especially as Haris Sohail has proven that at No.3 he has the temperament and technique to play seam and swing with two fifties in the game against Northamptonshire.

Despite a sound 186 not out at Northamptonshire I still feel Asad Shafiq must bat at No.6 where he has more centuries (9) than Sir Garry Sobers at that number. He bats well with tail-enders and (selfishly) needs some runs from the top order to get going. That way he bats well with the tail as he did with Amir and Rahat at Northampton.

I would still push Babar Azam at No.4 especially as he as displayed more self-belief and self-constraint. He is getting out to loose shots when he gets settled in, often on the offside. It is just a matter of sitting him down and telling him how good he is.

So who bats at No. 5 if Asad is to be held back at his record breaking number? Well Sarfraz tried something by playing five specialist batsmen and then himself but it hasn’t worked as he’s put together 12 runs in two innings. Should he take the chance and bat at No.5? Or should he go back to No. 7 and play a specialist batsman in Saad Ali or Usman Salahuddin who haven’t featured in the two games or play Faheem Ashraf up the order and play therefore five bowlers?

The answer would depend on how he ranks the Irish batsmen and whether four bowlers are enough to get 20 wicket sin the Test.

If not then he will play Fahim Ashraf as an allrounder either at No. 6 by sending Asad Shafiq to No.4 or play Fahim at No. 5. Otherwise Sarfraz can move himself up and play Fahim at No.7 in case Mickey Arthur decides to play five specialist batsmen, two allrounders (Fahim and Sarfraz) and four specialist bowlers.

That would be the three pacers Mohammad Amir, Rahat Ali and Mohammad Abbas plus the leg spinning prodigy that Shahdab Ahmed is turning out to be, especially following his ten-for at Northampton.

But what will still worry Sarfraz is Amir who has 1-122 in 42 overs on the tour and went wicketless at Northampton. Azhar Mahmood has called him the spearhead but so far he’s bringing up the rear. And it was left to Abbas to clean up Northants with 4-62; Rahat Ali’s 4 wickets in the game making an equal impact.

Nevertheless the fact remains these were Division Two batsmen and bowlers and remember Joe Denly and Rob Newton both scored a ton against the cream of Pakistan’s bowling.

So when the toss is made Sarfraz may continue looking up and praying even as the coin falls down. It won’t be only William Porterfield who will be nervous.

END

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Aaj Ka Din — Pearl Anniversary

 

(For the full ghazal go to https://sohaibalvi.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/aaj-ka-din/ on this very blog page)

Were we not destined to love 24/7 my dear wife?
You see Allah destined us to be wedded on 24/7.

On this day you trusted your hand in mine though I was not worthy of your beauty and soul. You trusted to share your future with me when I had no future promised. You trusted me when I had nothing, and you had everything.

I pray to Allah to give me only that which I need for myself but to give me a fortune to spend on you; to give you the one thing you have never, ever asked from me. And that is something for yourself.

 

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HAVE THE SELECTORS FAILED THE FIRST TEST OF INDEPENDENCE?

HAVE THE SELECTORS FAILED THE FIRST TEST OF INDEPENDENCE? by Sohaib Alvi

I had written last week that the truest test of Haroon and fellow selectors will come with the announcement of the squad to Bangladesh, their first task as the new selection committee. They have taken the first step but have they given an ear to the adage: “Watch out for the first step”?

You see, important was not who they select but how they select. Also, will it reveal a policy statement that they might not convey overtly? After all selection is a long term game. It’s like chess. You play to a strategy and plan several moves ahead. You also have to prioritise who you will send ahead for the first charge and whether you have picked the knight or the rook or the bishop to deliver your check mate.

While the selection committee has done well to give a chance to some deserving players, one or two of whom should have been a regular by now, the observation is that they have played to the coach’s tune.

Waqar has clearly influenced the selection by his report following the World Cup. It was ostensible after the failure of the team to progress beyond the quarterfinals that scapegoats will be picked to hide the inadequacies or garbled mindset of the coach and fellow tour selectors and both Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad were standing like rabbits trapped in the headlights on the highway.

