Glaring shortcomings

With limited-overs cricket coming thick and fast, K Shahid looks at how Pakistan needs to improve ahead of next year's World T20

Glaring shortcomings
The Bangladesh Premier League (BPL ) has been a bit of an anticlimax for Pakistani players. While the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, Wahab Riaz and Kamran Akmal didn’t get much game time, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Akmal and Mohammed Hafeez didn’t do much whenever asked to deliver for their respective sides. Meanwhile Yasir Shah, Mohammed Sami and Ahmed Shehzad did show up in bits and pieces, without actually leaving their mark on the tournament.

Arguably no one from Pakistan - barring Mohammed Amir and Ashar Zaidi - justified their billing and their franchise’s spending in the BPL. The latter has a British passport, and his impressive displays for Sussex, coupled with his excellent showings for Comilla Victorians, helping them all the way to the final (at the time of writing), might start a tug-of-war between England and Pakistan for his services.

This leaves Amir as quite possibly the only success story for Pakistan in the BPL. That he was letting his performances do the talking, while the moral rationale behind his return to international cricket was mulled in Pakistan, obviously strengthened the case for his supporters.
PSL couldn't have come any sooner for Pakistan cricket

What might help Amir’s return to the national side, in addition to the vocal support by coach Waqar Younis, T20 skipper Shahid Afridi and Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Shahryar Khan is the fact that there is a gaping Amir-shaped hole in the Pakistan side that is crying out to be filled.

Pakistan lack a bowling match-winner in limited-overs cricket. The gap has been there since Saeed Ajmal’s bowling action was reported. Wahab Riaz has promised to fill that void in patches, but he doesn’t quite have the consistency that pacers need to perform in Asian conditions – where Pakistan obviously will be playing most of their cricket. That Amir is more than handy with the bat fits in perfectly with the ethos established by the T20 side, wherein all-rounders are preferred over specialists, allowing the team to bat deep. It was the specialists who let Pakistan down in the 3-0 T20 whitewash against England last month.

Even so, the ‘all-rounders’ themselves might fit the T20 mould by having the potential to bowl 4 overs and score a quick 25. They don’t quite have the game to carry themselves as all-rounders in a 50-over game. Someone who can bowl 10 overs and be dependably aggressive lower down the order - Pakistan hasn’t had that kind of ODI player since Abdul Razzaq at his peak, especially after Hafeez’s bowling ban.

Rafatullah Mohmand
Rafatullah Mohmand

Another thing Pakistan clearly lack - and have done so since before the advent of T20 cricket - is a reliable opening partnership in either of the two shorter forms of the game. While Azhar Ali seemed to have filled that void after taking over the ODI captaincy, that he is a leg-spinner turned batsman becomes glaringly obvious whenever he faces decent bowling attacks in ODIs. That the aggressive game doesn’t come to him naturally either, makes things even more uncomfortable for him. It’s hard to imagine Azhar faring too well in overseas conditions, with the Champions Trophy 2017 and World Cup 2019 both taking place in England.

The same is true for T20s. The experimentation with 39-year-old Rafatullah Mohmand, which was supposed to be a feel-good story, came crashing down when the disparity between domestic and international cricket was exposed via his faltering technique and general discomfort. That Ahmed Shehzad is quite possibly the only recognisable opener who has been a consistent member of the squad, if not the starting 11, tells us everything about the dire straits Pakistan’s top order finds itself in.

Pakistan Super League (PSL ) couldn’t have come any sooner for Pakistan cricket. Playing with international stars - even if some of those might be retired and/or past their sell-by date - will bridge the gap between our domestic game and international cricket. It should do what the Indian Premier League (IPL) did to Indian cricket: raise the level of domestic cricketers and give the national selectors a much improved pool to pick from. For, no matter how much we criticise the current lot of Pakistani cricketers, the fact of the matter is, they are the pick of the lot.

Before the PSL, however, comes the New Zealand tour and a steep test for Pakistan against a formidable limited-overs side. This was a side that was one game away from sweeping the ODI World Cup. If things go according to paper, Pakistan’s distance from the very best in the world should be further exposed following the New Zealand tour.