As the Test series, in fact Pakistan’s Test season, draws to a close, PCB can rest assured that it has achieved the sort of success which looked a distant dream when the team returned home from Sri Lanka last summer. That was the start of a new coaching staff and the question was asked whether there were too many of them and would they blend together to give a unified strategy to the players. But if results are any indication, the quartet of Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, Grant Fowler and Moin Khan seem to have closed the longer format chapter with a great degree of satisfaction.
However they must now reflect on all that went awry when Pakistan played the shorter formats against Australia. That was a disaster of massive proportions considering the ramifications off the field as well as on it. And it may still come to haunt them when the Kiwis don their coloured clothing for the seven limited-over games starting this week. In this format the New Zealanders will challenge Pakistan no less arduously than the Australians did.
To add to the selectors’ woes, Pakistan will be without Sohaib Maqsood after he injured his wrist while playing for Pakistan ‘A’ in UAE and Ahmed Shahzad, still recovering from the head injury; two batsmen who can force the pace. That will probably place more responsibility on Sarfraz Ahmed at the top which will be challenging as Hafeez is likely to be his opening partner for want of choices. For all his run scoring this series, he has a penchant to cow down in limited-over games. That fear will prevail unless Pakistan brings back Awais Zia for another go and Hafeez sticks to his slot at one down.
To be sure the selectors will pick Younis with their eyes closed. No one will take on a PR catastrophe on his shoulders after his outburst last time and a streak of runs over the last two months. I haven’t been his greatest fan when it comes to limited-over format but you just cannot refuse a man who is in such peak form. The rationalist will point to the fact that in Test matches there is no pressure to play strokes early on; in fact even later the batsman can pick and choose. And the majority of fielders are more than 30 yards away allowing for easy singles and strike rotation. In circumstances where this is essential almost every ball and with six men surrounding you within the inner circle, it can get pretty tricky. And Younis has been around long enough to know that a couple of outings where he slows the run rate which results in Pakistan losing the game will lead to all his good work in the Test series will be forgotten.
But at least Misbah won’t be feeling the sort of pressure he did against the Australians where there was still talk that he could be removed from captaincy in the World Cup. No one from either the coaching staff or the management dare bring up that topic in the coming series. Too much has been said and no way will Shaharyar Khan listen to any more rubbish about possible change in leadership.
That level of assurance will no doubt propel Misbah to bat with more fervor than he did against Australia though the Kiwis are not all that different when it comes to putting batsmen under pressure to score. With this in mind the Pakistani selectors will probably want to have a second look at picking either of Asad Shafiq and Fawad Alam. Especially now that Younis Khan will be there with his time taking innings.
Who they pick to deliver the fireworks will be a good question and something that will strain the selectors. These days even the return of Umar Akmal does not lend that much confidence in the middle order’s prowess and for it to score at a brisk rate. As they say you have to stay in the middle long enough if you want to score runs.
So it’s likely that Pakistan will hark back to the good old days and rely on their bowling to either set a small target for their batsmen or curtail the Kiwis if they go for a gettable target set by Pakistan. It is here that the selectors may just continue with the pair of Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah. The Kiwis may have the opportunity to practice against Sodhi but playing a quality leg spinner in an actual match situation is not something that they do every day. Otherwise Raza Hasan would love to have a crack at them.
With Junaid injured Wahab Riaz, who has recovered faster, is sure to return but the question remains: will the selectors put in Mohammad Irfan? By the time the ODI series ends there will be five to six weeks before the team departs for the World Cup. With the PCB already drawing sweat over Ajmal, they would be talking salts for breakfast, lunch and dinner if Irfan pulls up during a follow through. I just think that with Junaid unsure of full fitness before the world cup team has to be announced as per ICC deadline, it would be wise to let Irfan limber up in domestic games.
Imran Khan should be the one that Pakistan can turn to. He bowled with tremendous accuracy though of course in limited-over games batsmen are willing to force the issue even off the best of deliveries the bowler can shoot at them. And class batsmen usually succeed. But Moin and Co. won’t know until they throw him in at the deep end against McCullum and Taylor or Anderson and Ronchi.
Nevertheless some good news coming through regarding Saeed Ajmal. It’s encouraging to hear that testers at Loughborough have given him the thumbs up in unofficial testing though only for his off break and faster one; his doosra remains a mystery this time to him and the PCB. But he is such a crafty bowler that if he has to go without the one that goes the other way he can still corner batsmen with his guile and accuracy. PCB just has to be very, very sure that he won’t fail the test when he goes in for the formal approval after a stint in domestic cricket. Lots of work still to be done. PCB has to play this end game very carefully.