Thursday, August 30, 2012

Let Mohammad Hafeez Open in Peace

Over on Dawn today, Mazher Arshad discusses the true worth of Mohammad Hafeez. He basically says that like Shahid Afridi, Hafeez should realize that he is primarily a bowler and move down the order in ODIs where his 30s and 40s will be more useful. He also talks of his batting averages against stronger teams, in difficult conditions, and during this year, all of which are in the low to mid 20s.

There is a valid point there no doubt. If it were any other opening batsman, he would have been dropped already. The fact that Mohammad Hafeez bowls and bowls well (he is currently ranked number 1 in ODIs and number 10 in T20s in the ICC bowler rankings) is what is keeping him in the side.

But does this dip in batting form really warrant a push down the order?

This same topic resulted in a long and endless debate on Twitter earlier today, where I continued to support Hafeez as the opener, while several others argued that he should not be opening for Pakistan.

Here is why I think that Mohammad Hafeez should continue opening for Pakistan.

1. Better Now than Before

Hafeez started his cricket career for Pakistan in 2003 following the retirement of Saeed Anwar. Since then, he has played 105 ODIs and averages just under 27.00 with the bat. Anyone with that kind of average should not even be in the top 6 of an ODI team, let alone open the innings.

But Hafeez's case is different.

His career can be broken down into 4 distinct phases, corresponding to the initial phase and the 3 comebacks that he has made since then after being dropped.

Here's a comparison of his performance in each of these 4 phases.

It is unfair to talk about Hafeez's average and only mention that he averages in the mid 20s. His 4th coming as an opener for Pakistan, which is his current phase, has been the best phase of his career. That is also why he has remained as Pakistan's number 1 choice for opener for 2 years now.

Compare his batting performance in his first 48 ODIs, played between 2003 and 2006 to his performance in the last 57 ODIs, played over the last two years, and you will see the drastic improvement in his batting ability / form.

Hafeez has doubled his ODI runs tally, and has scored his ODI runs at almost double the average, in the last two years.

You can't drop a Pakistani opener, or push him down the order, based on these numbers.

2. He is Better than the Rest

Almost everyone in Pakistan is ready to talk about problems, but very few people actually stop and think about the solution. The same way, many people have been calling for Hafeez to be dropped or pushed down the order, without suggesting who will open instead of him in ODIs.

Mazhar Arshad suggested Kamran Akmal or Azhar Ali, which are suitable alternatives, however those calling for Hafeez to be dropped need to think about who the replacement will be.

Here's a look at the performance of batsmen who have opened for Pakistan since 2003.

Only Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed have performed better than Hafeez has in the last two years for Pakistan, and we all know why neither of them is in the team.

Even though Kamran seems like a suitable replacement as opener, his record is also not that great at the top of the order. None of those figures are what they should be for a top quality international opener.

And just for the record, Aamer Sohail, whom many consider to be one of the best openers to play for Pakistan, averaged only 31.86 in 156 ODIs and scored a total of 5 ODI centuries in his entire career.

Mohammad Hafeez is a better opener than all the names discussed above, barring Salman Butt.

3. For the Sake of Continuity

For the last two years Mohammad Hafeez has opened for Pakistan in every single test, ODI, and T20 that they have played. Yes. Every. Single. One.

When was the last time we had that?

In a country that produces mediocre openers, and one that has had an endless opening problem since the retirement of Saeed Anwar, I doubt you can find someone who can manage to open for Pakistan on a consistent basis across all 3 formats the way Hafeez has done.

He averages 41+ in tests, 33+ in ODIs, and 22+ in T20s during this two year period.

I highly doubt that Pakistan can find someone as consistent as him at the top of the order.

Hafeez has managed to eradicate a constant opening problem that Pakistan had, and has managed to forge a healthy partnership with Taufeeq in tests and Nasir in ODIs, both of which need more continuity and support to flourish further.

Dropping him down the order will do no good.

Dropping him is out of the question. How do you drop the world's best ODI bowler?

Let Mohammad Hafeez open in peace!

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