Tuesday 26 August 2014 

Comment: Pakistan Cricket Needs A Big Overhaul

What will it take for Pakistan to win on a more regular basis?
What will it take for Pakistan to win on a more regular basis?
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

First-class cricketer Jibran Khan Niazi argues that cricket in Pakistan is in dire need of an overhaul and would be well suited to allowing its players time with English counties and letting players play their natural game.

Off-spinner Jibran Khan Niazi has played first-class and one-day cricket for Sargodha, also playing for Pakistan University Grants Commission and Faisalabad.

Although I consider the Pakistan to have a good balance between batting and bowling, the fielding is poor and despite the efforts of several coaches our team has failed to build temperament to stay at the crease. These drawbacks left the team facing a shameful defeat in two Test matches while playing against Sri Lanka.

The selectors will present self-styled answers when asked about the failure of top-order batsmen by saying the home side did not prepare a supportive wicket.

There may be 101 reasons for defeat in the Test series but the main factor is the selectors failed to search out dependable openers and the middle-order batsmen lack the temperament to stay at the wicket.

If we critically analyse the bowling of Sri Lanka, there is nothing extraordinary and unnecessary shots were played by seasoned batsmen like Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.

For the first time Misbah looked shaky and played poor shots against Rangana Herath - for once he did not seem to be the man for a crisis. I would also criticise his field-placing; this was not a vintage display of captaincy from him.

"We needed someone to bat through," Misbah said. "It's difficult when you are losing wickets to chase a total like that.

"Wickets in hand is key. You want your main batsmen to go in and keep scoring."

What are the coaches doing?

If the Pakistani middle order is doing badly what are the coaches are doing and what are they giving to team? No doubt Waqar Younus was a legendary cricketer and particularly he can deliver much more than he has achieved so far but as yet his presence in the team does not seem to be delivering.

Mushtaq Ahmed is another legendary cricketer and enabled the English to play against spin but astonishingly, in his presence, even dependable batsman like Misbah are facing problems against spin attacks.

In short it can be safely said that neither batsmen nor bowlers are performing in accordance with the advice of coaches and they are committing same mistakes again and again.

The openers failed to live up to expectations in the series against Sri Lanka, but Ahmed Shehzad has the potential to change the game at any moment but he has to show patience while playing against pacers and spinners and give his team better starts as when his wicket drops earlier than it should the remaining batsman are under pressure.

Batting problems

If the PCB wants Pakistan to do well in the future, the administration will have to overhaul the whole team, because if they don’t, the results will not change at all.

The PCB and coaches must encourage the batsmen to never play anything but their natural game as no time is left for further changes or experiments.

The failures of the Pakistani batsmen, who had been shining against various other teams, should be kept in mind here while preparing for the 2015 World Cup.

I must say that Misbah, despite his age, is physically as fit as a teenager and his strong nerve and cool-mindedness as captain means if we lost such player it will be difficult to field a well-knitted team in the World Cup. 

The selectors must focus on the selection of openers who must have an understanding between them and the patience to stay at the crease if it is so required.

There is an active lobby against Misbah and they want to introduce some players of their choice irrespective of performance.

The newly-elected chairman, Shaharyar Khan, is a good man, and has the vast experience to tackle problems and crises. He will personally look into this matter and discourage opportunists who have no interest in improving the performance of the team, rather interested in personal gai.

Misbah and Younus must not retire or be relieved of their responsibilities until the World Cup is over - at least.

Specialists for specialist roles

Another talented youngster, Umar Akmal, can perform well in both One-Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals, despite being given the additional responsibility to keep wicket. His ability to clear the field is an asset for Pakistan.

However, it will be better for the country if he is relieved of the wicket-keeping gloves and there must be a specialist stumper to do that job.

Shahid Afridi has always been selected on the performance he gives, he needs to be supported as he has the capacity and capability to turn results in his favour by playing his natural game. It is hard luck that he has not been used properly.

The differences between Waqar Younus and Shahid Afridi have been settled so it is time to focus on building his confidence. He should be given a free hand to play his natural game and he may bowl well and provide breakthroughs when needed but it is up to the captain to give him the support he needs.

I believe that Shoaib Malik has been selected for Pakistan due to the insistence of influential people, and I understand he is also friends with the son of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, making him ‘eligible’ to play for the national team although he is unable to deliver.

In my view, he is neither a batsman nor a bowler and he may not be the only one in the team through influence rather than performance.

It is time to select the team on merit and also assure the captain that he will not be removed and his opinion will be given due importance - in other words we must build his confidence and minimise the interference of coaches sitting outside the ground.

I don't understand how we have employed foreign coaches but astonishingly failed to improve our fielding.

Bowling problems

We are relying on pacers Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Talha, but Irfan is reported to be unfit and if he is not rested it will be difficult to use him in the World Cup.

Junaid is not performing well and nobody seems to have worked with him to improve his bowling. Why are such players being selected and all-rounders being left out? Surely this is a decision that will do Pakistan more harm than good?

Saeed Ajmal is considered a potent threat to batsmen all over the world but the pitches in Sri Lanka did not suit his style and he was unable to weave his web against the hostile batsmen, therefore we must search for a replacement.

We have recently seen that Saeed Ajmal is not delivering the ball as he has been, and now his action is also under question.

Sarfraz Ahmed has proved his worth during the Test matches against Sri Lanka - he is someone who can bat and keep wicket. Umar Akmal must be allowed to focus on batting as he could do neither during the ICC World Twenty20 as he dropped vital catches, failed with the bat and his mere presence was a distraction.

What now?

In conclusion I must say that if the PCB wants Pakistan to do well in the future, the administration will have to overhaul the whole team, because if they don’t, the results will not change at all. The PCB and coaches must encourage the batsmen to never play anything but their natural game as no time is left for further changes or experiments.

Pakistan’s predicament may have been brought about by a natural fear of the swinging ball. With home pitches being placid and offering very little swing to the fast bowlers, it can be disconcerting for a young batsman to face a bowler who can make the ball swing both ways.

To that, the only solution one can propose is for the board to give batsmen the opportunity to play county cricket. That is the only way they can learn to play a swing bowler and not look like lame ducks while doing so.

© Cricket World 2014

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