World Cup 2007 February 23, 2007

Road to Jamaica 1: The openers


It must be quite frustrating for Imran Khan, for a decade almost everything he said was implemented. He was the first and last word in Pakistan cricket, with a few thousand thrown in between by Javed Miandad. The rule of Khan culminated in Pakistan winning the World Cup, enough said. Now Imran struggles to get his way--and let's be clear that the PCB's strategy of pep talks by great players is more of an intrusion than a benefit at this late stage.

But one area that Imran has complained so much about that perhaps everyone has stopped hearing him is the dilemma of openers. Inzamam believes he has the best pair available. Bob Woolmer, I suspect, is less sure but will do his best with the materials given him. Imran is more definite: the choice should have been Salman Butt and Yasir Hameed.

Imran may well have a point but it was hard to prove since the PCB and Inzamam have failed to try that combination in the run up to the World Cup. Particularly baffling was the decision not to give Yasir Hameed a run in South Africa.

Nonetheless, it's true enough that none of the openers have succeeded. This opening problem is not new for Pakistan and Imran knows it well. Middle-order batsmen have been made into openers going right back to the 1975 and 1979 World Cups when Majid Khan opened the innings but did well against the mighty West Indian bowling attack. By 1983, Mohsin and Mudassar had formed a stable opening partnership but one that failed to deliver its promise. In all three World Cups, Pakistan had been knocked out by West Indies.

The mainstay in the next two tournaments was Ramiz Raja, who despite a decent World Cup record had the habit of firing only sporadically. Indeed his pairing with Aamer Sohail in 1992 was often a hair-raising enterprise. Sohail had matured to some degree by the time he partnered Saeed Anwar in 1996--although that isn't saying much. But on Asian wickets, the combination of Aamer and Saeed was dynamite and perhaps the best that Pakistan has ever enjoyed at a World Cup.

When the 1999 tournament came around, Saeed had established himself as a World class opener, the best Pakistan has had since Hanif Mohammad. This meant that his unknown partner Wajahatullah Wasti had an easier ride than most Pakistani openers have ever had. I'll never forget the sight of Imran Khan teaching Wasti how to play a forward defensive on the team balcony after he'd got out in one of Pakistan's group matches. It was as if he was teaching a six-year old.

Come 2003, Pakistan were a confused outfit. Saeed was bowing out but underutilised prior to the tournament, and Shahid Afrid was in one minute and out the next. Pakistan's chop-and-change strategy was in full swing. Saeed Anwar, Shahid Afridi, Taufeeq Umar, and Saleem Elahi were all given a go.

Four years later, who could have predicted that Pakistan would still be confused about their first choice openers but they clearly are. Yet, Imran Nazir has a rare talent if he can be persuaded to harness it sensibly. Mohammad Hafeez is a hitter who can graft--or is he a grafter who can hit? In Kamran Akmal and Shahid Afridi Pakistan have further explosive capabilities. Desperation, though, can provide a creative solution, and the suggestion that Younis Khan might open is in the grand tradition of Pakistani middle-order batsmen turned openers and it is one that might succeed.

Most importantly, Pakistan need to decide their strategy and stick to it. The openers will have five games, including warm ups, to find a certain chemistry. I reckon Hafeez and Nazir is the pairing to go with in this squad. A World Cup is a stage to make a name for yourself and grow as a cricketer, and both of them should be hungry. They will be helped by West Indian wickets being unlike South African, Australian, or English. Might Pakistan turn a weakness into a strength? If they can, Pakistan's challenge will become a genuine one.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on August 24, 2008, 22:41 GMT

    I would like to say that i love your site a lot now.. back on topic lol I cant say that i agree with what you wrote... care to clear things up for me?

  • testli5504537 on March 3, 2007, 20:27 GMT

    ALLAH sucess pakistani team. But there is no chance of sucess without shoaib and asif so that any bowler can not take place of it. so there begain of worldcup. they plan must then play game.As "imran khan said 1992 worldcup do and die"

  • testli5504537 on March 2, 2007, 9:06 GMT

    GOOD LUCK TO PAKISTAN. All our prayers with the team. We should support our team no matter what. The team is selected. I wish them the best. I hope the board president or the powers to be bother to read blogs like these to realise what a mess they have made of pak cricket.

