In one newspaper office I worked abroad late last century, there was this huge quote in bold print pasted on the wall: “We get noticed only when there is a spelling mistake”. The silent protestors, in this case, were the heavily under-appreciated proof-readers, a breed that has been largely swept away in the digital age.
After the Christchurch debacle, the Pakistani team may be feeling a bit like those proof-readers what with the stinging criticism, and may even be wondering if the long spectacular count under Misbah-ul-Haq’s stewardship until now would be lost to the seam in New Zealand and bounce in Australia.
While some empathy is always in order for the only team in the world reduced to being glorified gypsies for lack of international cricket at home, we, the media folk and fans, do reserve the right to spell out the mistakes especially when most of these are fundamental in nature.
When you read these lines, the fate of the second Test will have been considerably advanced so, to be sure, one is certainly not talking from a vantage point. But there’s no doubt Pakistan go to Hamilton with a huge disadvantage in losing Misbah to family grief and suspension.
However, this should not detract from the emerging chinks in the armoury, which need to be addressed to take Misbah’s record-breaking work forward. In a nutshell, in the minus-Misbah pre-Hamilton scenario, Pakistan need not panic but be just appropriately concerned to find solutions to get back on track. It may be a work in progress from here on, but start it must in earnest.
As a great believer in body language, one has seen the signal turning red from orange, of late. Pakistan betrayed obvious complacency when they turned up for the third Test in Sharjah against the West Indies last month, almost giving the impression that the Test series was destined to go the way of the T20 and ODI whitewashes.
The second innings dismissals despite having just conceded an unlikely lead to the West Indies were appalling, to say the least — none more reckless than the team’s longstanding mainstays, Younis Khan’s and Misbah-ul-Haq’s. Given how much the team counts on his calm in a crisis, Misbah’s rash stroke with Pakistan already in a quagmire effectively ended any hopes of a recovery, a shot that he repeated in Christchurch last week to a varying and worrying degree.
If he entertains the idea of leaving the game on his terms, Misbah needs to stick to his long successful mantra of cautious optimism as a batsman. Of late, even his long clean strikes are beginning to assume a slightly edgy streak — understandable to an extent given that being forced to hang up his boots in the ODI arena last year and paucity of international matches have taken the edge out of his game somewhat, in what is already an extended run in the longest form.
This however, should not be used to scapegoat the man, who still has tons of experience to offer in the absence of any worthwhile young talent.
Similarly, while it would be churlish to read out the riot act for Younis Khan just yet following a hat-trick of ungainly, loose dismissals going into Seddon Park, Pakistan’s highest Test run-getter would do her the world of good by putting a premium on his wicket. He is one half of the batting, at least, and so his contribution should reflect that.
Talking of tame dismissals, wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed has also not dug deep, lately, despite valuable contributions (minus the Christchurch comedown). As perhaps, the team’s only willow-wielder who shows an uncomplicated mien for scoring runs regardless of the situation, he needs to calibrate a tight defence as well. He must have the hunger of a recognised batsman and turn good scores into big ones more often.
But the biggest ‘scorch trial’ from the Christchurch mauling was the inexplicable occupation of the crease in the second innings without looking for scoring opportunities. Pakistan scored 80 runs in the first 50 overs — their least since 2001!
If the idea was to tire out the Black Caps like the Nawaz Sharif government did Imran Khan’s 2014 protest campaigners, it backfired badly because the hosts showed more intent in being just as patient, if not more — secure in the knowledge that without the runs, you just cannot work up a steam.
The era of eschewing runs in favour of mere occupation belongs to the Victorian age, so-to-speak. Assuming, if somehow Misbah had persuaded Coach Mickey Arthur, who definitely is a proponent of modernism, that whiling away time — scoring be damned — was the only way around town, he should have known better and stepped in. To be sure, it also wasn’t as if the met department had winked at a divine intervention to hold back the hosts.
In the context of what happened in Christchurch, the starkly different methods adopted by No 9 Sohail Khan were refreshing, to say the least. Not only did he top score with 40 in even time, he provided an embarrassing contrast to what teammates more accomplished than his ‘one-fifty-in-115 first class innings’ prowess showed.
Khan’s stroke-filled innings had flashes of sound defence as well and the Kiwis actually celebrated his dismissal because the unexpected run rhapsody was making them sweat and a trite jittery. Do we need more proof about what makes the mare go? Just to put things into perspective, minus Khan’s scintillating 40 from 39 balls — Asad Shafiq’s uninspiring contribution to the eighth-wicket partnership where, incredibly, he took a backseat instead of the farming the strike, was just 13 — the rest of the team could muster only 131 in 72.1 overs!
Needless to say, Azhar Ali — and his team, including the slipping Asad Shafiq — have their tasks cut out. Unwittingly, the stand-in captain seemed to give an expression to the fear that appeared to have taken a stranglehold on the visitors when he said Christchurch was the most seam-friendly pitch he had encountered in his career.
All they need to do is apply themselves and put runs on the board. Seam, then, will not seem as much of a mountain to climb. Combine this with Pakistan’s own bowling ammunition and you have game on. Self-belief, as always, will be the key.