Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Is Misbah the sole responsible?

By Muhammad Asif Khan

After the historic test whitewash against England, the Pakistan Cricket team and the skipper Misbah-ul-Haq were the centre of attention, and were being praised from every quarter. However, the sorry tale afterwards dented the status of the skipper big-time and his “sluggish” batting was targeted and as a result he was seen as the lone responsible of the defeats in the ODI and T20 series against England. The intensity of criticism on him prompted me to scrutinise his record as the skipper in the limited-over matches he lost.

Misbah took the baton from Shahid Afridi in May 2011 and ever since lost five ODIs and two T20s International matches.

Starting from the ODIs the first match he lost as skipper was against Sri Lanka in November last year. In that match Misbah got to the wicket in the 4th over after the top three batsmen got out cheaply at only 11 runs while chasing 235 runs. At that point he obviously went into the shell and tried to steady the ship. Later on Umer Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Sarfaraz Ahmed got the starts but could not have finished and Pakistan lost.

The second ODI that Pakistan lost under Misbah was against England in the recently concluded series in the U.A.E. Pakistan was again chasing and Misbah was at the wicket in the 9th over as the top four went back to the hut for 40 runs only.

In the following ODI against the same opposition, Pakistan had to overhaul 250 runs for victory. This time the top order performed reasonably well and later on Misbah also had partnerships with Azhar Ali, Shahid Afridi and Umer Akmal. Again the likes of Afridi and Akmal got the starts but perished before the job was done. Misbah also lost his wicket while trying for big stokes – which is not his forte – and later Pakistan lost the game.

In the third ODI of the series Pakistan got the chance to bat first and apart from Afridi, Umer Akmal and somewhat Muhammad Hafeez no other batsmen including Misbah came up with a significant contribution hence the green-shirts accumulated a modest total of 222. While defending, our top bowlers - Umer Gul, Afridi and Aizaz Cheema - were hammered for over 6 runs each.

In the fourth and final ODI of the Pak-England series, Pakistan again batted first and the top order including Misbah-ul-Haq (46 off 52) played a good hand, but the later half of the batting line-up failed to accumulate a sizeable total. Pakistan scored 237 on the placid track where frontline bowlers – Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi - were hit for plenty and we lost.

Now turning the shortest format where under the 37-year old Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan lost two games – both at the hands of England on the recent tour. In the first match, Pakistan were in pursuit of 151 runs, but the campaign was badly hit by the departure of 5 batsmen for just 50 runs. Again the same old story of consolidation and a catch-22 situation for the skipper - who is not known for hard-hitting abilities – resulted in a defeat. On the other hand, hitters like Afridi and Hammad Azam got out against after reasonable starts.

In the last T20 Pakistan had to chase down just 130 runs. In pursuit, after loosing Hafeez cheaply the young guns – Asad Shafiq and Awaiz Zia - played well. Misbah came to the crease in the 8th over and shaped up four partnerships however failed to finish the match. Again a few batsmen got the starts but got out on important junctures.

If you are still reading this piece then you must have tagged me as a Misbah supporter by now, but I beg to differ because this was not my agenda at all. I will not be judgmental however just want to express my viewpoint in one sentence that Cricket is a team game therefore, in most cases, one man could not be held responsible for a defeat or a victory. However, if Misbah-ul-Haq was praised for his prior victories then he should bear the honest criticism on the defeats as well.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Dismal show – a timely wake-up call

By Muhammad Asif Khan

With the thumping victory in the test series the confidence of the Pakistani team and management was sky-high and rightly so, but in the One day series the men in green failed to devise an appropriate strategy hence plunged into an abyss, from where they have to make afresh effort to lift the spirit. The intention is not at all to criticise the team because prior to the ODI series they had put up a splendid performance despite being under pressure because of successive unwarranted events.

The set of players we have is excellent however the slump in the home-like conditions was astonishing. The reasons for the dismal performance were multiple, out of which foremost was the lack of adjustment to the demand of the ODI, after the historic clean sweep in Test series.

