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The experiments begin again

Pakistan have got themselves in a tight corner because they haven’t developed enough aggressive batsmen over the past 18 months

The experiments begin again

Irrespective of the result of the second ODI, the damage that the first one in Sharjah has done to Pakistan’s think tank is enormous. They got out of jail with a risky call of going in with five specialist bowlers in an ODI — even the plan of Anwar Ali and Fawad Alam sharing one quota of 10 was fraught with danger — since the Australians managed less than 260 when they looked set for 280 by the 40th over.

But then their reliance on a batting order of Asad Shafiq, Misbah and Fawad Alam at crucial positions where acceleration is the key was surprising.

Pakistan have got themselves in this corner because they haven’t developed enough aggressive batsmen over the past 18 months.

The Haier T20 tournament showed that Pakistan has talent in the limited overs formats but then the selectors should have known about the potential players a couple of years back.

Taking Younis Khan to Sri Lanka was a regressive step; instead Haris Sohail, Awais Zia or even one from Babar Azam, Ali Waqas or Mukhtar Ahmed could have been blooded. I mean given a run of 6-7 matches right from the time Younis was dropped in 2013. Instead we continued to rely on Hafeez when it has time and again been proven since the 2011 World Cup that he does not have the acceleration power that a top order bat needs to have.

So now we find ourselves in a position where it would be unfair to push one of them against a top team like Australia for three straight ODIs. We have in a way dug ourselves into a hole as there is only New Zealand left against whom to play these contenders before the World Cup, and that, too, if the selectors gather some guts.

But would that be enough? Don’t think so as the World Cup — on Australian pitches — will eke out the last nervous limb from a newcomer or a resettler in the squad.

Worse, to have Sohaib Maqsood warming the bench after a T20 disappointment is criminal. This man is carrying a strike rate hope and he needs to be thrown into every ODI opportunity and situation. This was a golden chance to play him at one down when Hafeez was not in the side. This is where he got his half century at a strike rate of over 100 with two sixes in his debut game last winter; that, too, against a South African side with Steyn, Tsotsobe and Morkel. This is where he got his runs in the domestic T20 last month.

But first he was moved down the order after his debut to accommodate Hafeez and now he has been sat down and one wonders if it is to safeguard Hafeez’s spot on his return.

Asad Shafiq should only be the back up to Misbah and only because he seemed in form in the Haier T20 Cup. He should not be playing at No3 long term.

Not so sure if Sarfraz should open at this stage of the lead up to the World Cup. This is typical Pakistani desperation that we see when things are beginning to go wrong. Send up the guy who has got runs, irrespective of where he got them and in which format. Sarfraz has proved he is a good finisher and even No6 would be good for him. Yes he can develop into a good opening option but not when the World Cup is so close. We need a specialist opener who has already endured the bounce and pace at an international level albeit briefly.

As such Sami Aslam should be given a shot or if at all the experiment has to be made then send in Sohaib Maqsood to open. He has the right temperament and is brave; his technique is better suited to fast bowling, the odd weakness against the rising ball can be worked on by Grant Fowler.

The team management also has to decide if they want to go in for bowlers who can bat or out and out bowlers; Irfan showed in the first ODI that there is no substitute for specialists and Pakistan needs to work on that line.

With Junaid out they have opted for Sohail Tanvir when I feel they should have brought in someone like Sadaf Hussain or Zia ul Haq. You need to replace pace with pace not with hopeful medium pace. Yes it’ll get the job done in maybe one of ten games but it is not the long-term answer.

Pakistan have to also figure out why so many players are getting injured whether on the field or during training. At times the training routine can be hazardous or the post-match warming down faulty.

There are freak accidents, yes, but it is worrying that since the Pakistan side has landed in the UAE the team management has lost Hafeez and Junaid for a few weeks and Raza Hasan didn’t last the T20. All within a week. I’m sure a couple of players now playing will be carrying niggles as well. Whether the new physio and his team are actually making the best out of a situation or overlooking the fact that some key players like Junaid with a sensitive knee may be rested from fielding drills is something for head coach and manager to look into.

Because there is such a dearth of fitness exercises and drill at the domestic level the Pakistani players can get injured when they are suddenly put through extreme fitness techniques, no matter how justified.

But amidst all the gloom there is some good news. Expected but not as quickly as this. And that is PCB’s proud announcement that Saeed Ajmal has successfully remodeled his action to be within legal limits of bending that elbow. It is to be seen whether this is a deliberate leak to soften the blow of the horrible defeats at the start of this tour or a psychological boost to the team. Maybe even premature optimism.

Even if true this is just the first hurdle. If cleared in the lab it remains to be seen whether Ajmal maintains the efficacy of his off-spin and whether he can bowl the doosra with this remodeled action. And if he can with the same threat as he did before.

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