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August 9, 2010

2010: Summer of Pakistan

Haider bright amidst the gloom

Kamran Abbasi
Zulqarnain Haider celebrates his half century, England v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, August 8, 2010
Zulqarnain Haider almost produced an incredible hundred in a match where virtually nothing was expected of him  © AFP
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Pakistan's replacements provided the only positives from the defeat at Edgbaston. Of the two, Zulqarnain Haider was the brighter. Yes, he dropped catches but you might excuse those as debut nerves. He also bagged a golden duck. Nerves again. But despite these setbacks he almost produced an incredible hundred and made himself a major player in a Test match where virtually nothing was expected of him.

It is too early to judge what impact Haider will have on international cricket. At the very least, he should have earned himself the big gloves for the rest of the Test series. This doesn't spell the end for Kamran Akmal. He should still be Pakistan's first choice in limited-overs cricket. And a break from Test cricket might help him resolve the technical problems that have dogged him for nearly five years. It is simply a relief to have choice.

Similarly, Saeed Ajmal made enough of an impact to dislodge Danish Kaneria this summer, which is a graver problem for Kaneria as he is superfluous in other formats. Ajmal has much to prove too but the character he showed at Edgbaston makes him the kind of personality that should be in a Pakistan squad. Unfortunately, Pakistan's ideal long-term solution would be a legspinner or slow left arm bowler to partner the pace attack.

As a consequence, the future looks bright for Raza Hasan but it would be tough to make him the sole spinner for The Oval. If Pakistan select Ajmal and Hasan, the tail will be too long or the fast bowlers too few. This is one of many thorny dilemmas for Pakistan's management, reminding us of the limitations of the touring party chosen by the selectors.

Based on the current squad, and with the Pakistan Cricket Board who knows who might be in the squad in a week's time, here are the questions facing Waqar Younis and Salman Butt:

1. Salman's form has disappeared since he accepted the captaincy. There is no sense in replacing the skipper but how does Salman get back into the groove? A Pakistan captain, epecially a young one, has to lead by example. The cricket board needs to help him here by backing him rather than undermining him. A captain needs to feel secure and in command to be properly effective. Yes, he might make mistakes in selection and strategy but that's the trade-off in choosing a younger man.

2. Despite being the better of the two openers in recent matches, Imran Farhat's form is a chronic issue rather than an acute one. England's opening bowlers have also settled into a perfect rhythm bowling at Pakistan's left-handed openers. Is it worth trying a left-hand and right-hand opening combination? Azhar Ali could do the job. Indeed he plays more like a determined opener than a number three.

3. Pakistan need experience at numbers three and four. Yasir Hameed is unfortunate to have been left on the bench while Pakistan's batting has failed miserably. It must now be time to give him an opportunity, and he could play at number three.

4. Mohammad Yousuf's recall has been controversial but what to do? By the time of the third Test, fatigue will no longer be an issue and although he will be little better prepared, he has to play. Otherwise there was no point in recalling him from retirement and sending him to England.

5. The question of Shoaib Malik's role is a vexed one. He has done little of note in this series but then neither has anybody else. Pakistan's best option has to be pack the team with as much middle-order experience as is available. Which means that whatever the politics, Malik should keep his place. He will also be required as second spinner.

6. Umar Akmal has dissapointed his many fans. The boy has class but he has displayed little temperament. We should not damn him on the basis of this summer. Inzamam-ul Haq had a poor first tour of England, and look how he ended up. Umar has serious talent, he needs some wise heads around him. Perhaps the biggest mistake was making him the elder statesman of the middle order too soon.

7. Azhar Ali and Umar Amin have both found this tour tough. Of the two, Azhar has been the more impressive. They might both have a bright future but this tour was the wrong baptism. Insufficient squad depth means that Azhar should keep his place although it is time for Amin to take a breather.

