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
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.