Saad Shafqat May 11, 2010

Umar and Razzaq hold the key

The good news for Pakistan is that when Umar and Razzaq click, it creates a winning impact

"The anchor role has fallen to Umar Akmal by default" © Getty Images

Batting continues to be Pakistan's weakest department. Even in the match against South Africa that Pakistan won, the batting was off to a nightmarish start, at one point being 18 for 3 after five overs. In the match against New Zealand that Pakistan lost on the final ball, its bowlers had restricted the opposition to a modest 133, but the batsmen made heavy weather of the chase; the one exception was Salman Butt, who carried his bat, but even he failed to close the deal.

In the absence of middle-order stalwarts like Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf, and with repeated disappointments from Misbah-ul-Haq, the anchor role has fallen to Umar Akmal by default. Further, in the absence of Shoaib Malik and with Shahid Afridi not firing, the role of the batting allrounder has to be assumed by Abdul Razzaq. Kamran Akmal is an important presence up the order but being a wicketkeeper-batsman, he cannot be considered the mainstay. And while Butt is in excellent nick, he alone is not enough, as was painfully manifested in the match against New Zealand.

Meanwhile other batting options, such as Khalid Latif or Fawad Alam, have been hopeless. Uncapped Hammad Azam, who was instrumental in taking Pakistan to the final of the Under 19 World Cup this January, is also available as a batting allrounder but is obviously too much of a risk in a crucial tie.

If you look at the top 10 run scorers for Pakistan in Twenty20 cricket, most of them have a more or less similar batting average regardless of whether Pakistan wins or loses. Two names, however, stand out as exceptions: Umar Akmal and Razzaq.

Umar's overall Twenty20 average of 28.66 jumps up to 44.00 in matches won, while for Razzaq the increment is even higher, as his overall average of 33.57 shoots up to 81.50 in matches where his team is victorious.

The differences between overall average and average in matches won are highest for Razzaq (47.93) and Umar (15.34), and are in contrast to corresponding figures for the other batsmen in the top-ten list (in descending order of career Twenty20 runs): Shoaib Malik (4.25), Kamran Akmal (5.96), Misbahul Haq (7.79), Shahid Afridi (5.39), Salman Butt (-2.67), Younis Khan (0.34), Imran Nazir (7.63), and Mohammad Hafeez (2.62).

Razzaq's average of 81.50 in matches won seems an anomaly, but is explained by a large proportion of not-outs. On the 10 occasions that Razzaq has batted in a Twenty20 match won by Pakistan, he has remained not out 8 times. In comparison, he has never returned not-out in a match that Pakistan lost.

These figures suggest that Pakistan's chances of victory in the semi-final contest against Australia will increase significantly if Umar and Razzaq can get among the runs. Moreover, if Razzaq can manage to remain not-out, then based at least on this prediction model, victory for Pakistan will almost be assured.

Granted, one can only go so far with facts and figures. After all, Australia's professionalism is so ruthless, that they could well bulldoze Pakistan despite Umar and Razzaq doing well. Conversely, strong performances from any of the other Pakistani batsmen will lift the team even if Umar and Razzaq fail. Nevertheless, these statistics do point to a pivotal status for Umar and Abdul Razzaq in what is really a threadbare Pakistan batting cupboard with slim pickings.

The good news for Pakistan is that when Umar and Razzaq click, it creates a winning impact. If these two can manage a decent outing at the crease on Friday, the odds will tilt substantially in Pakistan's favour.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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