Both have themselves to blame nevertheless for falling under the axe considering their injudicious choice of strokes and ill timed ones at that. Not that Sohaib Maqsood did any better but why he survived the purge was that his mode of dismissals appeared more genuine. Now he is out with a thinly fractured arm so it doesn’t matter except that Pakistan will suddenly have a refurbished top and middle order without him, Misbah, Younus Khan and Umar Akmal while they also go in with a new opener and a bowling all rounder as Shahid Afridi has also gone. Reminds me of the post 2003 scenario where out went Saeed Anwar, Inzamam, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq, though Inzi and Saqlain returned with contrasting fortunes. At least the fast bowling is intact somewhat; Irfan has gone out for medical reasons.

But coming to the soft targets. I can’t understand that if it is for disciplinary reasons how have the selectors arrived at the sentence without first getting a report from a Disciplinary Committee that should have been formed or at least demanded by the selectors. Can a manager’s report and that of the coach who were themselves guilty of not reading the games be taken as the final say? Should not the PCB Chairman have appointed someone to get Ahmed Shahzad’s and Umar Akmal’s side of the story?

In many ways Shahid Afridi clearly defined that he was playing for his own self. Not necessarily selfishly but refusing to adapt to the requirements of the game in play. Should he not have been penalised for indiscipline in batting? For not giving team need priority? Should he also not have been stripped of the Twenty20 captaincy for showing a careless attitude?  After all can a player show responsibility in leadership when not showing it while playing as an ordinary member of the side?

In fact, Afridi has been totally untouched. To the extent that he has managed to secure a place in the side for Ahmed Shahzad in the Twenty20 team which he leads. So do disciplinary measures apply to two formats and not the third one? There is the news that with the World Twenty20 a year away some element of consistency is required and there is little time for rebuilding. In that case shouldn’t Umar Akmal feature too as he is an important cog in the side for that tournament with his fielding and blistering batting in a format where his style of play and lack of application for longer than 5 overs is not an issue?

Through this move can be seen how helpless the selectors seem to be at the hands of two opposing forces, Waqar Younis and Shahid Afridi and with the directive of the chairman on discipline. Afridi has clearly come down heavy on the selectors with his demand for at least Shahzad. If it had been the issue of form it would have been appropriate for the selectors to give the captain the benefit of doubt. But in the case of indiscipline it shows that Haroon and his fellow selectors stand for little when it comes to demands laid down by the captain. The reasoning that they must give the captain a consultation does not apply here.

Also have they shown the seeds of future discontent between Shahzad and the new ODI captain, Azhar Ali, by revealing inadvertently that the captain did not fight for Shahzad’s place in the side as did Afridi?

There are also gaps in their logic for overall strategy as I say again that they have done well to give some younger aspirants a chance this time. The gap is in the logic of playing Junaid in the longest format but not the ODI one. Is it that Waqar Younis and Azhar Ali have prevailed on them that they want to retain Ehsan Adil? And give him some rope against a batting side that has shown potential but still can be more vulnerable than the top sides against whom Ehsan would have struggled? Is this an opportunity to get him to play a few games?

Haroon had talked of Hammad Azam in some of his appearances on TV. So where is the youngster who did so well last time he played in Bangladesh a few years ago. At least when Sohaib Maqsood with drew he could have been inserted considering he is from the same batch as Babar Azam? They have gone in for Saad Nasim when he didn’t do much last time he was given an opportunity. Have they totally written off Hammad? It would be a travesty of justice.

But to end on a positive note the selectors have done well overall in giving some fringe players the opportunity to show if they are made of a tougher mettle. There is talk of whether Saeed Ajmal should have gone without first showing his worth with the new action in the first class format. I would say the selectors have done the right thing. The season has ended and there is more international cricket in the summer before the next one starts. Holding him back would have meant six to seven months and to test him now against Bangladesh makes sense.

I can’t say the same for Hafeez’s inclusion in the ODI and T20 teams. He may justify to some extent his place in the Test side but since he has yet to clear his bowling action he can’t merit a place in the limited over formats playing purely as a batsman.

