May 22, 2011

Saad Shafqat

Pakistani men can't bat

Saad Shafqat
Saeed Ajmal is castled by Darren Sammy, West Indies v Pakistan, 1st Test, Providence, 4th day, May 15, 2011
Over the last two years, even Bangladesh have scored more Test runs per wicket than Pakistan  © Associated Press
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How long can you last in international cricket without being able to bat? This sounds like one of those impossibly existential how-many-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin type of questions. In this case, however, we have an answer. Evidence suggests you can last a pretty long time in world cricket without being able to bat. Potentially many decades, as Pakistan's example shows.

Okay, I'm being harsh. It isn't that Pakistani men can't bat at all; every now and then you'll see a fifty or two, and once in a generation someone will come along who could be selected as a batsman in a more successful international side. But no one would call Pakistan a nation of batsmen. And based on current form, Pakistani batting is certainly at the bottom of the heap. Over the last two years, even Bangladesh have scored more Test runs per wicket than Pakistan.

Fans lament the decline of batting in a country that once produced the likes of Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad. But objective assessment suggests this complaint is based on a fallacious premise. Zaheer, for example, was a run-machine no doubt, but only when the stars were aligned, which wasn't all that often and certainly seldom when most needed. And while Miandad was unquestionably a batting genius, he remained overshadowed by greater Indian, West Indian, and Australian contemporaries – as it happened with Pakistan's other authentic batting hero, Inzamam-ul-Haq, a decade later.

Of course there is the legend of Hanif Mohammad, who once after following on made a triple-hundred that is still the highest Test score away from home. That's more than enough to earn the choicest of batting stripes. He also bettered Bradman, creating a new first-class record – with his innings of 499 – that stood for 35 years. Clearly, Hanif's impeccable technique and enormous concentration have cast a long shadow on cricket history. But Hanif's batting instincts weren't indigenously Pakistani, as he was already well into his teens by the time organised cricket first emerged in Pakistan. More likely, the secret of Hanif's batting prowess may lie in his Indian roots. He hails from a region (Junagadh) that happens to be in the same approximate part of India that gave rise to Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavasker. Coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not.

Then there are a host of other batting names that various segments of Pakistan supporters keep trotting out to substantiate the nation's batting credentials. Prominently figuring among this lot are the likes of Majid Khan, Salim Malik, Saeed Anwar, Saeed Ahmad, Mudassar Nazar, and Mushtaq Mohammad. Each of these players has one or more definitive match-winning or match-saving performances to his credit. But a handful of special knocks are not enough for a hallowed reputation. In fact, none of these batsmen even has a Test average over 50, which ends this whole line of argument right there.

Some would cite Imran Khan as a world-class feather in Pakistan's batting cap, and in fact they would not be far off the mark. Although his bowling overshadows his batting gifts so much that Imran is rarely thought of as a frontline batsman, this is a gross misperception. Imran is very much a proven batting match-winner, and you need look no farther than the ’92 World Cup final if you doubt this. Even more convincing is that over the 48 Tests that he captained, Imran's batting average exceeded even that of Javed Miandad. That's a phenomenal statistic proving Imran's great fight and resolve at the crease. Yet it also begets the question: where was all that fight and resolve when he was batting under the captaincy of other men? So Imran, too, it will have to be said, falls short in this calculus.

The cherry on the cake is that even the two world-class batsmen who have graced the Pakistan side in recent times – Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan – have been harassed and victimised beyond belief. Their accomplishments have already placed them in the Pakistani batting pantheon, and you'd think that in a country where batting skill is at such a premium, they'd be treated like kings. Yet both have been kept out of the side on petty whims, dragged before dubious disciplinary committees and parliamentary commissions, caricatured in the media, and demonised in back-room cricket board politics. Instead of the PCB helping them achieve the height of their potential, it has throttled their talents to ensure that they are kept from giving their best.

One is amazed at how far Pakistan have actually come despite this handicap. Batting, along with bowling, fielding and captaincy, is one of the four key departments of the game. It is simply stunning that Pakistan won Tests against England and Australia last year, and managed to reach the World Cup semifinals this year, with two major departments – batting and fielding – virtually threadbare. Adding competent batting to this mix could make them almost unbeatable; that is surely worth aiming for.

Sickened to the core by collapse after batting collapse, the fan base keeps demanding a quick fix, but of course there isn't any. Everybody's favourite remedy is to appoint the most awesome batting coach possible, which is just magical thinking. If only the acquisition of great batting skills were that simple.

No doubt a batting coach is needed, but a lot more is needed besides. The hard truth is that improving Pakistan's batting resources requires a long-range strategy and a patient mindset that is prepared for delayed gratification. It has to be approached like the grafting of a lengthy innings, not a wham-bam slog. There must be tremendous rigour in domestic cricket and nothing but merit in all team selection. These measures must be unfailingly sustained for at least a generation before thinking about reaping the rewards. Needless to add, a stable administrative infrastructure is a prerequisite. Perhaps at some future point all this will come to pass, but from today's vantage it appears a very tall order for Pakistan.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by Ranganath on (June 3, 2011, 7:56 GMT)

Like Australia , India, England, Pakistan should play atleast 15 tests a year, then one can filter a best batsman and another and a good team will be available in 2 years time no doubt. For that they should play india in Neutral venues liks South africa, Australia, Westindies, England. Then 15 tests will be in line.Also they can play neutral tests in other countries like south africa , australia, newzealand .