To win a match two factors are essential - Composition of the team and Application on the field – and unfortunately we failed in both aspects. Starting with the selection again two areas were most talked about, first was the inclusion of Shoaib Malik and second was playing with a non-regular Wicket-keeper. Shoaib Malik’s late induction was debatable and in fact a wrong and unjust move, but having said that when he was included in the opening ODI then should have given a full series because two wrongs don’t make a right. After sitting out for two matches, the confidence of Malik was obviously at the rock bottom. The second slip-up was banking on a part-time wicketkeeper. The move was reflective of the defensive mindset of the think-tank which prompted them to incorporate as many batsmen as possible.

Later on the players were below-par in the application phase too, where the entire blame could not be put on the bowlers because, apart from poor fielding, the batsmen did not provide them with enough runs in the last two matches, while in the first two encounters the totals were gettable but the batting was disappointing. On paper, our batsmen were capable enough but failed to deliver when it mattered. In the first ODI the top 7 batsmen collectively scored just 73 runs, followed by 195 in the 2nd, 163 in the 3rd while 214 runs were scored by top 7 batsmen in the final ODI. A few batsmen got the start but failed to capitalise on the opportunity.

Moreover the fielding of the team diminished the chances even further. We failed to grab reasonable opportunities while on the other hand England grabbed even half chances. In a test we have the room to make a come back after a mistake but ODI is a different ball game altogether where the margin for error is almost zero.

Furthermore, the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq was heavily criticised as well. Again it’s not a new thing, after the ODI debacle it was on the cards but we should not act in haste. First of all a vice-captain should be identified then be groomed under Misbah for a few months. A replacement in a hurry might trigger panic. Who could take the credit away from Misbah who took the reins at a very tough environment? Many might disagree but I believe Misbah does not deserve a rough treatment after one bad series.

The ODI series is history now and we should move forward but with a lesson. A strategy should be drafted to replace aged players with young blood. Again, overnight changes would not work and hasty decisions would not be fruitful. Look at the other teams around the world, almost all the top outfits have systematically groomed young players by giving them chance through a rotation policy. Pakistan should do the same.

The thumping defeat at the hand of England was not the first such event in the history of Pakistan cricket. It was indeed a disaster, but at the same time was a wake up call too because every disaster has an opportunity in it to put the act together. Therefore we should move forward with a clear and most importantly an honest methodology.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Latif feels for Kaneria but Sarfraz smells rat

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Karachi: At the time when aftershocks of the massive jolt resulted by the infamous 2010 spot-fixing scandal were still being felt, a whole new episode unfolded to scratch the unhealed wound of the Pakistan cricket fans. In the latest development Test leg-spinner Danish Kaneria has been dubbed as the corrupter by the court in London where his former Essex County mate Mervyn Westfield was handed over a four-month jail sentence after his admission to accept payment to under perform in 2009 on the behest of Kaneria.

However the former Pakistan captain Rashid Latif, while expressing his displeasure over the development, feared a life ban for the leg-spinner. He also urged Kaneria to put up a fight to clear his name. “It is disappointing to say the least but even after Westfield’s claim nothing can be said about Kaneria with certainty however, in view of the strict ICC parameters, the rest of his career is in serious doubt now”, said Latif while talking to this correspondent.

“In case of a fresh inquiry, Kaneria should get to the bottom of this matter”, added Latif, who was the original whistleblower on the match-fixing menace in the 90s.

Meanwhile, another known voice against corruption in the game, Sarfaraz Nawaz had an entirely different reading to the situation. According to the former fast bowler the last-day twists in the case were ambiguous. “Westfield could have gone to jail for 5 to 10 years, therefore Kaneria was dragged in the case probably deliberately”, maintained Sarfaraz Nawaz.

“After getting clearance from both the Essex police and the ICC, the resurfacing of Danish Kaneria’s name in the case is fishy”, concludes Sarfaraz Nawaz

Westfield and Kaneria were questioned by the police after the Pro40 match against Durham in September 2009. Danish Kaneria was however cleared by the police in the following year.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Time to pull the socks up

By Muhammad Asif Khan

After the white wash in the test series the green shirts were truly off-colour in the first two ODIs played in Abu Dhabi against England. With successive dismal performances at least a million hearts were broken however we should not be dejected to death because this series is not the end of the road for Pakistan Cricket.

In two back to back One Day Internationals (ODIs) nothing but the strategy was missing. Initially the team’s think-tanks did not constitute the appropriate combination, and then three changes in the squad, which played the first match, was a clear indication of panic in the camp. Later on the application from the players, on the field, was below par as well.

