Sunday, November 4, 2007

Grinding to a Halt

Nope, i'm not referring to Pakistan's latest attempt to transition to a some semblance of a working democracy. The subject refers to the seemingly inexorable assembly line of fast bowlers that Pakistan is famed for. An assemble line that, in my opinion, is the very lifeline of Pakistani cricket. It is no accident that some of the most famous test wins in our cricketing history have been scripted by our pacemen. Be it Fazal Mahmood, Sarfraz Nawaz, Imran Khan, Wasim, Waqar or Shoaib, Pakistan have seemingly always possessed a matchwinner capable of turning a game on its head with a single rip roaring spell. Pakistani pacers are also the reason why the country has a better away record than India, which has always had the much stronger batting. At the end of the day, you can put all the runs on the board you want but if you can't knock over the opposition twice, you just don't win games. And knocking 'em over, whatever the conditions, has been somewhat of a Pakistani speciality.

Today, Pakistan's bowling options are in relatively far less rude health. Consider this: Should any of the current lot on tour in India break down, who would be the replacement? Any names come to mind? I can think only of Sami, Rana Naved (if he's not injured - from what i recall he suffered quite an ugly shoulder injury playing for Sussex) and Azhar Mahmood! The embarassment of bowling riches has embarassment. Im sure there will be people out there who disagree with me. But it is no accident that Pakistan opted to spin out the South Africans in the recent test series rather than relying on their traditionally strong pace attack. This with an aggressive Australian fast bowler as coach! I think that the team management recognizes that they no longer have the cutting edge when it comes to the pace attack - rather than blasting out the opposition, boring them out was thought to be a better course of action. As if wickets in Pakistan weren't turgid enough, suddenly we have to endure Kaneria and Abdul Rehman whirling away all day.

Let's consider the facts. Let me start off by saying that the true test of a bowler is his ability to take wickets in the five day version of the game. One dayers are not really a true reflection of a bowler's ability to slice through a batting line-up given that batsmen are far more likely to fall to shot played to up the ante rather than any particularly brilliant piece of skill from the bowler. Having got that out of the way, we can proceed. Shoaib, post-2002, has made only sporadic 'guest' appearances for Pakistan and has not played enough games for us to consider him as an available bowler for the purpose of this piece. Furthermore, at 32 he's nearing the end of his shelf life, especially given the nature of his bowling and his brittle body. So let's discount him for now. Of the rest, the 'bountiful' bowling cupboard boasts of Sami, Mohammad Asif, Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar Anjum, Rana Naved and now Sohail Tanveer. Of this ensemble, only Mohammad Asif can claim to be a world class bowler without avoiding eye contact while doing so. The rest are neither consistent nor exciting enough to be given any such label.

Sami is a prodigious waste of talent, breath, and words. Bestowed with such great pace, he's managed to fluff his lines and finds himself cast adrift with no sight of a way back on board. And rightfully so. He's been given more opportunities than most could ever wish for yet he has never been able to fulfill the promise he showed in his first year when he combined wicked pace with some prodigious swing to get everyone hot and bothered.

Umar Gul has yet to convince. I feel he is still inconsistent and prone to bowling too short. From what i saw of him in the one dayers against the Proteas, he also seems to be having trouble keeping the seam straight - most of his deliveries were released with a scrambled seam which meant that the probability of the ball swinging or seaming was considerably reduced. Morever, he has yet to produce anything to rival that magnificent spell against India in lahore that promised so much. As impressive as he was in the 20-20 World Cup and in ODIs in general, he hasn't delivered an incisive spell since that game against India. Anyone watching the recent away series against England will remember how a Pakistan attack spearheaded by Gul struggled to find a way through the English defences. He just cannot intimidate or dominate batsmen yet and until he can change that particular state of affairs, he is unlikely to usurp the mantle of the latest heir to the throne of firebrand fast bowlers who play for the star and crescent. But there is plenty of time for him yet and i pray and hope he can force me to eat my words.

Sohail Tanvir will eventually be worked out by opposing batsmen. The novelty of his action will wear off and soon enough batsmen will be picking him better from his hand. I fear this will signal the beginning of the end for the lad. If there ever was a beginning, that is, in the first place in the five day game. It's very simple - if Mr. Tanvir does not learn to swing the ball back into the right hander, he'll be as useful as a hole in your sock. Left armers are only effective when they get batsmen worried about the ball coming back into them. Otherwise, when in a spot of bother, they can just leave the ball all day and get their eye in. But he remains a good option in ODIs.

Rao Iftikhar Anjum. Is he the Angus Fraser of Pakistan? A work horse who will run in all day and put in an honest effort without really requiring the good batsmen to dwell too much on how to play him. Is he the sort of bowler that comes to mind when we conjure up romantic tales of the lean mean Pakistani bowling machine. I think, and hope, not. Imagine him bowling on a flat test pitch to someone like Dhoni or a Sehwag. Absolute carnage. I imagine he might do well on early English summer wickets where his seamers may be more of a test for opposing batsmen.

