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November 4, 2007

Pakistan in India 2007

A time to learn

Kamran Abbasi
Geoff Lawson shares a laugh with Shoaib Malik during a training camp, Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore, August 23, 2007
 © AFP
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Whatever political turmoil Pakistan endures, cricket will soar above any press blackouts, house arrests, curfews and martial law. The Pakistan Cricket Board is always willing to play, as if fearful that when cricket stops the pulse of the nation will stop with it and the United Nations will certify Pakistan as an irredeemable basket case.

Indeed, Pakistan's rulers have sought the success of their cricket team to help overcome unpopularity over tricky domestic and international crises. But this current tour of India begins with little prospect of cricketing rescue. Shoaib Malik's team are an unconvincing bunch, unsure of their best batting or bowling options.

The World Twenty20 was an uplifting beginning, but the longer the version of cricket the greater the magnification of weaknesses. Frustratingly, Pakistan's failings have become constants, insoluble problems beyond the wit of captain, coach, or cricket board. It is early to judge captain and coach, of course, but now is their opportunity to carve changes, an opportunity they seem reluctant to take.

The blight of modern Pakistan cricket has become the situation of the opening batsmen. It would be hard to argue that Pakistan cricket is any closer to solving this problem than it was immediately after the 2003 World Cup. This is inexcusable. The dilemma was highlighted by the farce of vice-captain Salman Butt being unable to hold onto his place. As Geoff Lawson has suggested, Pakistan need to choose two openers and give them a run. That could mean an opportunity for Butt and Yasir Hameed. All will be revealed tomorrow.

Just as depressing is the wicket-keeping slot. Kamran Akmal has performed miserably for over a year, right back to last year's tour of England when Bob Woolmer was calling in experts to help correct fundamental flaws in Akmal's glovework. Hardly a game goes by without Akmal making a major blunder. As much as everybody wills him to recover his form, can this really be the way to manage Pakistan's wicket-keeping position? Pakistan need to find a safe pair of hands behind the stumps and this has to be Akmal's last chance.

The bowling, despite the loss of Mohammad Asif, is the least troublesome, partly because Asif isn't quite as adept in one-day cricket as he is in Tests. If - and it is a gigantic if - Shoaib Akhtar can stay fit and free of trouble, a Pakistan pace attack of Akhtar, Umar Gul, and Sohail Tanvir or Rao Iftikhar Anjum has a more formidable look about it than one spearheaded by Asif, simply because Asif has yet to work out the variations in length and pace that are essential for success in one-day cricket on unhelpful wickets. Without Akhtar and Asif Pakistan will be in trouble.

Shahid Afridi is another bowling asset and Pakistan's most improved one-day bowler. But facing India's batsmen on home turf will be a genuine test of his development and his status as an international class leg-spinner. The Afridi conundrum continues in other areas. Views are divided between him opening the batting and batting lower down the order. Lawson's argument that his age determines he should not open doesn't hold water when you consider the age of Sanath Jayasuria, Matthew Hayden, and Adam Gilchrist.

Finally, Pakistan have missed another opportunity to appoint Afridi as one-day vice-captain. Younis Khan might make sense for Tests but in one-day cricket Afridi is a natural leader, and a sense of responsibility might even help his batting. Imagine vice-captain Afridi opening the batting against India?

However you look at it Pakistan are not quite ready for this tour of India. The team combination is unsettled. The captain has failed to translate his command of the Twenty20 arena into control over the longer versions of the game. And the South Africa tour brought with it an unwelcome tag of 'chokers.'

On the bright side, India have their own problems and Pakistan can learn from their bitter experience against South Africa. But the central problem for Pakistan cricket over the last decade is that it has failed to learn from mistakes and experiences. Until the organisation that is Pakistan cricket, and this includes the cricket board and the players, is able to become a learning organisation we will be discussing the same issues in a decade from now.

But the immediate challenge is India at home, and it will be a tough one. Let's see how quickly Malik and Lawson are able to learn.

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

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Posted by Hamza, Islamabad on (November 10, 2007, 1:23 GMT)

A bunch of comments over the lack of a real finisher for Pakistan. Every one is asking about Razzaq, no doubt we miss him. But few days back while watching a match in Rawalpindi I saw a real allrounder there. Can you believe it a sharp fielder moving like a panther in the field. A genuine fast bowler and above all the great finisher. Best if I call him an advanced version of Razzaq - a great fielder, splendid hitter of the cricket ball, an emerging fast bowler. Named Hasnat Malik is well know in Pindi. We gathered Sohail Tanvir from the same club. If some one from the cricket authorities could spare some time and see the real allrounder. Best of luck for Pakistan's new cricketing talent

Posted by md abdul wadood on (November 9, 2007, 20:30 GMT)

Abdul Razzaq should come back.please do something my friend,pakistan cricket needs a player like Abdur Razzaq in the lower order,if Naseem Ashraf can bring back Yousuf then he too can bring Abdur Razzaq.please for Allah sake do something

md abdul wadood (india)

Posted by Shibili Ahamed USA on (November 9, 2007, 16:20 GMT)

I cannot agree with Shahid Afridi opening the innings with the power play game structure in place. Afridi airs the ball too much and in power play structure fielders have all the time in the world to run back and take the catch.