With all this in mind I just feel the selectors have been swayed by outside influence in some cases. Nevertheless, it’s a young side and we must back them for now.

END

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THE CHAIRMAN MAKES HIS CHOICES

(As published in The News today written on Wednesday April 1)

THE CHAIRMAN MAKES HIS CHOICES By Sohaib Alvi

It is a management truth that the culture of any company is set by the personality of the man at the top. So too is the style of management.

As such it is none too surprising that Haroon Rashid has been appointed as Chief Selector and Azhar Ali as the captain. Both are subservient men who won’t create any noise when they are overruled.  Haroon especially is the great survivor; a decent man nonetheless. So too is Azhar in some ways.

Wahab Riaz might feel despondent in being passed over considering the verve and vigour he posed in the World Cup. But he would have been his own man and the PCB would unlikely stand for that. Also, his uncertainly in playing all games due to niggles in his knee must have counted against him.

Even Fawad Alam would have been in some ways a better choice than Azhar if only because he has been in the ODI team recently and even played a match wining innings in the Asia Cup last year. He is a middle order bat and may just play in place of Misbah anyway.

But as I said at the beginning, they are reflections of who Shaharyar Khan is: conservative and careful. That may not be a bad thing on occasions but cricket today requires aggressive risk takers. Men who pounce on the moment and make inspired choices.

Like Javed Miandad when he rallied against the selectors in taking a 19-year old Wasim Akram to New Zealand  when he had no first class season behind him. Or Imran Khan picking out Inzamam from the nets when the selectors had said he would come to nothing at the international level. Also driving down to Gaddafi Stadium after watching a lad named Waqar Younis bowl in a televised final; or putting faith in a 17-year old Aaqib Javed.

I can also recall Abdul Qadir as chief selector sending a 17-year old Mohammad Amir into a World Twenty20 event in England in 2009.

Flashback to 1977 when Mushtaq opted to go into a green top at Sydney with only two fast bowlers saying they would be enough and thereby playing the extra batsman in Haroon Rashid who scored a half century on debut and built a partnership with Asif Iqbal that put Pakistan on way to a matchwinning lead. Or to early 1980s and Imran Khan insisted on playing Abdul Qadir on the England tour of ’82 and in 1983 World Cup against all opposition and the leg spinner bowling Pakistan into the semis.

Would the same Haroon Rashid or Azhar Ali go in with two fast bowlers on a green top? Would they put faith in teenagers against the best in the world? I would think not.

To top it off we have people like Azhar Khan in the selection panel who like Haroon Rashid has been something of a resident of Gaddafi Stadium. His past stints as officials and as selector has shown that he has little to offer in terms of standing up for talent.

Saleem Jaffer, like Azhar Khan, is a soft spoken man and needs a firm chief selector like Salahuddin, Aamer Sohail or Abdul Qadir to deliver his best. He is honest in his assessment but will he put up a fight that can end in his resignation if gross injustice is being done? I say this because when Mohsin Khan agreed on the team to England after flying over to Sri Lanka for ‘consultation’ with Yawar Saeed, Saleem Jaffer threatened to resign because Mohsin named the side in Sri Lanka without his final consent as he was part of the selection panel. But in the end all was patched up in the interests of continuity and not to create a controversy. Kabir Khan is someone who has to be tested but with Azhar Khan and Haroon Rashid on the ‘establishment’s’ side, and with the latter having the casting vote in case of a 2-2 situation, he and Saleem Jaffer won’t matter.

Now it seems we will have another Mohsin Khan in the shape of Haroon Rasheed who will be at the mercy of the real selectors, the power behind the throne. Being the great survivor, Haroon will know the men who matter when Shaharyar Khan is gone or gets a keep quiet call from his superiors.   How much faith Haroon thereafter has in Shaharyar Khan shielding them (it has to be accepted he is trying to do the opposite of Najam Sethi) remains to be seen.  Shaharyar Khan also doesn’t interfere in selection though he does have the power to approve the team and that may just allow Haroon and Co to pick on merit.