If Shoaib Malik was included in the first ODI then he should be given another go, it was unfair to give him just one match. My point is that with his experience he deserves a better treatment after all Malik reached the U.A.E on Captain’s request, so no point in dropping him after just one match. Shoaib Malik is a kind of player who could stay at the wicket, and with the kind of form he is in at the moment, he should be sent up the order so that he could play without pressure. I believe that Shoaib Malik should be given a fair chance and should be dropped – may be forever- if he would fail to deliver.

Another bamboozling move was of keeping a non-regular wicketkeeper in the side. In T20s this strategy seems fine but in ODIs we need to go back to the classic way. Umer Akmal is an asset to the team but after hundreds of sit-ups behind with wickets, his performance in-front of the wickets is hampered. There are a few more adverse effects attached to this methodology. It is obvious that after spilling chances, poor Umer Akmal would not be on top of his game while batting due the blunders, while keeping, at the back of his mind. Even a bowler’s confidence is shattered on a mistake by the unskilled mate behind the stumps. All in all, it is not a smart call of taking a risk in the name of strengthening the batting line-up. Pakistan should indulge a regular golveman for the remaining ODIs. If top 5 five batsmen fail then even a number 6 or 7 would not be able to take the side home.

After the two ODIs, Misbah-ul-Haq was heavily criticised for his “slow” batting, many even recalled his Mohali innings too, but we have to realise one thing that this had been his nature. He is not a big hitter and needs a person to step up the pace while he would provide him with the support by rotating the strike. No other recipe but an appropriate combination, protective approach and application on the field is the way out for the Pakistan team against England. Without getting further panic the think-tank should stick to the basics. A regular wicketkeeper, five batsmen and four regular bowlers would be enough on the slow track of Dubai.

After having the combination the mindset would play the key role in the match for which the skipper should exhibit a bit of aggression in field placing and bowling changes.  

It is said that every disaster has an opportunity in it to avail and after this series, Pakistan have to feature in the Asia Cup and later another important encounters are scheduled. Most importantly the World T20 Cup which is to be held later this year. For the shortest version, the captaincy is the slot to be taken care off. Presently, Misbah-ul-Haq is leading the green shirts in the T20 format but he has not been emerged as a fitting individual for the job. In Test cricket you can get away with a quiet attitude, but T20 or even ODI needs improvisation where the 37-year old skipper has been lacking.

Currently, Shahid Khan Afridi is surely the peoples’ choice to lead the Pakistan team in T20s but in view of the past experience, the all-rounder might not be in the frame of mind to take the reins of the team. This would be a tough call for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to make. They have to spot a person sooner than later. If not Afridi then Muhammad Hafeez would not be a bad choice for the post.

Not just the T20 but for the ODIs as well, we need to groom a new skipper. Fortunately we have ample time in hand before the next world cup in 2015. However, by that time, a lot of contemporary stars would not be around as they are beyond 30 years of age therefore this is high time to devise the strategy of blending the youth with experience. A long list of things- to-do for the PCB but planning is war is always done in peace time.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Postmortem of first Pak-Eng ODI

By Muhammad Asif Khan

The odds were indeed with Pakistan even before the start of the first One day international match between Pakistan and England in Abu Dhabi, but the outcome somewhat shook the followers. After the whitewash in the test series the fans were pretty confident of a smooth sailing in the ODI series as well, and perhaps the mindset was the same in the team’s dressing room as well, however the result of the first encounter acted as an eye-opener instead.

It goes without saying that test and ODI are different ball games altogether hence the strategies in both the formats should also be dissimilar. The Englishmen understood this philosophy better than their counterparts and it was evident in the changes to their ODI lineup. One the other hand, Pakistan surely missed a few tricks which eventually cost them the match.

The Pakistan line-up showed the defensive mindset of the skipper and the management which tried to include as many batsmen as possible. This strategy needs an alteration and the captain, Misbah-ul-Haq should take the field with absolute clarity about the respective roles of every individual. The opening pair seems fine, but the problem starts from the all important number 3 slot. Since two new balls are used these days therefore we need a solid batsman at the position. In the available lot, Umer Akmal is the one who can be sent to this position but in this situation Umer Akmal would not be able to keep wickets. In the first match as well, keeping wickets for 50 overs took its toll on Akmal and he suffered with cramps during batting.