Posted by Ranganath on (June 3, 2011, 7:46 GMT)

Persist with youngsters with younis and yousuf at helm. Play more tests especially with India on a regular basis, may be in neutral venues like Australia, England , South Africa, Srilanka, so that when these sides play the tests in those countries, the youngsters from both countries get sufficient exposure and expereince.Plan this asap.This rekindles the interest in the youngsters and brings out the best in them

Posted by Ranganath on (June 3, 2011, 7:41 GMT)

Why doesnot the Pakisthan establishment bring Mudassar Nazar, He has a good technique and has a excellent record in subcontinent.

Posted by Ritwik Bhuyan on (May 26, 2011, 9:10 GMT)

@Hassan; Anyway, let me give you a good idea of how good Inzamam was against the top 2 bowling attacks he faced in his entire career. Let's talk about Tests first. He averages 31.40 against Australia with just 1 century. Against South Africa, he averages 32.27 with 0 century. In Australia, he averages 30.87. In South Africa, he averages 31.78. Let's move to ODI cricket. Against Australia, he averages 31.96 with 0 centuries. Against South Africa, he averages 30.21 with 0 centuries. In Australia, he averages 26.09. In South Africa, he averages 27.85. The man has just 1 century in 120 international innings against Australia and South Africa combined. That's how he performed against the 2 better bowling attacks he faced. And before you bring up his Test centuries coming in wins (due to him having outstanding bowlers by his side), Michael Slater of Australia has 11 of his 14 Test centuries in wins which equates to 78.5% success rate. Now that's better than Inzamam's success rate.

Posted by Ritwik Bhuyan on (May 26, 2011, 8:58 GMT)

@Hassan: I didn't post Tendulkar and Miandad's contribution in Test victories out of the blue. A Pakistani fan questioned Tendulkar's contribution in wins, which is what made me post those stats. And you talk about Inzamam's runs in wins, do you know it takes the bowlers to take 20 wickets for his side to win? Inzamam didn't enable his team to win matches of his own, he merely set those matches by scoring runs. Ultimately the outstanding bowlers from your team made sure those runs came under wins by knocking off the 20 opposition wickets. Inzamam has Wasim, Waqar, Akhtar, Saqlain, etc to make sure most of the times he scored runs, those bowlers knocked off the 20 opposition wickets and helped his team win. Tendulkar has had the worst bowling attack in his side for most part of his career, and even if he managed to score big runs, those pathetic bowlers still struggled to take those opposition wickets. Despite that he averages more in wins than Miandad, who had class bowlers by his side

Posted by Anonymous on (May 26, 2011, 3:01 GMT)

I think the article is very harsh as if you start knit picking any batting line up there is no batting line up that is faultless.

It was not long ago that Pakistan boasted a line up of Younis Khan, Mohammed Yousuf and Inzamam ul Haq. Stats as Saad has used can make anyone look good or bad.

For example the 4th innings of a test match considered to be the most difficult time to bat and the most important as it is the final innings is when Tendulkar has only managed 3 centuries and 5 half centuries, Rahul Dravid with only 1, 4th innings hundred to his name is easily overshadowed by Younis Khan who has outscored both the Indian batsmen with 4 centuries in less than half the amount of 4th innings played. Inzamam has scored 17 of his centuries in winning causes where as Dravid has scored only 13 and 17 of dravids centuries have come in draws no doubt in games where india has ammased a stupendous score on flat tracks. Inzi only has 6 in draws. Illustrating true quality over numbers.

Posted by Hassan on (May 26, 2011, 0:15 GMT)

@Ritwik Bhuyan Mr Ritwik its not the runs that count. Its the WINNING runs that count and in my view NO ONE can beat Inzi as far as that stat is concerned. You posted somewhere the average of Sachin in winning matches and you compared it with Javed , I would love you to compare Sachin's winning average against Inzi. ( by winning average I mean average in winning matches). A batsman is complete when he enables his team to win !!!!! Let see you post the stats or not ???

Posted by Waleed on (May 25, 2011, 23:25 GMT)

whats is people saying about shahid afridi influencing other players........every player has its own skill and ability.... shahid afridi is a natural power hitter of the ball and he did not come to international cricket as a batsman he come to internationl crikcet as a bowler....... and other players have brain they should think and play there PROFESSIONAL players. They just need the right guidence which means the right batting coach which can sort them out mentally and teach them and practise the right techinique and skill so they can become better batsman.practising is to perfect the right skill and technique if they are practising the wrong skills and techniques they are not perfecting their skills and technique because they have not got no batting coach which can quide them and tell them their strenghts and weaknesses.once the players know their strengths and weaknesses they would practise these in the nets and make their weaknesses strong so they become better batsman.

Posted by Samrat Saran on (May 25, 2011, 23:02 GMT)

Being an Indian, I am tormented by dreams of Inzi knocking the bowlers all over the park followed by some great wicket keeper innings of Rashd Latif of Moin Khan. Yousuf Yohana and Younis Khan were a pleasure to watch and I remember plenty of innnings just praying for them to make a mistake.

While I do agree that Pakistan may never have had the batting depth that some other teams did, they always brought their game on matches against India. Sadly, this is no longer the case and as a fan of India vs Pakistan matches, its a very sad feeling watching these two teams play each other now.

What saddens me the most though, is that PCB has ruined what used to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in cricket. Shame on them ! I wish someone like Imran would rise up and make Pakistan an awesome team again.

Posted by aamir maroof on (May 25, 2011, 20:20 GMT)

ys ,it z ri8 that Pak batting z strugling just an year ago but now PAK has found good plyrz like asad,umar usman and ahmed.some senior r also now improving like misbah and hafeez.

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