On to the business end itself and to Azhar Ali’s choice as captain of the ODI side. Look, it has been done before when George Bailey was made captain of Australia’s Twenty20 side without having played for the country before. And Azhar has played ODIs for Pakistan. If he was out of the side it was because Younis Khan and Misbah had the positions he could play at. His absence over the past year or so shouldn’t be an issue.

What is the issue is that despite his best intentions he seems in the same mold as Younis and Misbah. We saw in this World Cup what the intelligent had already visualized; that the world has moved on from the Pakistani brand of cricket. PCB it seems has yet to take its cue and has offered more of the same.

That is not to take anything away from Azhar Ali. He is a fine cricketer and has a probing mind. He has earned respect for the number of Test runs he has scored and did after all play a fiery innings when chasing down the 300-plus target at Sharjah in the last session of the third Test against Sri Lanka. He scored a-run-a-ball hundred in the process if memory serves me well.

When the Lahore Lions entire first XI was in India playing the Champions League he led his side well in the domestic Twenty20 tournament. He also led Balochistan Warriors to the final of the Pentangular Cup early in January this year, beating Punjab and Sindh in the process. This was a fine achievement considering the strengths of the other sides.

My only fear is that he doesn’t get into the same situation as Misbah, having to salvage the innings after false starts. However, if he bats at No.3 or even opens then he can lead the charge. But for that he will have to change his style of batting. Not everyone is a McCullum among the top sides and there are steady openers like Guptill and Finch and Rohit Sharma. Azhar will do well if he models himself on at least these three.

Nevertheless he has a long way to go. It shouldn’t be long before he takes on the Test captaincy from Misbah and then we will see whether he can adapt to both roles and responsibilities with the same fervor.

Shaharyar Khan has done well in naming Sarfraz Ahmed as vice captain of both the limited over formats. Sarfraz is decidedly the more aggressive compared to Azhar Ali and will learn well under Shahid Afridi in the shorter version over the next year. Shaharyar Khan needs to be recognized for this step as despite his overall conservative and careful approach his appointment of Sarfraz has broken the mold. How much a role Sarfraz actually plays as tour selector (manager, coach, captain and vice captain form the selection committee on tours) remains to be seen.

But let’s be positive. Even Haroon Rashid could prove to be a strong selector if he asserts his authority. He was a brave batsman until an eye injury disabled his strokeplay. It now depends how bravely he bats on this newly laid pitch given to him.

END

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MISBAH’S LAST OOPS

MISBAH’S LAST OOPS By Sohaib Alvi

Misbah ul Haq would have wanted to go with a last hurrah but all he got was more of the same; that initial optimism that lasted very little past the national anthems and then the dismantling of the plan, if there was one that made sense. And so it was more of: “Oops, here we go down again”, than any significant hurrah.

And so, as the cricket world gets set today for its showpiece event of the year– in fact the last four years – and there is the romantic vision of seeing New Zealand lift the trophy for the first time in what is their first ever appearance in a World Cup, Pakistan cricket continues on its nightmare of finding how to play the modern game.

Indeed this World Cup has thrown up the huge, in fact mammoth, difference between how we play our cricket and how the top 5 ranked teams play theirs; much like we’re catching the rickshaw to work when the others are catching the bullet train.

Yes there will be that odd, breathtaking spell from a fast bowler that we keep throwing up and maybe when Saeed Ajmal returns we can see the magical guile over the course of a session that turns the game but honestly, hope is all we’ve got.

With the departure of Misbah from the One Day scene I feel we will live even more with hope alone. I say that considering that despite all the slack he got for his conservative approach, Pakistan collapsed within a handful of overs every time he went early.

It has been an annoyed Misbah who has departed as captain and team member of the ODI unit.  In his departing press conference he was perhaps justified to a great extent to ask the question if he was responsible for everything under the sun; from selection to the state of domestic cricket to his fielders dropping catches.