8. With Umar Gul's injury, Pakistan face a straight choice between Wahab Riaz and Tanvir Ahmed. That's a tough decision as neither has international pedigree. This is where Waqar's skills will be invaluable and he should know which of the two is the better bet. Tanvir also has a strong domestic record to back his case.

9. Almost as much as with their batting, Pakistan lost the match because of their fielding. In fairness they do practice hard, especially slip catching. Catching like batting is all about confidence, little wonder then that both disciplines have collapsed together. A fielding coach, and I don't mean Ijaz Ahmed, is desirable.

10. The solution to Pakistan's dismal form might be more practice or less practice, depending on which sage you ask. But international cricket is a mind game, and the self-inflicted wounds of the past weeks have scrambled the senses of Pakistan's cricketers. Perhaps that explains why the best performers at Edgbaston were untainted by the earlier defeats of the summer?

An ideal management approach is to create a coccooned environment for the players, which protects them from selection dramas while they complete their development as international cricketers. This is especially valid for young cricketers. But that isn't the way of Pakistan cricket. It is a bear pit where only the most combative and the most ruthless survive. The board and the management team need to raise their game otherwise this tour will only get worse.

The performances of Pakistan's cricketers have been ridiculed in the past few days. Their Test status questioned. We should remember that these players hail from a country crippled by conflict, burdended further by a natural disaster affecting 15 million people. Its cricket board is a basket case and has been for years. No international cricket is played within its borders, and the team had barely played a Test match for three years leading up to last winter.

Isn't it still something that we can still marvel at players like Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, and sometimes Umar Akmal?

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Posted by A Well Wisher of Pak Cricket on (August 13, 2010, 2:00 GMT)

My Test XI on merit (without favor or bias) that can win a test match in England would be: 1. Salman Butt (captain) 2. Azhar Ali 3. Younis Khan 4. Muhammad Yousuf 5. Umar Akmal 6. Fawad Alam (vice captain) 7. Abdul Razzaq (Umar Gul is injured) 8. Zulqarnain Haider 9. Muhammad Aamir 10. Saeed Ajmal 11. Muhammad Asif

Posted by Badar on (August 13, 2010, 1:03 GMT)

The current team doesn't reflect a true Test team; it has players more suited to the limited overs game. Then we have players who are tried and tested and failed repeatedly. We shouldn't bank on the likes of the Akmal Bros and Malik to win games for us in Tests and we must not damage their confidence by pushing them into test teams. PCB must act swiftly and prepare 2 separate teams for Tests and limited overs games. Younis be the captain of Test team and Afridi of the other. Butt should be the vice captain under both and must be groomed to take over in coming years. We must also first get rid of both Ejaz Butt and Yawar Saeed immediately b4 they can further damage our cricket. We must draft players like Asim Kamal who can occupy the crease for a long time and not bash like U.Akmal. Both the Y's are a must for Tests. We must also keep a 2nd line of bowlers who can provide back-up for our main bowlers or we'll soon finish Amir and Asif like Gul. We need fresh PCB mgmt for better results.

Posted by Guduji71 on (August 12, 2010, 23:16 GMT)

I personally don't agree with quota system. I believe we should give player a chance based on their skill & talent. Look at Australia 85%-90% of their players are from New South Wales. We should not talk about Punjab, Sindh, Pakhtoonistan or Baluchistan. We are all Pakistanis and should thing like one unit. Let us give some good healthy comments and think about the bigger picture.

Posted by Raziullah Qureshi on (August 12, 2010, 13:43 GMT)

Pakistan has fielding and Batting dilemma at the moment, We know fielding can not be make perfect overnight. This is where Pakistan Team management should have to force Afridi to remain Captain or at least be with team as vice captain because Salamna butt is also not a very good fielder. Now there is no option to talk about that for me it looks like staged, because if Afridi deny captaincy of tests in Pakistan they should have to recall Younus or Yousuf before series and ask them to be captain which Pakistan board did not want to do. Any way keeping in players available in England tour best batting line up will be Imran Farhat Yasir Hameed Salman Butt Muhammad Yousuf Kamran Akmal (as Batsman) Shoaib Malik Zulqarnain Haider (WK) Muhammad Aamir Saeed Ajmal Danish Kaneria Muhammad Asif

