Pakistan would not know what to make of the past week. They came out of nowhere to beat Sri Lanka on their home ground after the first four sessions of the game were washed out and then saw near doom as Mohammad Hafeez’s bowling action was reported again. This means that unless he clears his action in about ten days’ time, he won’t be available to bowl in the limited-over series that follows.
That is a mighty blow to Pakistan’s hopes of qualifying directly for the Champions Trophy in 2017. They have to have their heads above the 9th position in ICC ODI rankings by end of this September. With Bangladesh having upped their points further there is added pressure on Pakistan to beat Sri Lanka in the ODI series.
Hafeez seemed to have nailed it when he cleared the tests soon after the World Cup. There didn’t seem any appreciable change in his action. Perhaps it can be said that he tried a wee bit harder and bent the elbow just beyond the dreaded angle.
There will be voices raised again of conspiracy theories. Pakistan seemed to be coming back after Saeed Ajmal’s failure to make an impact with his revised action. There was Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar with leg spin and left arm spin and Hafeez provided the primal off spin vacated by Ajmal. Now the selectors and coaching squad are back to square one when it comes to off spin. It seems that the selectors might now go again to Shoaib Malik who bowled none too spellbindingly against Zimbabwe but nevertheless took care of some of the overs.
The news of Hafeez’s called-again bowling has sadly dimmed the euphoria surrounding the bowling of Yasir Shah in Galle, rather that definitive final spell that toppled the Sri Lankan batsmen when they seemed to have bit the bullet and seemed out of the surrender mode. It was classic leg spin bowling that reminded one of Warne. Indeed the legendary leg spinner has always had an eye out for the Pakistani leg spin talent and on the final day of the first Test Yasir showed he is on way to becoming a legend. That he gained his success against the better players of spin in the world on their home turf adds to the achievement.
That shouldn’t take away from the fact that the win was set up by two Karachi lads. Indeed had it not been for Asad Shafiq and once again the nemesis of Sri Lanka, Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan would have fallen well short of the Sri Lankan total, even of Zulfiqar Babar had gone on and played his cameo knock.
What a fantastic partnership that was. And they balanced each other well. Asad was the rock of defiance while Sarfraz was his usual petulant stuff going the way he played through his knock, sweeping adventurously to take advantage of the 7-2 field. How Waqar Younis must have cowed back into a corner of the dressing room. Must wonder what he says to him every time he is dropped from the limited over side and down the order. What was pleasing was of course his keeping where he stumped happily, something that had been his undoing in recent times.
And why shouldn’t praise be heaped on Misbah-ul-Haq, who once again showed his latent aggression in cornering a Test side. He led well, applying the right bowling changes and realizing that the pitch was taking spin throwing his full weight behind young Yasir. He has been an inspiration clearly to the Test side. Can it be that the absence of Umar Akmal and the admonishing of Ahmed Shahzad has helped his cause? We will never know considering he will not be a part of the ODI side and it is unlikely that Umar Akmal makes a comeback into the Test side considering the batting Pakistan have, at least till Misbah remains captain.
Talking of captains I must mention here the predicament of Mahindra Singh Dhoni. For long seen as the greatest Indian captain he has been under tremendous fire and shows that the best of them can only inspire so much. Is his time up, despite the face saving strong win by India in the third ODI against Bangladesh? Remember he went out in a huff during the Australian Test series catching everyone by surprise.
Will he do so again is the question. His Chennai Super Kings teammates have spoken out for him but conspicuous was the silence of some key others. Dhoni also knows that if he doesn’t lead his days will be numbered as he is nothing outstanding behind the stumps though his batting is still vital.
But with the talent pool India is coming out with there are better batsmen than him. Indian selectors can be ruthless as their Australian counterparts. Gone are the days when they would consider name and fame. Tendulkar almost got sacked and it was his legendary status that got him past his two years. I don’t think Dhoni will be that lucky.
To be fair to him he has been undone by undoubtedly the best Bangladesh side over the last 16 years to have played international cricket with the Test sides. They are an inspired lot under an inspiring leadership. Ironic that the two sides who battled it out for the quarterfinal spot in the World Cup, Bangladesh and England, have taken the honours over the last few days with the style of cricket that was never expected of them; until the start of the year for Bangladesh and till the start of the summer by England.