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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pakistan cricket team needs critique, not populist sermons or bullies.

In the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Pakistan, after their first two matches, is at the bottom of the table in Pool B - which has already become the 'Pool of Death', given the unpredictability it's been offering.

No wonder the Pakistani Cricketers' heads are on the block at present, while back home in Pakistan, supporters are reacting rather savagely in tandem with majority of ex-cricketers from Pakistan, whose sole job seems to be talking toxic in media to antagonise people for cheap accolades and instant fame.

Captain MISBAH-UL-HAQ and the veteran, but off-form, batsman YOUNIS KHAN are the primary targets because, in Pakistan, like it is in India, finding one or two scapegoats for the shameless blame-game is an absolute must. 

It hardly matters though whether such brickbats or bullies are worth anything at all in the name of patriotism or nationalism which is nothing but a generic disease... spread on the social media of late... thus totally devoid of sense, sensibility, and sensitivity for cheap sensitisation on the basis of populism. 

After the drubbing against West Indies, things could still be better for Pakistan, if 'armchaired experts' suggest something concrete to the Team Management in line with the squad selected for the World Cup 2015 - which can't be changed now, so no point lamenting on or crying over - instead of launching worthless personal attacks against the skipper and some senior players.

Looking at Pakistan's performance on the field, it is evident that the team is reeling under tremendous mental pressure, and such claustrophobia hardly helps any sport let alone cricket which is through and through a mind-game.

From outside, as none of us can know or predict why this pressure is taking place, so the team management has to find the crux of the problem and fix it, as soon as possible.

Though Pakistan's strength is bowling, yet, against West Indies, that coveted bowling simply went wayward and, as a result, was torn apart in the death... while Andre Russell tormented the men in light-green with his bat. 

It was a sheer technical fault that hurt Pakistani bowlers, badly.

Being a fast bowler, you cannot afford to bowl into a batsman, who is out there in the middle to slog every delivery - length inconsequential - which comes into him by opening his front-foot. If you still bowl into him, you would always be murdered then, as a bowler. 

Pakistani bowlers, WAHAB RIAZ in particular, kept committing that gross mistake, so paid a heavy price for it, while Russell sailed to 42 off only 13 deliveries, throwing his willow at will.

Batting is Pakistan's weak link and no rocket science is needed to acknowledge and accept that. Therefore, Pakistan shouldn't elect to bowl and field first, even if there is some assistance, presumably, on the pitch or in the air at the start of play. Because such advantages get evaporated, as quickly as they appear, if three or four lusty hits help the ball reach the fence or fly over the boundary rope to demoralise and disintegrate any bowler in the world.

Now, if Pakistani top-order's abject submission to West Indian pacers is looked into minus any bias or crass intention to bully, that was more of a bad luck than lack of temperament or technique. 

Opener NASIR JAMSHED got out to a short ball that was begging to be hit. The batsman decided to pull it, and rightly so, but perhaps allowed the ball to come a little closer, so couldn't manage to control his shot and offered a dolly in the process. But, there was nothing wrong with his shot-selection. 

YOUNIS KHAN came out to bat and was dismissed immediately. The first ball he faced was cruel: right up; well-pitched; coming into him in the air; but held its line off the pitch. Such a delivery can get rid of any batsman, any moment, irrespective of his form. For debate's sake, it could be said, Younis should not have pushed at it, but, even if he had tried to block the ball, he could have edged it. The batsman literally had nothing to do there. 

HARIS SOHAIL was the next man to go. Again he played the right shot but, unfortunately, the ball went straight to the fielder who took a comfortable catch at gully. Here too, Sohail was not a guilty party who threw away his wicket. 

AHMED SHEHZAD followed the back of Haris to make it an ignominious '1 for 4' for Pakistan, while he fell to Holder. The ball was right there to be hit on the up through the off-side, piercing the cover region. He tried to do exactly the same, but, his front-foot didn't come across what it should have been. Also, he tried to hit the ball hard, instead of caressing it, but such things happen, every time, on a cricket field, hence, for that, Shehzad doesn't deserve to be crucified. His shot-selection was perfect for that matter. 

Keeping all negatives aside, what Pakistan should ideally be doing is to 'apply commonsense' to get the team combination right and set the batting order without rigidity but flexibility to adjust.

Which is why, Misbah has to don at least two thinking hats, if not six, without a fail. He needs to think rather than just going with the flow. Proactive approach is much required on his part to reactive attitude. He has to create situations before situations are created by an opponent side for him and his team. 

The idea of letting UMAR AKMAL keep wicket must be dropped, for his keeping is pretty bad. If Akmal still needs to play, he should be playing in place of Younis Khan. But, that choice, to me at least, doesn't look wise at all. Hence, if I were Misbah, I would rather give Younis Khan one more chance in the crucial tie against Zimbabwe by dropping him to bat at No. 7, clearly telling him that his job is to ensure Pakistan bats through full 50 overs. 

Pakistan's first eleven should be: 

Nasir, Ahmed, Haris, Sohaib, Misbah, Sarfraz, Younis, Shahid, Wahab, Sohail, and Mohammad. 

The batting order should operate like this: 

Nasir and Ahmed will open the innings. If Nasir gets out early, Haris should be sent at No. 3. But, if Ahmed gets out early, Sohaib should be at No. 3. If openers give a solid start and don't get out early and the run rate remains around 5 per over then Misbah should promote himself up at No. 3 to anchor the innings and thereby help others play around him until Younis Khan comes out to bat at No. 7. Sarfraz should come at No. 6 only. If Misbah is at No. 3, at No. 4, it should be Haris to keep the left-hand, right-hand combination going. If Haris or Sohaib is at No. 3 then Misbah must be at No. 4.  

However, besides everything, if Pakistan can't elevate their fielding standard quite a few notches up, neither batting nor bowling can save them. That's why, field placement got to be very thoughtful according to match situations.

Last but not the least, Pakistani media and ex-cricketers should understand one simple thing that by ranting against a team, which is too anxious to perform, they are not helping the team but simply worsening things, adding insult to injury, for nothing.

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