Shoaib Malik also should not open. With the current structure of the team we cannot replace anyone to bring in an extra opener, other than Kamran Akmal who is failure in both keeping and batting (opening as well). Of course he did not commit any crimes in the 2nd ODI. His catch to dismiss Sachin was good to watch and was a real great contribution. If he has passed the 100 mark, Sachin would have bombarded the stadium with 4s and 6s. Kamran Akmal need not have to do any heroics. All he has to do NOT TO COMMIT any mistakes, as he did in MOHALI. The result is Pakistan won the match. If he had held the catches against SA, the results of that whole series would have been different.

Misbah did a great job and role in the 2nd ODI win, though he did not finish and did that crashing paddle sweep again. He swept a straight ball on to his stumps, which denied him a much deserved 50. Let us hope that he exhibits a better sense of shot selection.

Sohail Tanvir is an asset. He needs to work on his bowling more hard. He needs help from some seniors like Wasim Akram. Hope he gets it.

Umar Gul sends down the ball wobbling, that is taking away its punch and pugnacity. He also need to correct. He needs to resort more to yorkers and more good length balls. He must use the seems to produce more lift or bounce from the pitch and should choose a line of middle and off.

Shoaib Akther should cut down him run up at least as a tribute to Bob Woolmer who advocated that to him 2 years back. Shoaib is as effective as his original run up and bowl to his shortened run up. I would suggest him to reduce a bit weight too. This will help him and team's cause on slow over rate.

I will give another run for Salman Butt for the opening. He needs to learn some more shots, especially when playing the slanting in deliveries from left handed bowlers. India will play Sree Shanth - a right handed bowler in the next match.

Shoaib Malik perished two times straight to poor shots or exposing the shot selection to the bowler too early. He is getting carried away.

Rao Ifthikar Anjum should also work hard on him line outside the offstump. His yorkers are good. He needs to use more seem into his bowling.

Malik should use Shoaib Akther in short spells. May be in 3-3-2-2 over format spells. I would also suggest to bowl out the fourth seamer.

Most important, Pakistan must learn to more ground fielding techniques. Come in and Cover and back up fielding must be adopted.

Finally a WIN is always a WIN. One in this fashion the best any team can ask for. GREAT JOB TEAM. DO IT AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN.

Wish you all the best and better.

Our prayers are always with you.

Posted by fan of kamran akmal on (November 9, 2007, 15:57 GMT)

Mr. Abbasi, will you please write something about Pakistan recent great performance. i guess whats going on in our country. this article from you will start a positive dicussion. just a suggstion. i guess we can start with positive display from younis khan for the last few weeks desirve few lines from your keyboard. by the way i am reading your articles and blog for few months now. over all job well done. i guess one more request write something about Kamran Akmal. can you write and article and e-mail him that link so, feedback with positive way let Mr kamran Akmal know that pakistan team is not his dad's property to do what ever he likes.

Posted by Rashid Jooma on (November 9, 2007, 5:43 GMT)

So Kamran. What about that for a run chase? Warms the heart. Your blog is awaited.

Posted by siddiqi on (November 9, 2007, 4:57 GMT)

Ok to keep alive the tradition of this blog as Pakistan has won so everyone should start praising the Pakistani players and if they will lose the next match than again start cursing them. Misbah was the hero in world cup but still after some low scoring games most of the people on this blog called him safarshi. Now he has played another great innings under pressure to give a shut up call but I am sure whenever he will fail again he will be called a safarshi. Anyway great win for Pakistan. Younis was special today, Salman is the most stylish and talented player in the team and great to see him back him in form. Shoaib's rythem is also getting better and that gives a lot of hope to Pakistan for winning the series.

Posted by WASIM SAQIB on (November 8, 2007, 21:52 GMT)

At last the Pakistani team woke up from their slumber and showed the world if they play as a team and play aggressively they are still a force to be reckoned with, India after they put 321 runs on the board were favorites to win this match, but a different Pakistan team came out to bat they were determined to spoil the Dewali celebrations of the Indians, from the beginning they attacked and just for a brief moment after Pakistan lost both the openers, when Yousuf and Younis were batting it seemed as if the match is going to slip away they batted for six overs together and scored @ of 3.41 and after Yousuf got out and Malik came in to bat he started scoring at a brisk pace and inspired Younis Khan to come out of his shell and play aggressively although Malik only scored 25 but in his brief stay he demonstrated that there were no demons in the pitch and the bowling was also not extra ordinary he led from the front and the rest of the team responded well.

