As all teams settle happily into their final combination with some fine tuning Pakistan as usual are scrambling for last minute engine overhaul. Not just that but their think tank remains performance challenged whichever way you take that term.
Yes, they must gain some empathy for the fact that three strike bowlers over the past year or two have been wrenched away from them, first Ajmal, then Hafeez and now Junaid Khan.
Then they also had to forego Umar Gul because of lack of fitness though there is another take on that by the bowler himself.
Could they have done better nevertheless knowing till before the start of the Australian ODIs that a storm was brewing up as Junaid was already injured, Ajmal already banned and Hafeez had been called by the umpires in CLT20? Did they leave it till too late to try other options? Should they have thrown in Sadaf and Zia ul Haq to test them out as strike bowlers in case Junaid was ruled out?
Now it seems they are stuck in experimenting at the last stage and that too with not enough games to tie down the pace trio.
Calling on Bilawal Bhatti as the first option was risky and so it has proved. But then the Bhatti experiment was bound to cause blow ups and it did and nothing could have been worse than him being taken apart by the New Zealand batsmen at will at Napier.
I felt utmost sympathy for him. He should never have been flown to replace a strike bowler; he just doesn’t have that swing, speed and incision. It was cruel to ask him to open the bowling when you had Ehsan Adil. Perhaps the idea may have been that he could extract more movement with the new ball but he doesn’t have that talent. Ehsan Adil was just shy of equaling the mauling received by Bhatti. This is why I had been circumspect in his selection in the original team. He had little or no control and bowled on both sides of the pitch; a captain’s nightmare. Equally worrisome is the step-in trio of Younus Khan, Haris Sohail and Ahmed Shahzad. The Pakistani opener can model himself as much as he likes on Shane Warne’s bowling action but it’s much like the deer running like the tiger attacking the bulls and hoping to get the same results.
So where in heavens is Pakistan going to get their fifth bowler, let alone a sixth that is vital in a limited overs format? If Hafeez doesn’t clear himself in time to bowl their goose seems to be cooked. I don’t see much hope unless they play a batsman short. And that may not be that much a terrible idea. The way Pakistan are batting they are not getting anywhere with six specialist batsmen anyway, so might as well go with five.
I know the results haven’t been encouraging for Sarfraz but I would still send him out to open with Shahzad and play the extra bowler. Yes, I know Hafeez got 86 but if it hadn’t been for Shahzad taking the risks Pakistan would have been chasing over 13 an over in the last 20 and not 10 runs per over. In the end he finished with a run a ball but openers are supposed to go at a strike rate well above 100, considering that they get 10 overs of powerplay. When chasing such a big total you have to go for the runs from both ends from the very start.
The pressure it put on the other batsmen was quite evident though it must be said that a couple of them clearly tried to hit the wrong ball. You need greater discipline when chasing taller totals.
Sometime back England on this very ground had come within a couple of strokes of a similar target set by New Zealand and they have lesser of power hitters. These were short boundaries on either side of the pitch and Pakistanis love to sweep and pull but clearly they were outthought by the New Zealand bowlers.
But clearly the Pakistan batting line up lacks the oomph that is required in this format.
Younus Khan may play some role in a Pakistani victory in the coming days but at this point it seems a huge and risky investment for that to happen.
On the positive side, Pakistan are now in Australia where the conditions are different to some extent and Pakistan can look for an environment closer to home barring the bounce of the pitches. New Zealand is closer to English conditions and wind plays a role there, which is not the case in Australia due to the magnitude of their stadiums unless you’re in Hobart.
Pakistan can also regroup with a week to go. Practice games allow for lesser pressure than a proper ODI and the teams will be playing out all their players in this 50-over warm ups so a result doesn’t really count.
Sometimes a jolt like they have received in New Zealand can help in warning them of the extent of their unpreparedness. Perhaps someone like Younus Khan can also reflect back that he needs to do more after fighting his way back. Pakistan must play Sohaib Maqsood in both the practice games. He is one of our best bets in the team and is that rare batsman in the line-up who can pace his innings and is a good finisher.
It wasn’t clear why he didn’t play in the ODIs against the Kiwis. It could be that the team management wants to give his recovered wrist a rest; the last thing they want is another pullout.
But if they played what they believe is their best batting combination then I feel they may be making a blunder. Sohaib Maqsood must play even if it is at the expense of Hafeez or Younus. For either or both of them to keep him out would be criminal. Pakistan have to attack if they are to get going in this World Cup.