  • testli5504537 on March 1, 2007, 23:41 GMT

    there is no doubt that the pakistani team is in a deep hole , now the leadership of inzamam will be really tested..i always feel that inzamam may have brought stability in terms of unity in the side but unfortunately he is not a good leader..all the captains in the world lead from the front and are aggressive and he is vice versa infact he is looking for excuses all the time an keeps on batting lower and lower down the order which is definately not inspiring for the youngsters.there is mo point in mourning about the absence of our premier bowelrs and creating unneccesary panic...after all they got what they deserved...secondly we must also consider that asif was a new crop and only came a year ago, shoaib can be a match winner and definately puts pressure on the mental strength of other teams but can also go for plenty as the grounds are small and even an edge would clear the boundary at his pace..pakistan maybe not at their full strength but if you have a decent captain who can motivate the team and lead from the front by making wise moves (which apparently is not inzamam) he is too negative ..this team deifinately has th ability to make it to the semis and who knows from there one goodd day can make all the difference..we should not play 2 openers we have enough options ..if we had a quality opener than it would have been different ..razzak has been deliberately thrown out from the team according to dawn and azhar has deep connections because he was sent to the world cup at the last moment in the last world cup and there are no exceptions this year either.this is a big blow in crucial matches we will miss razzak like anything...the only allrounder with potential in the team.

  • testli5504537 on March 1, 2007, 19:45 GMT

    Woolmer and Inzi made the right decision of bringing Imran Nazir, as all others failed so he was the best selection. He might fail in 3 or 4 innings but his 5th will be match winner. In current scenerio you dont need other opener. You have 4 in form batsmen Malik, Inzi, Yousaf and Younis then a keeper one all rounder Afridi. And four specialised bowlers. Gul, Rao, Kaneria, (rana or sami ** our weak links ). So one thing Inzi should do is come as opener. I think Malik has really played well as last specialist batsman.

    I dont agree with Kamran, lately Razzaq has been a big disappointment when it came to bowling. In my point of view our magnificient batting failed because of poor bowling from these all rounders in south africa. Pakistan real problem has been 20 to 40 overs. When afridi and razzaq bowl. They look so ordinary. I believe there should have been attacking bowler on the other end.

    I am sure they will have four specialist bowlers with afridi in world cup.

    Good thing happened in shape of Razzaq and Shoaibs out of team, real bad thing happened when Asif went out. But I believe its the team that wins not individuals. We have the best team after Imran Khans 92 team. I am sure these guys will fight like tigers.


  • testli5504537 on March 1, 2007, 14:30 GMT

    Well as expected pakistan team will be playing the cup without shoaib and Asif,I believe if our batting scores 300 plus in every match we are in with a chance. We should look at the tactics of South Africa and Australia their batsmen after settling in launch an offensive and they keep on going on and on untill they fall,whereas our players they normally loose their wicket after settling in,which is primarily because of poor shot selection and execution We need to play with a do or die attitude the grounds are small and the wickets are slow and low so 300 plus score will be equvivalent to 270 and we should not be surprised if we see 400 plus score. The good news is that the wickets support the spinners and we have the most spinning allrounders in our team. It is imperitive for the team to keep their heads up and make a statement in the very first game and send a message to other teams we are there for the win and not as a formality.

  • testli5504537 on March 1, 2007, 13:45 GMT

    Openers: Kamran + Nazir (or Hafiz depending on form) 3 to 7: Younis, Yousuf, Inzi, Shoiab and Afridi 8 to 11: Sami, Umar Gul, Kaneria and Arafat (or Naved Ul Hasan). As you can see, with the above team, Pak will find it difficult to reach semi finals. Too many things are missing: Shoiab, Asif, Razzaq and at least one good opener plus Wicket keeping std is also low.

  • testli5504537 on March 1, 2007, 12:21 GMT

    I think razzaq should have stayed in the squad until the super 8's came, then they should have decided whether he should play or not. I also think that the replacements for Asif and Akhtar should have been Anwar Ali and Jamshed Ahmed. Yasir hameed should open because he can play aggressively in powerplay overs. Imran Nazir is a person who can hit sixes as well when the powerplays are used up. if hameed out of form, then Butt or Farhat should come up. Butt is capable of playing a long innings and can keep the run rate up to standard when needed. While on the other hand if we have farhat opening with nazir then we will have an awesome start if each of them can get 30+ score, we will also have a right-left combo and they are the most aggressive openers for Pakistan.

  • testli5504537 on March 1, 2007, 11:49 GMT

    pakistan have had alot of problems in their opening slot. If I were a selector for the world cup I would promote Afridi up the order to open wid Imaran Nazir. Like in the 1996 world cup we can see wat damage the sri lankan openers did and afridi can do alot of damage in the small grounds of the west indies where the bounce is nice and low like in the sub continent. You have seen wat Afridi has done in the past. Against India at Kanpur he killed them with his lightining 100 and before that in the west indies when pakistan were railing staring at a heavy defeat he bought the dressin room somthin to cheer about when he scored a quick fire hundred, so in the end i think this opening partnership of afridi and nazir would be ideal after afridi serves his ban

  • testli5504537 on March 1, 2007, 9:14 GMT

    for pak best opening choice salman butt and yasir hameed,imran nazir is not a reliable batsman and Hafeez also have same probleme, he start very well and when he set he through his wicket.if pak open with afridi and give him confidence and free hand,you play as you think,no body drop you may be pak get good result,other wise yousaf and younas open the innings,because both come in 2nd over

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