So what was expected has happened. When the selectors, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the influencers behind the scenes want something to happen they manipulate in every way they can.
For the first four matches of the World Cup, no Pakistani opener could bat for his life until they brought in Sarfraz Ahmed who duly smashed a near-half century against South Africa, who had one of the best bowling attacks in the tournament and then a century in the next game against Ireland.
But once he got them through to the quarter-finals the mind games were played against him again and after two chances against Bangladesh he was sent packing and not given an outing with the bat till the Tests when he got into the runs again.
In the only T20I that was played before the Tests, slower batsmen like Ahmed Shahzad, Haris Sohail and Mohammad Hafeez were sent ahead of him even though he has excelled in the scoring rate.
In fact, even Sohail Tanvir was sent ahead of him. For anyone making the case that specialist batsmen should get priority there is the answer in the shape of Adam Gilchrist, the famous Australian wicketkeeper. He went as opener almost throughout his ODI career. They looked at his capacity to score quick, in fact lightning fast runs rather than the orthodoxy of specialist batsmen.
I cannot understand how Sarfraz is now being kept away from opening the innings. He has earned that slot through sheer skill. Why is he only given a match or so to prove himself when Hafeez has been given years? And there has been a long line of games when he couldn’t get past 30. Let me say upfront that Hafeez needs to be in the limited overs sides because of his bowling. But is not Sarfraz a faster, more talented batsman than him? Shouldn’t he be batting as opener and Hafeez batting lower down as an off-spinning all-rounder?
When it comes to games against top sides like South Africa the coach and captain go for Sarfraz but when it comes to facing a second grade Zimbabwe attack on a flatbed of a pitch Hafeez is chosen to open and Shoaib Malik is sent one down! Malik bats in the middle order but just to give him the opportunity to score big against a weak opposition he was sent ahead of Haris Sohail who has batted at this position.
The selectors had already shown that they were not their own men by picking Malik, Asad Shafiq and Sami in the side. Now the captain and coach have shown their bias against Sarfraz once again.
I think Sami has been recalled only to shield Shoaib Malik from accusations of provincial bias. Otherwise Sami and Asad Shafiq did not deserve to be recalled along with Malik.
The opportunity should have been given to batsmen like Babar Azam and bowlers like Sadaf and Zia ul Haq.
By giving opportunities to Hafeez, Malik and Sami the selectors have clearly exposed their intentions. And that is that they are not interested in remodeling the team to face the future.
They cannot escape the fact that when it comes to facing top teams these players collapse and are helpless. Hafeez showed that even against Bangladesh. Over the past five years Malik’s highest score for Pakistan in an ODI had been 43. Now he will stand tall on this hundred in the first ODI against a pathetic bowling attack on a pitch so flat that even the Zimbabweans managed to get 334 and that for the loss of only five wickets.
As I write the second ODI is a day away and I’m sure that it will be played on a similar pitch. I wouldn’t be surprised if once again the same top four batsmen make hay and then cower away when put to the real test in the future.
Just a word in the end about what’s happening in England. Rightly or wrongly, the selectors have gone ahead with forming a team for the future without Kevin Pietersen. Despite a triple century from him and the fact that the incoming chairman of ECB had given Pietersen the hope that he could make a comeback if he scored runs, the new Director of Cricket, Andrew Strauss, made it plain to KP that he was not in the frame for the summer’s Tests. The reason cited was lack of trust.
It was a tough call considering England had been beaten in the last Test against West Indies and had failed to win the series there against a much weaker Test side. But Strauss said they were looking ahead to the next four years and wanted to give young players like Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Joe Root time to establish themselves.
As it has turned out Ben Stokes got 92 and 101 in the Test, Root fetched himself 98 and 84 and Moeen Ali 58 and 43. Not just that. Before the Test series began, the selectors announced that Joe Root would be the vice-captain, replacing the ageing Ian Bell who had batted well in the West Indies. The idea was that when Cook steps down or is fired, depending on his form, England don’t go back to a captain who will need replacement within a couple of years as well.
That is courage. That is long-term thinking. Unfortunately Haroon and Company didn’t do that. They gave opportunities to Mukhtar in T20 and now Hammad Azam after so much pressure.
This was a time when Sarfraz Ahmed should have opened with Mukhtar in the first ODI and Azhar could have batted at No 3 with Haris Sohail, Hammad Azam and Hafeez to follow.
Until the youngsters are given opportunity against weak sides to find their rhythm, Pakistan will simply struggle against the best sides.
Just look at the Zimbabwe response in batting. Was Sami able to stop them? He and Malik gave over eight an over. This was the time to throw in a full quota by Hammad Azam and Yasir Shah who both gave less than six an over in the few overs they were given.