The other big decision for Misbah to make is to retain Shoaib Malik for the 2nd ODI or not. During his batting in the first ODI, Shoaib Malik was clearly out of touch, hence if the skipper wants him to play again, then he should also provided him (Malik) with sufficient time on the wicket to settle down and build the innings otherwise he would be a waste again. When a batsman is out of form, he needs to be sent up the order so that he could spend time at the wicket and gain confidence in the process.

Also, as mentioned above, packing the lineup with batsman would not serve the purpose as long as the basic flaws exist. By looking at the dismissals the top Pakistani batsmen were trapped LBW as they were falling towards the off-side by planting the front-foot way before the ball was delivered. These basic flaws in technique would keep on hurting us I am afraid.

Other than the ongoing series against England, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should also start devising a long-term strategy for the next ODI world cup. In view of the current ages, the likes of Misbah, Younus, Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Saeed Ajmal and probably Afridi will not be around for the mega event scheduled in 2015, therefore a few tough decisions need to be taken right now to secure the future. No other way but to inject young blood is the recipe for a better future.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Afghans put up impressive show on historic day – Latif

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Karachi: The day when cricketers from the war-ravaged Afghanistan shared the field with one of the powerhouses of the cricketing world, Pakistan, did not only make the Afghan nation proud but their former coach, Rashid Latif has also expressed satisfaction over the historic development. “Indeed, it’s a big day in Afghan cricket history. Playing against a team like Pakistan was tough, but at the same time must have provided them (Afghans) with valuable experience which will go a long way towards boosting their confidence”, maintained Latif while talking to this correspondent for News One TV.
The Afghani team faced Pakistan in its first ever one-day international against a Test-playing team on Friday in Sharjah, where Pakistan won by 7 wickets.

“I spent a lot of time with the Afghan players. They are mentally very strong and have a great ability to fight till the end. They don’t give up very easily, may be it has become their nature due to the adverse environment they had faced in their country”, added Latif.

Rashid Latif has had two coaching stints with the Afghan Cricket team. In 2010 he worked as the batting coach and was appointed as the chief coach in the following year. Latif, however, stepped down citing differences with the cricket management of Afghanistan. Under Latif’s coaching Afghanistan beat Pakistan in the Twenty20 semifinals at the Asian Games at Guangzhou, China, and won the Inter-Continental Cup.
Last year Afghanistan also became the first foreign team to tour Pakistan since 2009 and played three ODIs against Pakistan “A” but was outclassed by a thumping 3-0 margin.

The former Pakistan skipper, Rashid Latif was also of the view that the Afghan batsmen showed a signs of improvement against Pakistan in the first ever ODI but the inexperience cost them. “A few batsmen got the start however threw their wickets away. They have to learn to capitalise on an opportunity. Had they applied themselves properly, the scenario could have been different”, concludes Latif.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The “Hidden Hands” in Pakistan Cricket

By Muhammad Asif Khan

With the departure of Ijaz Butt if the cricket enthusiasts were expecting the “change” then they must be disappointed to know that the story is somewhat the same under the new chairman, Zaka Ashraf as well. The dramatic inclusion of Shoaib Malik in the squad for the ODI & T20 series against England is a classic example of the existence of “hidden” hands in the set-up.

The selection committee announced the squad on Tuesday morning, and after around 5 hours all-rounder Malik’s name came to the fore as an addition to the Pakistan team which is scheduled to take on England in the first ODI of the series on February 13th. The logic presented by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) says it all. They claimed that Misbah-ul-Haq requested for Shoaib Malik and if this was true then two things are for certain. Firstly, the selection committee might have not consulted the captain before finalising the combination. Since, the chairman of the selection committee, Muhammad Ilyas was himself in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week therefore it is highly unlikely that the team combination for the ODI and T20 series was not discussed amongst the chief selector, captain and team management.

Secondly, if Misbah-ul-Haq had actually made a request to include Shoaib Malik in the team then the all-rounder should not act as a spectator in the UAE during the ODI and T20 rubbers. If he (Malik) is the choice of the skipper then he should be featuring in the playing XI as well – at least in the opening encounter.

