Mohammad Hafeez has been reported in international cricket for straightening of the elbow beyond the limit and will be tested at Loughborough on the 24th of this month. England is a chilly place to be in November but Hafeez will find it more chilling than the locals. This could be make-or-break for him in international cricket in the long term. It was waiting to happen.
I was quite sure that his omission from the Australian ODI series in the first half of October after the call from the umpires in India was to make him practise a slightly changed bowling action at home. If he had played against Australia then, he would have had to bowl; otherwise eyebrows would have been raised.
I think the fortnight he spent away from that series and in the National Cricket Academy, he practised with a slightly different bowling action. It was obvious he would be required to bowl in the absence of the banned Saeed Ajmal; in fact, had Ajmal been available Hafeez may not have played the series at all. He had been edged out from the Test team in the UAE series against Sri Lanka and considering there were even better opening options than when he was holding on to the side despite a pathetic record, it was unlikely he would merit a place.
But the Pakistan team need a third spinner, especially off break to complete the variety, and Hafeez won a reprieve after keeping himself away from what would have been a poor performance in the ODIs where he struggles to keep a required strike rate for an opener. And it was a fair call to include him in the Tests against Australia. He did not contribute with wickets but was a good breakaway when the spin twins had to be rested and the pressure had to be kept on with the slower stuff.
Hafeez is of course a poor bet to open in one-day games but his value as a bowler has been beyond question when it comes to limited-overs cricket. Ever since he has been in the team I have contended that he bat lower down so as to enable the team strike rate to be maximised in the power play. But now even that is a threat if the scientists at Loughborough University affirm the report filed by the umpires after the first Test against New Zealand.
I fear the worst and pray for the best. The UK facility has just been inducted into ICC’s panel to test bowlers and they will be eager to please with a verdict that backs ICC umpires. The ICC has recruited new laboratories after taking umbrage at the tried and tested (no pun intended) Perth facility which they felt was too lenient on bowlers they were reporting.
There is, therefore, the danger that Hafeez will be asked to remodel his action. That will mean he will be out of the New Zealand ODI series; worse still, Pakistan’s World Cup plans will go awry.
As I have said Hafeez is a vital cog in the 50-overs attack. He is accurate, can bowl at any stage and has a great record against left-handers.
With Ajmal’s return and rehabilitation still up in the air the PCB management, the selectors, the coach and the captain must all be going through sheer stress. Imagine a Pakistan attack without Ajmal and Hafeez on tracks that don’t offer much turn.
Both Shaharyar Khan and Najam Sethi need to start living for the credentials they cling on to, that of being the best men available to carve out a bankable relationship with other boards and especially the Big Three.
They need to exercise the clout that Srinivasan has developed for himself which has allowed him to get out of the accusations of match fixing despite soft evidence.
The PCB must realise that it is not just a coincidence that the more potent bowlers in one-day cricket are being methodically targeted so close to the World Cup.
That is not to say that Ajmal and Hafeez have not been flexing the rules, though the latter certainly less so than Ajmal. But the point I’m making here is that if Srinivasan can be given a clean chit then wrongdoing has a way of getting past the gate. I am certain that had it been the head of the administration of the Small Seven or rather the Non-white Six, the ICC would have felt that circumstantial evidence was enough to warrant removal from the ICC representative body.
What the PCB should also do, especially since I believe both Shaharyar and Najam are more air than substance, is instruct the selectors to look for alternatives. Let’s not wait till the end of December to find out that we will have neither Ajmal nor Hafeez. Pick a couple of alternatives and play them against New Zealand. Maybe even think of playing Yasir Shah. After all Pakistan have good memories of Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed when they played in ODIs.
Pakistan must act and fast.