With a new look, Pakistan is rising

December 22, 2013

With a new look, Pakistan is rising

There you go. Another young gun full of talent given an opportunity and he puts to shame those who kept playing proven failures with the plea that this is the best Pakistan has. After Sohaib Maqsood and Ahmed Shahzad there has now arrived Sharjeel Khan.

How often has a debutant slammed a bowler like Malinga for 6, 4, 4 in three balls the first time he faced him. And this after Malinga had hit him on the shoulder as Sharjeel didn’t duck in time. His other charge against Perera brought 17 in an over that included two sixes and a four. Yet the most exciting facet of his batting was the supreme confidence he displayed and the fact that most of his scoring shots were beautiful to watch and elegant in their execution.

The induction of young talent puts pressure on the complacent old guard to score or take wickets. Hafeez has rarely stepped out to hit the bowlers going always for self preservation. But even he was forced to play aggressively after being put to shame by Sharjeel’s stroke-play. Yes, it was a second grade attack when it comes to international cricket, reminding me of the Indian arsenal that the Pakistani batsmen had faced on their tour there a couple of years back. But when it comes to a debutant and a young man knowing he does not have the luxury of failure like the seniors, even this attack can cause trepidation.

Strangely Sri Lanka didn’t play their best bowler Nuwan Kulasekara, a difficult customer at the beginning and death overs. For seniors like Hafeez and Afridi it was once again a chance to score runs and ‘prove their critics wrong’.

As far as I am concerned a century by Hafeez here is meaningless. A captain and top order batsman can count his stars only when he performs like this against the best bowling in the world, just as Ahmed Shahzad and Sohaib Maqsood have done against Steyn and Co. A seventh hundred in his 137th One-day Internationals and despite Sharjeel’s brutal assault against Malinga, being unable to get even one boundary off the same bowler, is far from impressive.

Imagine if we had brought in Shahzad, Sohaib and Sharjeel even a year or two earlier instead of persisting with the depreciated seniors who only come good against mediocre bowling on batting tracks. We could have won Test matches in South Africa and maybe even the previous World Twenty20. Remember how horribly slow Hafeez, Malik, Afridi had batted in the semi-final, which Pakistan reached solely because of Umar Gul’s brilliant hitting in the lower order? How we missed these gutsy and skillful batsmen then.

But for the moment let us rejoice in the team makeover that was long overdue. This current management, whether legal or not, has at least pushed through the young talent that was being kept out for selfish reasons, in quite a criminal manner at that. Najam Sethi and his team, though I presume only Saleem Jaffer, Haroon Rashid and Moin Khan are contributing constructively with the knowledge of the deserving locals, deserve acknowledgement here. It is in his brief tenure (so far) that the PCB dragon has been tamed and forced to give a chance to Sohaib, Bilawal, Anwar Ali, Sharjeel Khan and to bring back Ahmed Shahzad.

His backing to youngsters has also given strength to Misbah’s convictions that he needs new people, though he really should have imposed himself on the tour selection committee like stronger willed captains of the past would do.

The fielding has improved with fresh legs and the desire to challenge the ball and the batsman. Sohaib’s catch in the outfield in the second ODI as well as Bilawals’ throw to run out Malinga is an example. This team now reminds me of the one that Rashid Latif started to build in 2003, the year when we saw the likes of Yasir Hameed, Asim Kamal and Umar Gul breaking through. I see exciting times ahead with this new talent surging forward; or rather being allowed to.

You can’t leave this week without a word for the Australians. They have come back fighting after a 0-3 loss to the same team earlier in the summer. I remember noticing at the time that the series could have actually been drawn, even won by Australia. The first game they lost by 12 runs and the fourth was well within their reach until the last day was washed out. They came close to winning the last one as well and some decisions went against them in crucial times. They made mistakes of course such as not choosing Mitchell Johnson for that series. But they weren’t as bad as the 3-0 series score reflected.

Well this time they have proved it. This is more or less the same England team but far more accurate and incisive bowling has shackled the English stroke-makers, forcing them into mistakes. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell especially have been selfish, getting out to ambitious shots when they were required to put their heads down. England could have drawn at least one of the matches they lost if they had batted like they did a few months earlier.

What has been equally shocking has been to see the two bowling kings of the summer, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, reduced to slave labour. It’s not that swing and spin bowlers of this class don’t work in Australia, as Anderson was brilliant in the Ashes series three years back on the same pitches and conditions; and with Ponting and Hussey in the batting side at the time.

As they say, when you are down and failing everything around you starts to crumble. First Jonathon Trott had to leave after just one Test and now Stuart Broad has hurt his ankle to the effect that he couldn’t bowl in the second d innings at Perth. The only takeaway for England has been the confident and determined performances of Joe Root and Ben Stokes. The latter has been exceptionally good considering this is his debut series. How many can score a hundred in such dreadful conditions as those he found around him: the skipper and England’s best batsman bowled first ball, senior batsmen giving in meekly and the Australian fast bowlers menacing on a pitch which has cracks wide enough to swallow a cell phone. The only thing that stopped the pitch from an ICC review was the fact that so many runs also came on it, and quite comfortable when it came to the Australians. Whether the Australians complete a whitewash or not does not matter at the moment. They have done enough to drown the Englishmen in their own tears.

With a new look, Pakistan is rising