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Pakistan live to fight another day

Jamal Ahmad

Pak v Zimbabwe – March 1st 2015

If anyone was under the impression that Pakistan would effortlessly turn things around against the modestly rated Zimbabweans, they were mistaken. Pakistani openers remind us of a pair of young boys going to their first outing on a green top in an overcast English country side ground somewhere in Essex; Totally clueless! The idea in such a situation is to see off the new ball and start accumulation once the shine is off the cherry. Application and commitment was again lacking from our openers and thus continues a poor tournament for them. In the last two matches Nasir Jamshed and Ahmad Shahzad have made scores of 0, 1, 1 and 0 for a grand total of two runs in four innings between them. These scores look more like a binary number than a cricket scorecard. Pakistan’s struggles continued as the Zimbabwean opening pair Panyangara and Chatara were made to look like Steyn and Morkel. 14 for two off 10 overs told a very sorry tale yet again at the top of the order but it was still far improved (if that’s the right term) from four down for one run on the board as was the case the other day against the West Indies.

Misbah ul Haq has been lamented for his slow goings but taking away his contributions, Pakistan would struggle to get to even 150. Not one batsman has so far come forward, raised his hand and taken the responsibility of constructing the innings with Misbah. Haris Sohail seems the most capable of the current lot of playing this role but he too seems to throw it away once well set for a big innings. On this occasion as well he managed to place a long hop straight into the hands of Williams off the very first ball bowled by Sikander Raza. There was enough time to put that ball away on either side of the fielder but Sohail did not get enough timing on the shot and ended up giving a simple catch. If he is to succeed at the crucial one down position, he needs to take responsibility of building the innings and staying in the middle till the end. The major difference between our no. 3 and the likes of Kane Williamson, Sangakkara, du Plessis and Kohli is their ability to play longer innings and stay till the end. Pakistan is going through a serious drought of quality batsmen and need to make the most of the above average players like Sohail and Maqsood.

Umar Akmal on the other hand starts off well and keeps the score ticking along but he too is guilty of throwing away good starts with a reckless stroke. He is getting branded as a player only capable of a quick 30 or 40 but not more and he needs to get his act together and play bigger innings which he is very much capable of. Our team management would be well advised to let him focus on his batting as the constant drops behinds the stumps are not adding anything to his confidence level at all.

Afridi, on his birthday failed to read the spin and played all over the second ball he faced. Lower order revivals and late surges have been his forte but he needs to do it on a consistent basis and provide the impetus towards the end which can make a difference of 30-40 runs to the final score. Afridi the all-rounder needs to raise his game if Pakistan is to progress further in this tournament.

Misbah again played the lone ranger until Wahab took over and it was his innings albeit slow, which held the innings together and avoided yet another total collapse. The fact that he had all the time in the world to score his maiden century but still failed to do so does not say much of his run scoring and accumulation abilities. He needs to rotate the strike consistently and regularly instead of presenting a dead bat and playing dot ball after dot ball. Not only does it slows down the scoring, it puts undue pressure on the man at the other end to up the ante and more often than not, he perishes in doing so. Considering our batting frailties at the top, Misbah could also consider coming at in no. 3, a role Imran Khan played to perfection in 1992. If Misbah desires to emulate Imran then he needs to take more responsibility on his shoulders and lead from the front.

Wahab Riaz’s knock was nothing short of a revelation as he saved Pakistan from total embarrassment. He helped take the score to the eventual 235 for 7 which at Misbah’s demise seemed highly improbable.

Looking at Zimbabwe’s record of chasing totals thus far in the tournament, they would’ve gladly taken 235 at the start of the match. The only way Pakistan could get back into the match was by taking wickets regularly while also keeping the scoring rate in check. Irfan did exactly that and his two early blows kept the runs in control while also putting the pressure required in a smallish run chase.

Irfan seems to have found some rhythm and was consistently clocking at 140kmph and above. He was able to make the odd ball move off the pitch and was getting consistent swing as well, something which was not on display up until this match. His four wickets were very well deserved and a just reward for his efforts and his return to form was one of the positives for Pakistan.

Afridi yet again in this tournament was bowling flat and full and not giving enough flight. He seems to be rushing though his deliveries and is something he needs to avoid. He should take his time and give the ball enough flight to do something in the air or off the pitch and keep the batsman guessing. He has been pretty unlucky with dropped catches off his bowling and yet again the culprit has been Umar Akmal. Another sitter was dropped by Akmal on this day. Afridi the wicket taker is required for Pakistan in order to have any chance of causing a serious threat to the top teams but with missed catches aplenty, his presence in the field becomes more of a spectator. Every player needs a bit of luck and Afridi has been unlucky so far is this tournament. An inform Afridi with both bat and ball seems to mirror the form of the side, something which was quite evident in the 2009 World T20. If he is indeed to retire from the 50 over game after this world cup then he should be putting in all the effort to take this last opportunity count. He should also be eyeing the 400 wickets milestone. He is currently seven short and with at least three more matches to go, he still has a very good opportunity to get into that elusive club.

Wahab Riaz has been guilty of bowling too many boundary balls but on this day turned in a stellar performance and was the obvious choice for the player of the match with his all-round performance. Wahab too is one of those players who perform once in a while rather than on consistent basis. For Pakistan’s sake, he needs to have these days in abundance. He has the pace to disturb many top batsmen but accuracy in line and length and consistent contributions is what is required of him.

Umar Akmal may have silenced some of his critics by taking five catches eventually but he remains a liability behind the wicket and his glove work is below par for a regular keeper specially when standing up to the spinners. Sarfraz should be given the gloves and brought in replacing the struggling Jamshed who also dropped two fairly simple chances in the outfield. How many more catches must be dropped before this decision is made?

Pakistan’s struggles with the bat continue and changes are in order for the rest of the tournament. It’s not all doom and gloom though as they live to fight another day. However, today it was just by the skin of their teeth!

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