And he was honest too by going to a great length to explain that the helmet was too small for Sohaib Maqsood and he only substituted in his place at forward short leg as it fit him until the new helmet had been received. There were no charges of lack of support; in fact he went out of his way to claim that everyone tried their best and worked their hearts out in practice and in the actual game itself.

But he did speak of immaturity in batting and the lack of adaptability to what is happening around the batsmen. His defense of not playing Sarfraz in the first four matches was a bit patchy. Claiming that he didn’t work out in batting in the lead up games was full of holes in the sense that neither could a couple of others and Pakistan’s batting disappointed overall.  He also eschewed the fact that Sarfraz was the specialist wicketkeeper and never touched upon the point as to why he wasn’t played as wicketkeeper when Umar Akmal was not of similar standard nor had had any such role given him recently.

What he didn’t hold back of course was his annoyance, to put it lightly, of some past cricketers who had become too personal in their criticism of him. “Pull me up for strategy and tactics but not for who I am” was his gripe. On cue the retorts came back from those he had directed his ire at and we all saw some stuff being thrown back.

Sad that it has come to this. A captain bullied and half cursed simply by those who have ganged up on him. That he has indicated he has set no timeline for his departure altogether from Pakistan cricket means we will be seeing some more targeted censure of his self for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile the chairman now has two pressing decisions to make. One is concerning who will replace Misbah as ODI captain and the other is the formation of a new selection committee and more importantly that of its new head.

About the selection committee first, it is imperative that we have somebody at its head who is not of subservient nature. Otherwise we will simply see the powers behind the throne running or shall we say ruining our cricket again. I mean it in the way that the old guard should return. Unfortunate that Rashid Latif gave it up so soon otherwise he or his kind is what we need today.  The names being mentioned, Mohsin khan or Wasim Bari, are too soft and are more inclined to please judging from their previous stints.

But the more important will be who captains Pakistan. It wouldn’t hurt to look to the future than handing it to someone like Mohammad Hafeez, not after he failed in the role as Twenty20 skipper. He is also in the midst of having his bowling action cleared without which he is a lame duck in the team with his slow scoring and hoarding of the powerplay overs to no avail.

Wahab Riaz has certainly put his hand up and not just because of the aggression he showed. Throughout the World Cup he was the standout player along with Sarfraz when the wicketkeeper got his belated chance.  You could see how committed both were to the Pakistan cause, how hard they batted, bowled and fielded in every game they played.

I had sensed before the World Cup that Ahmed Shahzad would have been a good candidate to lead but his body language and commitment, nor performance, was not that of a leader. Certainly Wahab Riaz has impressed enough to be given the responsibility, but his injury niggles have to be explored. We can’t have a leader who is absent off and on. Sarfraz is too raw and has to improve further behind the stumps when standing up to spinners. We must also bring Fawad Alam back into the side and then groom him.

Whatever decision we take should be arrived at after considering the long term. In that way perhaps Wahab’s case looks strongest, if that episode in an England restaurant with Salman Butt can be overlooked.

END

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The Irish Threaten Again

Note: This article was published in The News on Sunday March 15 before the match began and can be read there on http://tns.thenews.com.pk/cricket-worldcup-2015-the-irish-threaten-again/#.VQaNKtKUdzs 

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The Irish Threaten Again by Sohaib Alvi

Pakistan’s World Cup campaign comes full circle today as they play out for a place in the quarterfinals on the very ground where they began it against India on February 15. It has since then been a time of introspection and experimentation and much controversy, not least by the coach’s adamant ignorance of there being no third opener travelling with the team.

Pakistan are likely to go in against Ireland today with a batting line up that really should have played against India, give or take Younis Khan. The experienced batter has vowed to play better following an element of rejuvenation in the game against South Africa; and being very close to the late Bob Woolmer wants to dedicate his innings and a possible Pakistan win to the memory of the former coach who passed away on the night that Ireland knocked out Pakistan from the 2007 World Cup.

But will or should he play if Haris Sohail is fit? I wouldn’t slot him in only for his 37 against the Proteas. After all Sohaib Maqsood, the other batsman who is being said should make way, has a fifty in the tournament. And both are good fielders, especially in the slips. Also, when it comes to scoring faster against the top teams that come up to Pakistan in the knockouts Sohaib has a better probability of doing that than Younis.