So who does that leave? Rana Naved ul Hassan? A bowler who, ironically, rose to the limelight during Pakistan's last visit to India and warmed hearts with his energy, spunk and sheer audacity in taking on the famed Indian batting line-up almost all by himself and delivering in spades. But he has lost direction and, along with it, his place in the Pakistan team. I find that very difficult to understand though given his absolutely sterling form for Sussex in the English first class set-up. Together with Mushtaq Ahmed, he has been the main driving force behind Sussex's title success, yet has been unable to replicate the same form on the International stage. Very strange.

As i write these words, i feel even more depressed about our bowling resources than at the beginning of this post. We no longer have an attack capable of prising out bastmen. For all of Asif's industry and skill, the brutal truth is that he is a very 'UnPakistani' bowler who relies more on bowling line length with subtle movement rather than pace and conventional/reverse swing. You put him on a flat wicket and the difference in effectiveness is painful and obvious. Yet he is our main strike bowler and leads our pace attack. A harbinger of things to come?

What do you think?

By the way, does anyone know what happened to Anwar Ali and Jamshed Ahmed, the two architects of Pakistan's incredible victory over India in the final of the 2006 Under 19 World Cup? Read about how these two young fast bowlers defended 109 here.

Make your pitch on this post...

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2 Pitched:

  1. obaid said...

    It is pretty amazing to see that our bowling resources have become sparse in both quality and depth. Its also strange that we dont use our past greats like Waqar and Wasim - there should be a fast bowling academy that teaches the art of reverse swing, physical training (to stay healthy and avoid injury) and at the same time having correct technique.

    I recently read this article by Dr Saad Shafqat titled "sunrise at sydney" which you can find here:

    It is very well written and actually moved me to tears... a recommended read for all who want to know about Pakistani fast bowling history

  2. Q said...

    I'm sure that a lot of the others share the same concerns as you do O2, but the fact is that since the retirement of the 2 Ws, Pakistan haven't been able to find bowlers of the same quality, and I'm afraid they probably never will. Wasims and Waqars are produced once in a lifetime, and just like Australia won't find someone to fill the boots of a Mcgrath or a Warne, Pakistan may never be blessed with the same talent the 2 Ws possessed.

    As you say we will leave ODIs and Shoaib Akhtar out of the discussion - which also means leaving out Mr. Rao Iftikhar, as he is not a test-class bowler - a good back up in ODIs but not one whom I see featuring in a test. I would leave Rana Naved out as well, as I think he is well past his prime.

    That Leaves us with Asif, Gul, Sami, and Tanvir.

    Pls note here that till 6 months ago Sohail Tanvir was a middle order batsman who could bowl a bit. The bowler he has turned out to be now is the doing of Wasim bhai who saw him in one of the trials and taught him certain tricks of the trade. If Wasim bhai continues coaching Tanvir, and doesn't let him go down the path of Irfan Pathan, I'm sure he'll develop that inswinger he needs to trouble the batsmen in tests. Again, that is a major IF.

    I more or less agree with your assessment of Asif, Sami, and Gul but I do believe that Asif and Gul, despite not being in the same league as the 2 Ws nor like the traditional tearaways that Pakistan has produced, are the future of Pakistan's bowling attack.

    Asif with 51 wkts in 11 tests and Gul with 67 in 16 are just starting off. While the former is already a world class bowler as he has proved in the 11 matches that he's played, Gul is well on his way to become one. We can't judge these guys from the way they bowled on dead pitches in Pakistan.

    I don't agree with what you say about Gul spearheading Pakistans pace attack in England. You can't expect an 8 test old Umar Gul to carry Pakistan's attack on his shoulders. Had you expected that of a 22 year old Wasim or Waqar, even they wouldn't have been able to do it. Gul, though, did manage 18 wickets in the 4 tests against in that series and ended as the 2nd highest wicket taker from either side - 2 wickets behing Steve Harmison. The poor chap had not support from the other end.

    But now the big question - who to support Asif and Gul? O2, u mention Anwar Ali and Jamshed Ahmed.

    Anwar Ali, who plays for Karachi in the domestic competition, is all of 19 years old. His first class career, just 7 matches old. He has been playing regularly for the Academy teams as well as Pakistan A. He also turns up at the camps that Pakistan set up calling 30-35 of the best players in Pakistan before every series. Trust me, the PCB have their eyes on this kid, and he will break into the Pakistan team in the next 2-3 years. He does though, need some development and coaching, which he is getting at the national academy.

    Jamshed Ahmed plays for Lahore and has also played some games for PIA and PTCL. He's a left armer and still only 18 years old. I'm sure, his progress is also being monitored.

    We need to give these guys time. Another 2-3 years and they should be supporting Asif, Gul, and Tanvir - all ofcourse, if the Pakistani domestic coaches, selectors, former greats Wasim and Waqar, and the PCB keep there eyes on them and help them develop.

    Who else you ask?

    I don't have the answer. But the prospects of Asif, Gul, and Tanvir bowling at Perth 3 years from now look very very bright to me :-)

    We need to be pateint with these guys. 16 and 11 test old careers are just starting off.

    Off the subject, my bigger worry is the batting. When Miandad was nearing retirement, we had an established Saleem Malik and an emerging Inzamam-ul-Haq. When Malik retired, we had an established Inzi and an emerging Mohammad Yousuf. When Inzi left, we have an established Yousuf, but an emerging ...

    No one. Who next? I don't see anyone in the domestic set up, Pakistan A, u-19, no where.

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