The call of Dhaka

March 16, 2014

The call of Dhaka

I suppose only the Pakistan cricket team can do the transformation overnight from being bowling-strong-batting-weak to becoming exactly the opposite. Whereas the fans (PCB has always known the solution but doesn’t wish to implement it) were scratching their heads on the failures of the Pakistan top and middle order, they are now perplexed as to how our bowling is leaking runs while our batting is winning the matches well out of reach over the last three years

It is inconceivable that Zaheer Abbas has had anything to do with Shahid Afridi’s batting resurgence; such are the dissimilarities between the two styles, if one can call it that when it comes to Boom Boom. But Zaheer must have a quiet word with Sohaib Maqsood, closer to his kind of strokeplay than any other in the squad. A good coach or advisor builds further on the strengths and Sohaib has the clear elegance and sweetness in timing that Zaheer once had so just the slightest improvement can gain Sohaib far more runs and confidence.

Amusing it is though that where it was Misbah who was the perennial man on the burning pitch for Pakistan, it is now Saeed Ajmal who alone mans the trench in face of the opposing batsmen’s onslaught. Yes it has taken an Afridi gone berserk, but it has been after some time that we’re seeing runs at the top by Ahmed Shahzad and in the middle by someone as unlikely as Fawad Alam. Hmm… What was that again about not having so much power in the wrists? Too bad for those who had kept him out for three and a half years within weeks after he had scored a 150-plus on Test debut. And that too as an opener since that was where the vacancy appeared.

More on the bowling; is the Pakistan team management paying for the follies of the previous one under Whatmore? Of course he was more of a dummy when it came to selecting the final XI; and was probably sitting with his hands cross placed on his head much before we would actually see him in that position for the rest of the day. That final selection would be remote controlled from home with inputs from Misbah and Hafeez.

But whoever was the one responsible for playing Mohammad Irfan in one match too many when he was clearly struggling with a leg strain; or for asking Saeed Ajmal to keep on bowling in every match of every series to cause fatigue; or for breaking the rhythm of Junaid Khan with regular benching for rest (when all fast bowlers have said that they want to play continuously to get better especially when they are starting up), has done Pakistan cricket enormous harm.

It had been clear over the past couple of years that Afridi was not at his destructive best with the ball and that the pick-from-the-hat selections of fast medium bowlers was producing a confused lot. Instead of working hard and then yet more harder on Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali, or preparing Zulfiqar Babar or Abdul Rehman for taking over from Shahid Afridi, Talha was brought in from nowhere to support a half way home Umar Gul.

Rehman has probably bowled his last beamer, though judging by the past the more you mess up the better the future gets for you if you have been with the team for every reason except playing regularly. He’s not in the World Twenty20 squad anyway so enough time for his questionable act of madness to be forgotten.

What must be shaking up Moin and Akram, the bowling coach, is that these bowlers are what they have on their next visit to the same pitches and conditions they have just returned from shaken and stirred after being hurled all over the place. Now added to these band of the battered is Sohail Tanvir, who himself has more often than not been at the wrong end in the death overs, even in this format. His batting hasn’t been as effective as it used to be; the memory of those two sixes in his first three balls in international cricket in the 2007 World Twenty20 final against India some seven years ago has long diminished.

Stepping away from the green syndrome, it is probably the first time in global knock out competitions that full (Test) members of ICC need to qualify for the last two places. Additionally this is probably the first time that both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are in danger of being omitted from contesting a world cup since they gained ODI status.

Eyeing their scalps are Ireland and Afghanistan. While the Irish have maintained their 2011 World Cup performance, the Afghanis have raised the level of their game to surprising levels. They knocked up Bangladesh in the Asia Cup and are in the same qualifying group as the hosts. The Bengali girls might well be crying even harder in the stands come the contest between the two. Nepal and Hong Kong by contrast are actually a sideshow.

The other qualifying group however is slightly tougher, though Ireland have the edge over Zimbabwe, UAE and Netherlands. But a Twenty20 game can swivel on one magical over, so this group’s members may have a three way fight on their hands if not four.

Closing on Pakistan we can see that to make matters worse they are in the tougher of the two main groups. All three of their main opponents have individually won a higher number of world cups and Champions Trophy titles than Pakistan. With a hot pursuit West Indian batting line up fronted by Gayle, the Australians by Warner and the Indians by Dhawan, the opening overs from the Pakistani bowlers will be put to the ultimate test.

And it should be kept in mind that the fifth team coming in from the qualifying phase will be either Bangladesh or Afghanistan. If Afghanistan makes it they’ll be sure to go after our fast bowlers having had no clue to the spinners a couple of weeks back. If it’s Bangladesh that restore their status over Afghanistan, they will be smiling with memories of 320-odd against this same attack, give or take Sohail Tanvir.

Pakistan have featured in the semi-finals of all World Twenty20s but in a few cases it was a great escape to the last four; the second of those due to a maverick knock from Umar Gul when they seemed all but buried by South Africa. Will this time prove to be third time unlucky? Let’s hope not.

The call of Dhaka