I also feel that Pakistan should make a call on persevering with youngsters in pressure situations. This is the time to blood them. Whether he fails or succeeds he will be better off for it. Pakistan I believe are still paying for their intransigence of the 2011 World Cup where they persevered with conservative batsmen like Hafeez and Asad Shafiq, the latter a brilliant find for the five day game but unsuited for a format requiring faster scoring; the former simply an off spinner who can bat but lower down, maybe at 5 and not slow down the opening. But both were continued with over the last four years in limited over cricket and we have them out today.

If the selectors continue to make the same mistake here then by start of the 2019 World Cup we would still be looking for our best combination for our opening game, continuing to try experience rather than talent.

So what happens today? I believe they should open with Sarfraz and Ahmed Shahzad and then at least I would send in Sohaib Maqsood or Misbah followed by Haris Sohail and Umar Akmal. This is if the news of Umar Akmal’s reported niggle is unfounded. Then comes the hope with Afridi for a few runs followed by the four pacers. Yes I wouldn’t play Yasir Shah today if only because of the rhythm that the four pacers are in. Haris Sohail if he is fit also brings to the table his left arm spin. Otherwise we make do with Afridi.

Rahat Ali has especially surprised with his penetration and accuracy and proven me wrong when I doubted if he was good enough for the limited over format. There has been talk of Irfan being rested, even of a strain he is carrying. But Pakistan desperately needs him out there, as the Irish batsmen are in form and have been notching up totals regularly that Pakistan can only aspire for, or have reached only when playing against UAE. There is the chance of dropping Sohail Khan for Yasir Shah and it is not too outlandish an idea. The Irish will struggle against quality spin despite shorter square boundaries at the Adelaide Oval.

The match today is also a test for the coaching and support staff. I feel there has been some innate panic in the backroom. The team is in danger of being knocked out of they lose today and all of Grant Luden, Grant Flower and even Waqar Younis have been preparing their run for the lifeboats. Luden has already made his point early in the tournament by handing in his resignation citing lack of effort in fielding being put in by the players. Now poor fielding cannot be penciled in against his name. Waqar Younis has indicated it is not the best team given to him under the circumstances though Sarfraz proved that actually there is a third opener in the team.

Now batting coach Grant Flower has given out signals that he has done his best with the batters and it is up to them to make a match of it. Partly he is right to throw the gauntlet at his wards but to tell them publicly to swim or go down should have been avoided, especially with a crunch game coming on today. You can have firm words with them one-on-one and leave it at that but to announce what you have said is designed more for the ears of Gaddafi Stadium than Ahmed Shahzad, Sohaib Maqsood or Umar Akmal.

Nevertheless the fact remains that Pakistan are a par 250 team. They remain the only side, perhaps other than Afghanistan, to not have one of their batsmen past three figures in a game. And when you see that the list includes batsmen from Scotland, UAE and Ireland it is embarrassing. But then if I recall Pakistan had no hundred in the 2011 World Cup and other than one by Imran Nazir against a half baked Zimbabwe attack in the 2007 edition there has been a severe drought of three figures by any Pakistani batsman in World Cups.

Coming to the 2015 edition that is a cause of concern considering we have supposedly better batsmen than what the minnows are supposed to have. Perhaps that is what has riled Grant Flower. Pakistan needs a good hundred if only to lift its sagging spirits which so far have been given elevation by their bowling attack, again much like in 2011.

And just how much one attacking innings can inspire a team can be seen by what it did to Pakistan when Sarfraz blitzed his way through Steyn and Co. at Eden Park. Will Sarfraz do it again at Adelaide today or will his stirring entrance at Auckland give wings to someone like Ahmed Shahzad or Umar Akmal or Sohaib Maqsood (if he plays) to do something similar? Or will the bowling attack see is through the Irish challenge? Whatever, the real Pakistan potential needs to come to the field today.

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