Hard choices

February 15, 2015

Whatever the result of the game today the loser should not be too worried. This format allows for the stronger teams to have a high probability to go through and this is only the first match for the subcontinent giants

Hard choices

Whether Pakistan win or lose today will depend on how they’ve tackled the hard choices. The match against India is always tough due to the emotive overload it entails but in a World Cup the adrenalin is doubled and so is the pressure, both atmospheric and innate.

When you add the fact that it is a World Cup opener and that Pakistan have never beaten India in this tournament since they first clashed in 1992 on this very continent, well you can quadruple the burden on the shoulders and on the minds.

That is why I say that a lot will depend on how Pakistan approach the game and the choices they make. Do they play Nasir Jamshed straight away? Do they persevere with Younis Khan? Do they drop Sarfraz Ahmed for an extra bowler or batsman and ask Umar Akmal to keep wickets? Will Sohail Khan play or Ehsan Adil? Do they throw in Yasir Shah against a team known for its prowess against spin?

Analysing India we can see they are very weak in fast bowling. It wouldn’t be outlandish to say that they are the weakest in this area among the top eight sides. Yes, weaker than Pakistan’s attack even. Given that I think Pakistan can ask Sarfraz to open although he hasn’t been among the runs.

The pitch at Adelaide has been of late helpful to batting with a hint of turn which probably won’t come into play until the middle overs. Sarfraz can, therefore, launch himself with a fair degree of comfort against the pedestrian pace of Yadav, Shami, Mohit Sharma and Stuart Binny.

He’s had one stint as opener on the tour and deserves another chance at the top. I say that also because Nasir has still to acclimatise to Australian conditions, although judging him by his rustiness in the warm-up game against England would be unfair considering he landed a day or so earlier after a long flight. But even four days into his arrival it would be tough on him considering his lack of mental readiness for a match of this magnitude. I rate him as a more qualified opener than Sarfraz and if he does play he has the potential to score runs at a brisk pace.

Not lost is the fact that three of his ODI hundreds have come against India in the not too distant past.

Nasir is a poor fielder also and these are big grounds and huge stadia, conditions that make you run long distances, which can camouflage the ball as it comes at you in the backdrop of three tier stands.

True, Sarfraz has let go a couple of chances but so will Umar Akmal who has a poor track record of keeping. Plus, the youngest of the Akmals is temperamentally weak and a bad day on the field can affect his batting if Pakistan are to chase. He is too good a batsman and talent to put under pressure. Therefore, Sarfraz as opener for me in this opening game.

I would ask Younis to stand down instead to make room for an extra bowler to counter India’s massive strength in batting. He has batted slowly as expected throughout the six games Pakistan played on the tour so far and hasn’t had any runs to show.

As Hafeez used to do, he is putting pressure on other batsmen. We need a big total against India if batting first and for that to happen our top three must bat aggressively from the start to capitalise on the powerplay. While chasing it will be even more important.

I would send in Sohaib Maqsood at No 3. This is where he played initially and had two fifties to show in his debut series.

Yes, there is the temptation to keep him lower down due to his match finishing abilities but as we saw against England this can delay his arrival till very late in the innings.

It can work when the total being chased is manageable or when the first six batsmen have already put up an imposing score if batting first. But to keep a batsman of his caliber at No 7 would be ridiculous. Remember how Imran used Inzamam in the 1992 tournament. Send your more explosive batsmen to the middle as quickly as possible, especially in the powerplay.

That would bring in Misbah at No 4 followed by Umar Akmal and Haris Sohail who can alternate if Pakistan lose early wickets and have to be steadied by someone with Haris’ composure.

Pakistan can then bring in Afridi at No 7. But which four? Irfan and Wahab are certainties but after these two line up Ehsan Adil, Sohail Khan and Yasir Shah waiting to be counted; even Rahat Ali will have loosened up by today.

However, with two left armers in Irfan and Wahab, I wouldn’t go for a third of Rahat’s pace; it would make the attack too lop-sided. Plus, he has no experience of ODIs; he can be slotted in against the weaker sides to ease him in.

Moin, Waqar and Misbah will keep in mind how well Yasir bowled against England but then Indians play spin well. Adelaide Oval is well exactly that: oval shaped, meaning shorter boundaries square of the pitch.

A mistimed sweep can still make it for six due to the heavy bats in use. They will also bank on Afridi to do the deed with flight and turn and with Haris Sohail to an extent.

If that happens, Pakistan can go with both Sohail Khan and Ehsan Adil, though it must be borne in mind that they are rookies and become more so when they bowl to the likes of Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Rahane, Dhoni, Jadeja and Rayudu.

But Pakistan need to go in with five specialist bowlers, so if they opt for four fast bowlers, the young duo will have to bear the brunt. Playing Yasir instead of one of them (I would leave out Ehsan in such a case based on what I saw on Wednesday against England) still has its merits in that he may tempt the Indians into a false shot or two. Overconfidence and some arrogance has been the bane of them over the tour they have had so far.

Whatever the result of the game today the loser should not be too worried. This format allows for the stronger teams to have a high probability to go through and this is only the first match for the subcontinent giants.

Hard choices