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South African Challenges for Pakistan - Shakeel Ahmed

The 47-year old former opening batsman, Shakeel Ahmed, settled in Johannesburg, some twenty years ago. Disillusioned with his future in the game, he packed his bags and became the first Pakistan player to play in South Africa’s domestic first-class cricket for Easterns in the 1998-99 winter. Happily married and managing a successful business, he met up with the Pakistan Test squad, on the third evening of the Johannesburg Test. He was happy to pass on his experience of the South African conditions and hoped his batting tips would come handy in the remainder matches of the tour.

In Shakeel Ahmed’s words,

‘I met the Pakistan team in Johannesburg and found them in good spirits, as perhaps they had expected to lose the Test series. Perhaps mentally they had been prepared to expect the worst by senior players and the management. If they had not backed their abilities, prior to the arrival in South Africa, then I am afraid it is not good sign at all. I was expecting them to show some disappointment but instead they seemed ‘too relaxed’ about the outcome. I have to say Sarfraz Ahmed, as a captain was expected to show extra responsibility but he too played the short ball very poorly in the Test series.’

‘I was happy to pass on some batting tips to the players. I emphasised the need to leave the ball to the flamboyant opening batsman, Fakhar Zaman. The signature shots that fetch them runs could also cause their down fall as well. I advised him to indulge with the flashing drives, only when well set. At times with not even a single slip, Fakhar, after a poor run with the bat in the Test series, is looking forward to the limited overs cricket. The coaching staff of Mickey Arthur, Grant Flower and Azhar Mahmood, with advanced technology at their finger tips, can not start coaching players of international standing on overseas tours but instead could only polish their skills and toughen their mental side.’

‘The return of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, two experienced players, has certainly strengthened our white ball squad. Imam-ul-Haq, has a good one-day record and is expected to do well. I spoke to Imam and let him know what I felt about his technique. In my view, with his short height, he need not crouch as much on the South African wickets. In order to stay on top of the bounce, he would need to be more upright. His uncle, Inzamam-ul-Haq, had the height advantage and very successfully adopted crouch but it did not work for Imam.’

‘As a member of the Pakistan team that toured South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1994-95, the side matches allowed us to get used to the bounce. I had to make slight alteration in order to become comfortable with the extra bounce in this country. As a back foot player I had a very good start with Easterns in 1998-99 by scoring three first-class hundreds in five matches. Both Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, failed to make much contribution in the Test series. Babar Azam impressed everyone with his approach but he too was guilty of throwing away his wicket after reaching a fifty. I would have liked him to aim for 150 and with expected batting promotion, he should have a bright future with Pakistan team but must cut out the risky strokes.’

‘In my meeting with the players, I did not see a large number of supporters following them in hotel lobby and neither were there many autograph hunters. It is very much to do with their pretty average international standing. This is in sharp contrast to the 1994-95 Pakistan team with big names like Wasim Akram, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saleem Malik, it had a massive following. I recall all the players surrounded by supporters, after net practice, by boys and girls of all age groups. There were families in the ground who had come to cheer Pakistan team. The popularity graph of Pakistan players in the present squad is quite low and has failed to create the buzz of the 1994-95 winter. I am aware now a days Test grounds are rarely filled during the working days but still, there was something missing.’

‘After their impressive win in Port Elizabeth in the opening ODI, Pakistan should do well in the rest of the series. Port Elizabeth and East London, have low bounce pitches and that is why Pakistan batsmen, tend to perform better. In Durban if Pakistan win the toss, they must bat first as batting under lights with extra bounce will not be easy in a run chase.

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