Friday June 21, 2024

Meet the unlucky seven

By Omair Alavi
October 06, 2019

For Abid Ali, international cricket has not been a bed of roses. He scored a century on his ODI debut, won an ODI match for Pakistan during the recent series against Sri Lanka, yet couldn’t become part of the T20 squad for no reason. He joins many such cricketers from Pakistan who have done everything right, except getting in the good books. Let’s take a look at some such cricketers.


Had he been in some other cricket-playing country, Abid Ali would have been a permanent part of the final XI. He has a strike rate of 97 in his four-match ODI career with one century and one match-winning fifty to back his claim. In his presence, other openers no matter who that is have played second fiddle. Yet in Pakistan, he is bound to remain the ‘optional opener’ despite a decent strike rate because Imam ul Haq is invincible, even when injured. The first two matches he played against Australia became possible because Inzamam ul Haq’s nephew was not fit; the next match in England as well as the chance against Sri Lanka only happened because the left-hander couldn’t take the field. With a strike rate that brings more shame than shock, Imam was constantly being selected by his own uncle Inzamam ul Haq, the self-proclaimed legend. One hopes that the new coach Misbah ul Haq (same surname, no relation) prefers merit over surname, hence Abid over Imam for the betterment of Pakistan.


Inzamam ul Haq may have been a super cricketer but as a selector, he was as bad as one could get. Not only did he not select Mohammad Amir who proved to be a revelation in the World Cup, he dropped the maverick Usman Shinwari for Mohammad Hasnain, who was too young to be selected in the final XI. Usman Shinwari went back to the basics, honed his skill and came back to take five wickets against Sri Lanka, thus proving his non-selection to be incorrect. In fact, had he been in the playing XI at the mega event, he would have proved to be decisive as he has a knack of taking wickets, a skill that many bowlers forgot at the World Cup.


Mohammad Rizwan’s biggest problem is his bad timings; had he been playing in the Kamran Akmal era, neither Kamran nor Umar would have made it to the Pakistan XI as a gloveman. However, he is born in Sarfaraz Ahmed’s time who is the captain of the Pakistan side, and not doing a bad job at that. With two centuries against the mighty Aussies before the World Cup, his selection would have been confirmed as a batsman had the team been selected on merit. But Rizwan was dropped, only to be picked for the Sri Lankan series, but not getting a chance to show his skills.


When he came onto the scene, Sami Aslam was touted as the next Saeed Anwar. He had the drives to prove his mettle, and knew how to build an innings as well. Since being dropped from ODIs in 2016 and Tests in 2017, he has been scoring runs at an impressive rate in List A and First Class levels. But his return seems less likely now that Pakistan has two left-handers at the top. With a List A average of nearly 50, he demands a fair chance so that he can prove that Pakistan doesn’t need left-handers at the top; a good one can make a place for himself anywhere in the batting order.


And then there is Fawad Alam who likes to score runs so that his fans could demand justice from the Pakistan Cricket Board. Not only is he an experienced batsman, but he is also a useful bowler, an excellent fielder, and a perfect sportsman. After three Tests, he was dropped despite averaging 41; after 38 ODIs he was sacked despite having an average of 40 and 966 runs in just 38 matches; every time a camp is held and the fitness test is taken, he tops the chart. His biggest flaw is that he was never in the good books of any selector, from 2009 till now. He scored his 31st First Class century recently and is one of the few batsmen to have an average of over 55 at that level. Yet the 33-year-old’s chances remain bleak despite Pakistan needing him in the middle-order.


What would you do if you had a middle-order batsman who scored 99 on his Test debut against South Africa, scored seven more fifties in the next 19 innings, including a 87 against Australia in Sydney, a 91 against India at Mohali and two half centuries against the mighty West Indies? In any other team, he would never have been dropped; in Pakistan, he would never be selected. The player in discussion here is Asim Kamal who was an exceptionally talented batsman yet couldn’t make a place for himself in Pakistan’s Test side. He was the unluckiest player until Fawad Alam came along.


And then there was a certain young Misbah ul Haq who made his Test debut in 2001, ODI debut in 2002 and scored decently enough to make a place for himself. Yet he had to wait to become a regular till 2007, after the retirement of Inzamam ul Haq, and went onto serve his country as a captain better than any. Mohammad Yousuf hates him for he replaced the veteran first in the T20 side, then in other formats. He was one of the few players of the modern era who retired despite being fully fit, universally respected and scoring consecutive 99s and a 59 in his final three Tests. One hopes he manages to select players on merit and recall those who deserve to have a decent career for Pakistan.