Going gung-ho

Pakistan's ODI squad selection for the ongoing series against England reflects regression, writes K Shahid

Going gung-ho
All those wondering how modern-day One-Day International (ODI) cricket works should sit down and watch the highlights of last month’s India-South Africa series – especially the final ODI. There would be pointers especially for Pakistan’s selectors and team management.

The Pakistan squad announced for the ongoing series against England in the UAE – the first match of which was played on Wednesday – is this: Azhar Ali (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfraz Ahmed, Anwar Ali, Aamer Yamin, Yasir Shah, Zafar Gohar, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali and Bilal Asif.

Passing the torch - Azhar Ali replaced Misbah-ul-Haq as ODI skipper
Passing the torch - Azhar Ali replaced Misbah-ul-Haq as ODI skipper

At the time of writing, the first ODI is yet to be played. And so barring a spree of atypical blinders from some of the batsmen that will be discussed below, there are glaring loopholes in the squad, especially in the batting department.

The name that bulges out from that squad list is Younis Khan, who was recalled, once again, to the ODI line-up – and this time without any passive aggressive blackmailing, at least publically.

Sarfraz Ahmed

How many more comebacks and failures would it take for the selectors and Younis Khan to realise that
he's not suited to modern-day cricket?

“Keeping in view his current form, Younis Khan has been included in the squad to lend stability to the middle-order batting”, ESPN Cricinfo quoted chief selector Haroon Rashid as saying. “Now it is up to Younis to prove that he could meet the demands of the modern-day one-day cricket and play according to the team management’s game plan.”

Younis’ “current (Test) form” has been impeccable for years. As far as his recent numbers go, he has scored eight hundreds from the last 15 Test matches, averaging 68.68. Even so, arguably Pakistan’s greatest Test batsman of all time, Younis has barely ever succeeded in transferring that form into ODIs. This is exemplified by this truly atrocious stat:  Younis Khan has scored just one ODI century in the last seven years, the lion’s share of these innings coming at his preferred number 3 slot.

And so the burning question asks itself: how many comebacks and failures will it take for the selectors – and Younis himself – to realise that he’s not even remotely suited to the 2010s limited-overs cricket?

In an era when 300 has become par in most cricketing grounds, and a strike rate of anything below 85 outdated for your top three, Pakistan is in dire need of players who can keep their foot on the accelerator without putting a cheap price-tag on their wicket.

Younis Khan
Younis Khan

Despite Pakistan’s recent ODI upsurge, both in terms of batting aggression and the final results, the ODI team is still light-years away from being the very best in the world. And most of it is down to the severe lack of a batsman who is even remotely in the same league as the likes of AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli, Brendon McCullum, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Chris Gayle or Glenn Maxwell.

Ahmed Shehzad averages 34 with a strike rate of 72. Hafeez manages 31 with a strike rate of 74. Younis is 31 and 75. In the expected starting 11, only Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed and Mohammed Rizwan have strike rates of over 80, with the latter’s 101.67 in his budding 11-match old career, the only figure to cross the 90-runs-per-100-balls mark.

Azhar Ali might be averaging an impressive 46 and might also have improved his strike-rate after going up-top, but it’s evident that he’s not a natural. It is also quite obvious that there is too much “stability” – to use our chief selector’s word – in the top and middle order and not enough flair.

At a time when ODI teams are going gung-ho, from the very get go, Pakistan simply don’t have the players in place to compete with the Who’s Who of ODI cricket. While the Test side is world-beating, and even the T20 squad looks balanced – it’s easier to maintain calculated aggression for 20 overs than 50 – the ODI side still has too much anchor, most of which is remnants of Misbah’s ODI legacy.

Even though Misbah’s safety-first approach worked well considering the limited resources, and multi-pronged turmoil, and brought us many ODI glories as well, the current team eying success in the Champions Trophy 2017 and World Cup 2019 should look to take it up a few notches.

Pakistan are fortunately playing an English side struggling to cope with ODIs themselves. Pakistani batsmen need to showcase their skill set keeping in mind the demands of the modern game. Those who can’t perform accordingly should be replaced with younger blood – that should be “the team management’s game plan”.

However, Younis Khan’s selection hints at self-defeatist regression, and a complete miscalculation of the demands of limited-overs cricket in 2015. Unless, of course, Younis has been called in for one last ODI swansong, as some rumours would have us believe…