Time for reflection

March 22, 2015

It’s a sad farewell for Misbah ul Haq and Afridi from one-day matches. Whereas Afridi went the way he lived, living and dying by the sword, Misbah went uncharacteristically in what was his final innings in ODIs

Time for reflection

Weeks before the World Cup just about everyone from the cricketing expert to the media man to the corporate executive to the cab driver felt that Pakistan would at best make it to the quarter final. And so they did.

It was not just that the current Pakistan side does not have the oomph that makes sides surmount every mountain that rises up in front of them. There were practical barricades considering they had lost Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan and eventually Mohammad Hafeez; Umar Gul had already fallen foul of injury and when Mohammad Irfan became unavailable before the Ireland game Pakistan were looking exposed.

Yet what happened in the first half of the quarter-final against Australia was what really sank Pakistan. Given the tendency of the Pakistan batsmen to poke their bats at moving balls without moving their feet I could understand when the openers were caught in the slips but what was inexplicable was the manner in which the other batsmen lofted or struck shots straight to fielders. It was pure hara-kiri.

But having said that should it be inexplicable when it comes to Pakistani batsmen? When was the last time they played with a steady head? Why should we be surprised?

The question is how long we are going to live with this. Is there no disciplinary action that can be taken if batsmen throw away their wickets? I can recall Imran dropping batsmen simply based on a false stroke. Needless to add Pakistani batting flourished in those days and even when there were collapses rarely were they initiated by insanity in strokeplay.

Once again the bowlers minus Irfan gave their best and Wahab was outstanding. But for an unfortunate drop by Rahat that defied the very basics of catching technique Pakistani bowlers may just have made it up for what their batsmen threw away.

It’s a sad farewell for Misbah ul Haq and Afridi from one-day matches. Whereas Afridi went the way he lived, living and dying by the sword, Misbah went uncharacteristically in what was his final innings in ODIs. Normally you would expect him to chug it out till the final 10 overs, even if he stepped in with the ball still new. And for those who criticise him for his lethargy in the mid overs, his dismissal halfway through proved that it is his presence that takes Pakistan beyond 250.

Since Misbah and Afridi will not be there in the ODIs, it is useless to talk about their failures now, but someone must sit with Ahmed Shahzad, Umar Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood and drill deep into the grey matter to implant presence of mind.

While it is acceptable, even justified to some extent, to push the scoring rate even if the wickets have fallen early, they have to see where the fielders are. Umar Akmal picked out the fielder almost to perfection, while Sohaib had no right to lift the ball with so many overs left and only bowlers left in the batting line.

These are the young batsmen who have to take Pakistan forward. They must show greater application and responsibility. If Grant Flower is taken seriously by them then they must spend considerable hours with the man who was a master of application even if he didn’t score a high number of runs.

Away from the batting, I am sad for Mohammad Irfan and feel that he was completely mishandled. He had returned from injury a few weeks prior to the World Cup after six months and came back with "Fragile: Handle With Care" pasted all over him.

Simply because the Pakistani think tank messed up big time in the games against India and West Indies and almost paid the price for its miscalculations against Zimbabwe, they had cold feet when it came to the idea of giving him rest against the UAE. That game came within four days of the previous game.

Had he been given rest against UAE Pakistan could well have had him for the quarter-final by also giving him rest against Ireland, a match he eventually missed because of the injury that had grown out of control after being pressed into service without much rest.

I also felt that the PCB and the team management missed a trick by not flying someone across after the game against UAE. They could have sent say Saeed Ajmal and kept him outside the team considering a 16th member is not allowed to travel with the team. I’m sure he could have still practiced with the side or even otherwise could follow training drills separately.

That would have allowed Pakistan to bring in a replacement at short notice if and when the team doctor called it off for Irfan. India had kept Mohit Sharma in Australia even when those members who were not part of the squad had left for home after the end of the tour. They were then not sure of Ishant Sharma’s fitness. As it happened Ishant was deemed unfit and Mohit was drafted in at short notice as he was just around the corner.

Coming back to Irfan, I pray the stress fracture is not career threatening. The affable giant of a man has served Pakistan well and he could so easily have told the coach the day before UAE that he’d like to sit that one out. He didn’t and sacrificed for his country. The PCB must draw out a plan for his rehabilitation.

I think that, based on one of the lessons we have learned from the World Cup campaign, PCB also has to give more authority to the selectors on selecting the final XI. Had Pakistan picked Sarfraz Ahmed from Day 1 and persevered with Yasir Shah against West Indies Pakistan may well have finished second in the group and avoided Australia in the quarters.

I say this because I sense there is too much arrogance and lack of vision in Waqar; an element of selfishness too. That must be reined in if Pakistan are to rebuild the ODI team after Misbah and Afridi.

Time for reflection