From the highs of a pseudo-World Cup triumph in a month to the despairs of five losses out of the six games in the series – and counting – in the next, the Pakistani team seems to have plummeted like the NASDAQ in those days of the sub-prime crisis at its peak. And if one could add, almost inexplicably have the fortunes swung around for the worse.
Even as I began with this write-up, the first thought that entered my mind was that it wasn’t going to be any different from my previous column which had analysed the test series. A test match and three ODIs have elapsed since, and not much seems to have changed except the format. What surprises me most is that while Younus Khan had had a genuine explanation of not being test-match-ready enough, for going down in the five-day format, the ensuing defeats in the ensuing ODIs have been shorn of a fight or two. Almost as much as some of the decisions around the playing eleven.
The selection has to be where the penny drops for the side. The squad consists of two regular openers, one of whom, Imran Nazir, has been considered one of the most talented Pakistani openers since the times of Saeed Anwar. Yet, it couldn’t get more appalling than having a Shoaib Malik plonk his bat in front of the new ball in a hope that most will hit the willow, and the ones which would miss would also do the same with the set of timber behind. Fortunately, the experiment lasted all of one game before the guinea pig was reverted back to the middle order, but instead of getting Nazir into the line-up as the opening bat, the management reposed their faith in Nasir Jamshed.
While it is difficult to hold anything against a youngster, the management seemed to missed a trick again; Nazir is much more of a finished product than Jamshed and an aggressor who could end up giving a Shahid Afridi a run for his money with some of his dazzling strokeplay.
Then there is the case of Misbah-ul-Haq. For all his performances since the finals of that ill-fated ICC World T20 of 2007, Misbah’s batting has slowly turned as one dimensional as a straight line. It is rather evident that at 35, Misbah is no spring chicken, and with a youngster like Umar Akmal knocking at the doors of the selection with a matured century to his name in the tour game, the time was just right to get him in. The selection committee was one game too late and by then, the proverbial horse had bolted. The team was already on the back-foot thanks to some lame middle-order batting, most notably an inning full of static inertia by Misbah.
To me, the exclusion of Mohammad Yousuf from the second and the third game was as surprising as anything else in the series; what with a batsman with his experience and ability grind the runs despite the situation deserved a longer rope. Especially on tracks that have known to assist the ones with the ball in their hands more than the willow. The plan should have been, and still should be to go with the rightful concoction of youth and experience, and apart from the captain himself, Yousuf, despite all his flip-flops and clear mandate to be driven by avarice, is the best man Pakistan could have in the middle order.
If the selection wasn’t a bane enough, Pakistan’s woes with batting against the ball that pledges to nip around even a bit has been fully exposed in the series. The top-order seems to have looked as clueless as they did in the test matches, and the quick bowlers of Sri Lanka have exploited their very apparent chinks in the defences. Shaved off the green, the batsmen came into their own in the third ODI, but the ease with which the Lankans chased down 289 seemed to tell me that the batsmen had erred once again in not posting at least 40-50 runs more than they did.
Without going into the issues surrounding the captaincy of Younus Khan – because it could really be too early to gauge – the last thing one could expect from the captain is to blame the losses to a domestic structure which he has claimed to be flawed. It wasn’t as if the Pakistanis were playing England in their backyard and hadn’t been able to handle the tracks. Their opponents would have had the same issue of having a domestic structure where such pitches would have been barely encountered and yet, with application and a little strategy, the Lankans have already wrapped up the series.
To sum the situation up, former Pakistani cricketer, Zaheer Abbas hit the nail on wherever it hurts the most by saying, ‘The World Twenty20 win had hid all the weaknesses in the team and the cricket board!'