This is not enough, there are a few more questions related to the dubious inclusion. But before moving further the recent record of Shoaib Malik is worth a review. In the last ten ODI innings former captain Malik accumulated 82 runs – he did not bat twice - with an average of 10 runs per innings. As a bowler he took 7 wickets in those 10 ODIs. Recently in the 6 outings against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe Shoaib Malik collectively scored 33 runs and bagged 5 wickets. In the ongoing Pentangular Cup he scored some runs but here again he was not outstanding amongst other star performers.

Even after receiving the request from Misbah, why the selection committee failed to convince the skipper that Malik’s recent performance was not good enough to earn him a place? If the committee was helpless in front of the skipper then isn’t it a clear indication of the fact that players are still more powerful than the management, and the famous slogan of the past i.e. “Players’ power” is very much in the existence?

Apart from Misbah and his reported insistence we should also realise that this had not happened for the first time in our recent history. In 2010, Shoaib Malik along with others was banned but the former Chairman Ijaz Butt mysteriously took a U-turn and provided the all-rounder with a clean chit. Later on the presence of the hefty amount in his bank accounts was said to be the hindrance to his inclusion in the team but again he strangely managed to satisfy the Integrity Committee and subsequently was selected to play for Pakistan.

The decision has been taken now its impact remains to be seen. In the presence of quality all-rounders like Shahid Afridi and Muhammad Hafeez in the squad already will Malik be able to sneak his way through to the playing XI? If he has been selected on his bowling form then will he be able to replace Saeed Ajmal or Abdul Rehman? Lastly, after looking at the present batting strength of the Pakistan team, it will be another hard puzzle to create a slot for the all-rounder.

Now the onus in on Shoaib Malik, upon getting a chance he will have no other option but to perform in order to shun criticism, otherwise not only he, but the management as well as the captain would be in hot waters.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Time to make the right call

By Muhammad Asif Khan

Not so long ago the Pakistan Cricket team was regarded as the unpredictable outfit, but slowly and gradually this impression is fading away, still a long way to go thou but things are seemingly moving in the right direction. Prior to the Pak-England series in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the expectations with the Pakistan team were not high, but the show put up by the green caps in the desert was more than appreciable.

It is said that victory has many fathers, while a failure is an orphan and story after the famous white-wash in the U.A.E was not different, but the due credit should be given to all those responsible. The whole management, the team, captain and the coach deserve all the applause. After the notorious spot-fixing scandal in 2010, the way boys responded was truly remarkable. After the captain, Misbah-ul-Haq the coach Mohsin Khan should also be appreciated because he had to fight on two fronts. Firstly he had to take on the mighty England and secondly he had to negate the impression created by the PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf, prior to the series, that the former opener was not qualified or in other words not competent to coach the team.

After Waqar Younis’s resignation, the PCB constituted a committee to look for a new coach, and the PCB chairman clarified that the new coach would be a qualified individual. In view of the latest developments in this regard, it’s would not be a hard guess that Dev Whatmore is all set to take on the responsibility soon.

The point is that what is the responsibly of the coach or what is expected from him? If the team is showing consistency and the signs of improvement then will it be a wise move to replace him with someone else?

One school of thought, which includes the PCB chairman as well, is of the view that modern day cricket needs an up-to-date coach equipped with modern techniques and methodologies, but this group has missed a trick that here is Pakistan, we have a different culture, where performance could not be extracted by pushing the guys too much. Traditionally as well, our players perform on the flare and instincts and in this case a cool and calm individual who could easily take a back seat could serve the purpose.  Remember, what was the problem between Shahid Afridi and Waqar Younis? Afridi claimed that Waqar wanted a bit too much, and who could guarantee a different approach from Whatmore?

The current bunch of players, who have played a lot of cricket, cannot just alter their techniques overnight, and this is the point where if the new coach would push them, they would probably get disturbed.

Mohsin or Whatmore or whoever, the ultimate goal is the betterment of Pakistan cricket. The new chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, Zaka Ashraf seems pretty upbeat and has repeatedly vowed to take adequate measures, but before appointing the coach he should be extra careful. Before making the final call he should take the past experiences as well as the culture of the Pakistan cricket and cricketers into account.