I would like to call Danish as next test is at Oval and typically oval wicket is very batting track and we need bowlers who can bowl 40+ overs

Posted by PADDLE SWEEP on (August 12, 2010, 13:41 GMT)

there are pros and cons :if u play akmal-an experienced campaigner he can blast from GO,if you try some1 new he may struggle or he may succeed.haider's was the second case!!! i cant stand why every1 is cry baby in pakistan when commenting over cricket?unless u dont try some1 out how can u get inzi,wasim,aamer? they may fail ,but if they succeed it will be you who will suddenly start praising them!!!!every1 in pak seems 2 be a selector and put their opinion,instead of standing by their captains and selectors choice!!!get a life,ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY!!!

Posted by PADDLE SWEEP on (August 12, 2010, 13:39 GMT)

there are pros and cons :if u play akmal-an experienced campaigner he can blast from GO,if you try some1 new he may struggle or he may succeed.haider's was the second case!!! i cant stand why every1 is cry baby in pakistan when commenting over cricket?unless u dont try some1 out how can u get inzi,wasim,aamer? they may fail ,but if they succeed it will be you who will suddenly start praising them!!!!every1 in pak seems 2 be a selector and put their opinion,instead of standing by their captains and selectors choice!!!get a life,ROME WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY!!!

Posted by Ahmer on (August 12, 2010, 10:01 GMT)

@ Zain Nadeem

I am far from a Farhat fan but I'm trying to be a little pragmatic. He seems to be immune from the drop, so the second option is figure out where he might fit in better. Given that I am accused of being his biggest fan despite having said 'he is awful against the moving ball', it shows the lack of regard that he is held amongst most PAK fans. Amusing

I would also second basically everyone else's opinion that Malik needs to be dropped. I can't figure what he's there for. We have better batsmen, we have better bowlers. He can't bowl his most dangerous ball - which for the record, isn't even very dangerous. And he is an apparent disruptive influence

As I'm here, am I the only one who thinks Umar Akmal is going for the Tamim Iqbal school of batting?

Posted by Abdullah Ahmed on (August 12, 2010, 6:29 GMT)

@ Usman Malik …

Shoaib Malik may be acceptable for ODIs/ T20, but definitely a ‘no-no’ for Tests. Anyways, good to see that you have excluded Shoaib Malik from your ‘ideal team’, while for my ideal Test team I would like to see Fawad Alam too.

@ Abdul Haseeb …

I fully agree with you, it is much better to have a Pakistan Team rather then a ‘Punjab Eleven’.

PCB which has now become a Punjab Cricket Board, should think about introducing ‘Quota System’ to give equal chances to players from Karachi/ others cities. India is working successfully with this quota and they ended Mumbai’s monopoly on BCCI. So Pakistan should also learn from their neighbour and do away with ‘Punjab-Only’ criteria.

What worst could happen? We are loosing anyways, so we might loose as well with at least a full Pakistan Team?

Posted by DesiHungama on (August 12, 2010, 2:54 GMT)

What the heck is goin' on out there? Why is the batting order playing in reverse? Butt and Farhat should be walking out together not walking in? That is bat No. 9 and 10, respectively. What the hell is Shoaib Malik doing playing Cricket on his honeymoon? He is getting stumped and bowled in both places. Why the heck is Butt the chairman living passed Pakistan average age? What the heck is going' on. Somebody tell me...

Posted by guduji71 on (August 12, 2010, 1:32 GMT)

I believe Khurram Manzoor should have been given another chance but Faisal Iqbal, I am sorry to say is not international level player. Look at his average after playing 25 tests below 25 runs per inning. Fowad Alam is not test player either.

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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 international editor of the British Medical Journal. @KamranAbbasi

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