Pakistan Cricket Navigating Troubled Waters
How good a team is doesn’t show up as much in one-sided wins, as much as it does in crunch situations.
Pakistan would have realised that the demons taunting them are as real as they could get. That they allowed Glenn Maxwell to bowl a double-wicket maiden, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, needing two runs in the last over, is just the beginning of their problems.
That the win could have lifted their sagging spirits after being demolished at their makeshift home by a team not known for its strength against spinners is not a point up for discussion now.
That Pakistan played the match, with their long-term captain Misbah-ul-Haq dropping himself voluntarily, after averaging just 22.5 in 2014 is a reason to worry. Misbah is probably in a dilemma on whether he is ready.
He is not ready to let go, for sure, and has the full backing of the coach Waqar Younis and Chief Selector Moin Khan to lead the team up to the World Cup 2015.
Stand-in captain for the third One-Day International, Shahid Afridi, has raised a pertinent point too, about transparency and how the captain should know well in advance about his role. Although a brave and probably selfless move, Misbah hasn’t helped the team’s cause.
He has talked about the team’s loss of confidence at an earlier occasion and now, dropping himself in a crucial, albeit dead-rubber match, gives opponents even in the future a clear view of the team’s vulnerability.
More importantly, Afridi is a volatile personality at best and although he could come up with glimmers of genius from time to time, making him the team’s skipper for the World Cup is a major gamble, which might not make sense even considering Misbah’s poor returns and loss of confidence.
It might take aeons to sum all the problems that the team faces at this moment. Pakistan’s most proven match-winner and their biggest strength in the form of Saeed Ajmal, has almost been sidelined because of suspect action.
Pakistan's ODIs in 2014
25th February: lost to Sri Lanka by 12 runs
27th February: beat Afghanistan by 72 runs
1st March: beat India by one wicket
4th March: beat Bangladesh by three wickets
8th March: lost to Sri Lanka (Asia Cup final) by five wickets
23rd August: beat Sri Lanka by four wickets
26th August: lost to Sri Lanka by 77 runs
30th August: lost to Sri Lanka by seven wickets (D/L)
7th October: lost to Australia by 93 runs
10th October: lost to Australia by five wickets
12th October: lost to Australia by one run
Though, technically speaking, he could still make a comeback, Pakistan cannot depend on that possibility, meaning that their most potent weapon cannot really feature in their World Cup preparation plans.
Zulfiqar Babar and Raza Hasan were both tried in the three-match series and neither really looked even half as potent as the big boots they were trying to fill.
The bowling line-up, in spite of the hitches, like most teams from Pakistan, boasts of plenty of talent, but not as much experience. Both Wahab Riaz and Junaid Khan have injury scares which meant Pakistan went into the third ODI with Sohail Tanvir and Mohammad Irfan.
Pakistan has a miraculously talented bench of seamers who with experience could deliver. But, given how not many of them have been persisted for too long and how tried and tested warhorses like Mohammad Hafeez and Younus Khan are out of favour, the team in all likelihood will be young and inexperienced.
In tough territory for any Asian team, Australia, such a team could still impress because of its bowling prowess but is more likely to implode, a worry that cannot really be resolved.
Pakistan’s long-term investments in the form of Sarfraz Ahmed, Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq and Ahmed Shehzad haven’t exactly set the world stage on fire. In fact, it is a travesty that one needs to speak of Umar Akmal, easily one of the most talented batsmen in the world and mainstays of Pakistani batting for years, still as an investment.
However, that is the story of the team, which has changed its shape, style and attitude multiple times since the last World Cup, where they reached the semi-finals.
After two series defeats, one against Australia and another against Sri Lanka, Pakistan has a great opportunity to get its act together in a five-match series against New Zealand.
That the series will be played in the familiar territory of UAE could work as a double-edged sword. Although it leaves the team with not much time to practice or adapt to the fast pitches of Australia, it will help the team to test its strength and combination and if possible, regain some of the lost confidence.
It will also be a good checkpoint to note which players are free from injury and are geared up for the big tournament and which ones aren’t.
For a team that in spite of being from the subcontinent has troubled teams like South Africa and Australia overseas, thanks largely to their bowling, Pakistan have a dearth of stable and reliable batters and the sands of time are quickly running out from their grasp.
How the think-tank responds to the most recent debacle will clearly show the mettle of the team, for it couldn’t find itself in a greater abyss ahead of a World Cup.
© Cricket World 2014