Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Pakistani Ramblings ...

Pakistan are playing their first series since the World Cup, and while the results in ODIs were heartening, the team has been disastrous in the format in which they have been the top ranked side for some time now.

Before I talk about the series against Sri Lanka, I also want to take note of what happened during Pakistan's off season.

Pakistan got a new chief selector, they got a new head coach who is also the chief selector, got a new bowling coach too who is also the former head coach and former bowling coach, a new domestic structure was put in place, the newly designed Quaid-e-Azam Trophy kicked off, and as always there was an unlimited supply of drama, conjecture, and memes ... 

Misbah Ul Haq at the Helm ...Again!
For 7 years he ruled Pakistan cricket as captain. During that time, Pakistan's Test team reached unprecedented heights, but ODI and T20I cricket suffered like never before.

I feel the same may happen during his time as Head Coach. He is the best person for the job when it comes to Test Cricket, and given the start of the first ever World Test Championship, the timing could not have been more ideal for Misbah to take charge of Pakistan's Test Team.

But we also have two World T20 tournaments in the next two years, and for that I fear Misbah is perhaps not the right man to be coaching the team.

We can ignore ODIs for now as that is what all nations seem to be doing for the next two years.

Head Coach is also Chief Selector
Misbah is not only Pakistan's new Head Coach, he is also the new Chief Selector. This is the first time that anyone has been given this dual responsibility and it makes Misbah the most accountable person in Pakistan Cricket.

Not to mention the most Powerful too.

Pakistan, by all means, has become Misbah's team.

Only time will tell whether this dual role works or not, but in my view this structure has more merits than flaws.

Giving Misbah this dual role has taken away the blame game that has plagued Pakistan cricket for ages. Considering the close relationship between Captain and Coach, they will always get the squad that they want - which is great for Pakistan.

Waqar Younis is Back!
Again!? After several failed stints as head coach and bowling coach, Waqar is back as the new bowling coach of Pakistan. Not sure what Azhar Mahmood did wrong, neither sure of why we had to go back to Waqar rather than bringing in someone fresh.

Waqar has not had a good past as a coach. Pakistan has not had a good time with him as coach.

The only positive out of this is that Misbah and Waqar share a good working relationship.

Hopefully this time Waqar can focus on improving Pakistan's pacers and not worry about power struggles.

The New Domestic Cricket Structure
For 3 decades, Imran Khan has been voicing his opinion on how Pakistan's domestic cricket needs to be improved in order to achieve International success.

All these years, no one implemented Imran Khan's suggestions. But now that he is the Prime Minister, he can ensure that his plans are implemented.

The Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, Pakistan's premier first-class domestic competition, featuring 6 regional teams under the new structure kicked off. Imran Khan believed that this format will provide for more quality cricket and will develop better cricketers for international cricket.

I am not too sure that has happened. But what we have seen is a number of tons and big scores by batsmen!

On the opening day, Sami Aslam and Abid Ali cracked unbeaten double centuries. Salman Butt even followed it up with one. Ashfaq Ahmed from KPK has already hit 3 centuries in as many matches, including a 173! International Azhar Ali, Kamran Akmal, and Mohammad Rizwan have both knocked two centuries each. And a number of others have scored tons too including Imam Ul Haq, Shan Masood, Khurram Manzoor, Mohammad Nawaz, Asif Ali, Fawad Alam, Adnan Akmal, and several others.

No bowler has really stood out. Yasir Shah is leading the wicket tally, but he has leaked so many runs resulting in a 40+ average, which at domestic level is quite mediocre. The finger spinners, Zafar Gohar and Bilal Asif have better returns and are a wicket behind Yasir.

Rahat Ali is the only pacer with some decent returns, but I refuse to mention any thing more about him.

While batsmen continue to make merry in the domestic circuit, they have struggled big time against Sri Lanka - particularly in the T20s.

Series vs Sri Lanka
Pakistan's first ODI assignment after the World Cup was a cakewalk. Their main batsmen - Babar, Imam, Fakhar, and Haris - all scored runs. When Abid Ali got an opportunity, he showed why he should be a regular in the ODI XI. And Iftikhar Ahmed, who seems to be the replacement for Shoaib Malik/Mohammad Hafeez, displayed enough potential to get a longer run with the team.

Iftikhar was there at the end in both the games finishing off Pakistan's innings in style.

Pakistan put up a score and defended it, and they also chased one down. Both with quite some ease.

ODIs won 2-0. Job Done. All praise for new support staff and Pakistan who took their ODI winning streak to 7.

Considering this performance, the T20s should have been a walk in the park. After all Pakistan are the #1 T20 team in the World. They have won more T20s and more T20 series than any other team in the past 2-3 years. They have beaten all comers, easily and comprehensively.

Yet, a new look Sri Lanka side has thrashed them in the first two T20s.

Prodigal Sons Return
The T20 series started on the worst possible foot with the inclusion of Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal in the T20 squad.

I ignored it thinking that the presence of Babar, Fakhar, Haris, Asif Ali, Iftikhar, Nawaz, Imad, and the skipper Sarfraz would mean that Shehzad and Akmal will only warm the benches.

But no. They played. They played both T20s. They failed in both T20s.

What else was anyone expecting?

Shehzad and Akmal have been around for 10 years now, having made their International debut in 2009. This is enough time to realize that they will never fulfill the potential of their immense talent at this level. It is time to leave them forever in the domestic structure. It is fine, International cricket is not for them.

Had Pakistan invested this much time and  money in some other batsmen, they would be reaping the benefits by now.

I don't know what Misbah was thinking when including them in the squad and then in the playing XI. I don't know what Sarfraz was thinking when backing them. But at least we all know now that it is game over for them. Forever.

With Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez returning from the CPL and available for future T20 series, there will be no place for Shehzad and Akmal anyway.

Iftikhar is a good talent and he has shown in the 3 innings he has played so far that he is one for the long haul.

I hope Misbah has a better time when selecting and coaching the team for Australia !

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