Younis Khan played extremely well and this is how we want him to bat, I hope in the coming matches he will bat in similar fashion.

Misbah also played a good knock although he again failed to finish the match but he did most part of his job, he did not break the tempo of the game and continued from where Malik left and that’s not an easy job.

Afridi again proved why bowlers all over the world fear him the most, and why he is an indispensable part of the Pakistan ODI team.

The series has leveled, and the way Pakistani team played today I don't think Indian fans will display any more over excitement now as they did after the first match as for most of them after winning just one match the series was already won. Dehli Abhi Door hey:

PS: Mr. Abbasi can you please update the thread regularly, it seems as if you are on a vacation.

Posted by Dawar on (November 8, 2007, 19:50 GMT)

Well done Younis Khan.

Dawar LA USA

Posted by JAVED A. KHAN, MONTREAL, CANADA on (November 8, 2007, 18:23 GMT)

A time to learn: Especially for Shoaib Akhtar; and for Shoaib Malik too.

Time and again Shoaib Akhtar was advised by his coach, captain and ex-great bowlers of Pakistan to curtail his run up. BUT, he thought he is an aircraft, a Jumbo 747 that needs a long run up for take off. And, today Shoaib Malik was leading his side in fear and anxiety owing to the slower over rate, which not only meant penalties for Shoaib Malik and his team, but a possible ban for Malik for 3 matches! And he was literally begging everyone to hurry up and some how he persuaded Shoaib Akhtar to bowl with a shorter run up. In Zaheer Abbass's words it was a "marry-kill" that he got convinced. Malik was even seen requesting Harbhajan Singh to hurry up and even went to the extent of removing Shoaib Akhtar's cap and handed over to the umpire to save time. Those were very nervous moments for Malik, but in the end all is well that ends well. Finally the middle order clicked and in the end Tanvir and Afridi did the rest.

"I hope" Shoaib Akhtar must have learnt a lesson today that he can bowl better with a shorter run up. If he contemplates and analyze his bowling after this match, he can see for himself that in his first six overs he gave away 35 runs with too many wides and took only one wicket. Whereas, in the last four overs with a shorter run up he gave only 7 runs and took two wickets, his tenth over was a maiden over. Although Gul got the award for good bowling but, Akhtar was the pick of the bowlers with most wickets and better run rate, his wickets were not of tail-enders but of Ganguly, Dhoni and Pathan. And Kamran Akmal, before taking that excellent catch of Tendulkar dropped a straight forward ball (wasn't a catch) and that gave jitters to many people. But, his diving catch on his right that he picked up inches above the ground to dismiss Tendulkar at 99 must have boosted his confidence a lot.

Back to Akhtar bowling, with a shorter run up he bowled accurately and was also able to maintain a speed of 135 - 140 kmph which is faster than most of the Indian fast bowlers, even faster than McGrath's average bowling speed. As they say, you always learn from your mistakes or through your experience, today must be the learning day in Shoaib Akhtar's life. He should realize and admit that he was wrong, stubborn, rather obstinate and was not paying any attention to the suggestions made by people who are more senior and more experienced than him. After all Wasim Akram - who is such a great bowler, in the later part of his career curtailed his run-up and was still very effective and lethal, even his advise was turned down by Shoaib Akhtar and that is mainly because of his inflated ego. He is not match fit and needs to reduce his weight by at least 15 kg.

Malik's field placements were very poor, most runs were scored behind the wickets on both sides and he was not keeping his fielders in the right spot. Also, he should not send Afridi at number 7, it was one of those days that Afridi clicked under tremendous pressure. Afridi must play at number 4 and take up the role of a pinch hitter. Because, Younus and Yousuf always slow down the run rate and the job of the lower middle order or the tail-enders becomes very difficult. Whether it is Afridi or any other hard hitting batsman who can play the role of a pinch hitter and score brisk runs must come at number 4. I have said this before and like to reiterate my point again that Tanvir must be groomed to fill in the role of Abdul Razzaq. He has all the potential and the qualities required for an all-rounder and he must also share the new ball with Akhtar, rather than bowling after the 10th over. The series is level now and it would be very interesting to see the battle at Kanpur! Can Afridi repeat his performance?

Posted by Awas on (November 8, 2007, 17:35 GMT)

So, today they are all heroes ;-).

Successfully chasing this kind of total must be some kind of a record at least in India. Anyways well done Pk! So, guys please stop slagging the players so much. Javed A Khan, I am glad for once Yunus Khana’s good work didn’t end up in a loosing cause. This team effort should really boost their morale.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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