April 27, 2013

Pakistan pick age over youth at their peril

Mazher Arshad
The team that used to be synonymous with giving chances to greenhorns now routinely fields XIs full of old-timers
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By dropping youngsters like Asad Shafiq for a few failures, Pakistan are refusing to plan for the future © AFP

Last month when Pakistan dropped Asad Shafiq from the side for the second ODI in Centurion, it was a surprise move - if unintentional. It was the first time in their international history that they fielded eight players aged above 30. Two games later, they turned so teetotal towards youngsters that they even dropped Nasir Jamshed, taking the tally of the over-30s to nine. If it were not for Junaid Khan and Wahab Riaz, they would have broken Bermuda's record of fielding ten 30-plus players in a one-day international.

Any team relying so much on older players will raise eyebrows. For Pakistan, who have traditionally believed in unleashing raw young talent at the highest level, it is gobsmacking.

Youngsters, particularly those who rise from Under-19 level, have played an important role for the team over the years. The country's greats, the likes of Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi were recruited at tender ages. Pakistan are the only team to win a World Cup with a side featuring four players under 22 - Inzamam, Moin Khan, Mushtaq Ahmed and Aaqib Javed (Zahid Fazal, only 18 then, was on the bench). This helps counter the belief that inexperienced players are unsafe for marquee tournaments, owing to which youngsters are often sidelined today.

In Pundits from Pakistan, Rahul Bhattacharya raised an interesting point while interviewing Aaqib, who supposedly made his first-class debut at only 12 and Test debut at 17: that Pakistan's faith in youth is a reflection of their religion, Islam, where puberty and not the age of 18 or 21 is considered the watershed. In 2004, when Rahul was writing his book, of the ten youngest Test cricketers, six were Pakistanis, three were Bangladeshis. Sachin Tendulkar was the only non-Muslim.

Having said that, Pakistan's culture of bringing rookies to the fore seems to be fading away, if the South Africa series is anything to go by. Shafiq, who in Cape Town played arguably the best innings by a Pakistan batsman on the tour, was dropped after the first ODI. Akmal did not get a chance and Nasir, Pakistan's most successful ODI batsman lately, couldn't keep his place after three poor games, never mind that he had been the player of the series on the previous tour.

Leaving youngsters out reflects on a failure of strategy when it comes to planning for the future. The South Africa tour was one of a handful of series for Pakistan ahead of the next World Cup. The team's batsmen need to acclimatise to the bouncy wickets they are likely to confront in Australia. The think tank missed a trick by not trying young players out.

The Champions Trophy will be Pakistan's last ODI series before the World Cup in conditions that will test their batsmen and can help them fine-tune their batting skills. The only tours Pakistan have before the next World Cup are to the West Indies (in July this year, for Tests) and Bangladesh (first for the Asia Cup in 2014, and then an away series at the start of 2015). Pakistan's management talks about how this is a transitional phase, but how can Pakistan hope to emerge from it if their youngsters are left warming benches while ageing players are continually being given chances?

After the Champions Trophy, Pakistan host South Africa (five ODIs) in November, then Sri Lanka (five ODIs) in January 2014, and then there is the Asia Cup in March 2014, where they will play about four matches at most. After that, in the year or so leading up to the World Cup, between April 2014 and February 2015, they have only nine ODIs (three each against New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh).

In all, they have about 23 ODIs between the Champions Trophy and the World Cup. Now is the time for them to start investing in youth (Akmal, Shafiq, Jamshed, Ahmed Shahzad, Umar Amin, Haris Sohail, Hammad Azam) so they are prepared for the World Cup.

The experienced players are important for the team, but not at the cost of form and fitness. The senior players, Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi, Misbah-ul-Haq, even Shoaib Malik and Imran Farhat, should be restricted to the formats they are suited for. Even though Misbah has form and fitness now, it is pushing it to expect him to carry them for two more years, when he will be over 40.

If Pakistan don't act now, they must brace themselves for a repeat of World Cup 2003, where they had experience - Waqar, Saeed Anwar, Rashid Latif, Akram - but lacked form and fitness and were soon knocked out, with wins against only Namibia and Netherlands. They made the same blunder in the 1996 World Cup, when they selected Miandad ahead of Basit Ali, hoping Miandad would help recapture the glory of 1992. It rather backfired when he was found panting and gasping as he ran between the wickets in the quarter-final in Bangalore. Contrast that with Australia in the 2003 World Cup, who left out their Test- and previous World Cup-winning captain, Steve Waugh, to make room for Andrew Symonds, who went on to play a vital role in their title win.

It is time for Pakistan to breed young talent and stop giving chances to players who once were productive. It is time to realise that form and fitness can't be compromised, no matter how big a player is.

Pakistan's current selection policy seems to be based on the worn-out notion that form is temporary and class permanent. This idea has helped individuals prolong their careers and has affected the overall performance of the team. Class which fails to manifest itself in form consistently can no longer be regarded as class.

Mazher Arshad is a freelance writer in Pakistan. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • playitstraight on April 30, 2013, 13:43 GMT

    Misbah ul-Haq is there to stay, Pakistan badly need him. At least for 2 more years, I don't see anyone who can lead the country like he does.

  • hamqad on April 29, 2013, 14:43 GMT

    Mazher, you took the words right out of my mouth. If we think about it, Pakistan has been in some sort of transition since the era of Inzi and Yousuf. Teams have completed a cycle of re-building and solidifying in this period. The mentality in the camp has swung from one extreme to another; from an over-reliance on youth and complete lack of trust, to a state of inertia where we are not ready to dispose off the deadwood. Malik, Kamran Akmal, and Imran Farhat have been around the international scene for 10 years or more. They have played more matches than most players play in their life times. Yet, they have not been able to consistently contribute. When will we realize that they are average players? I don't know. Younis was once a very good batsman, but he is well past his peak, at least in the shorter formats, where he was never a show stopper anyways. His meager average in the lower thirties, even at his peak, speaks volumes. We disparately need young blood to avoid a repeat of 2003

  • dummy4fb on April 29, 2013, 10:00 GMT

    Great game :) afridi, malik, gul and kamran are only good in t20. younas khan in test matches. hammad azam, umar amin, yasir arfat and sohail tanvir will never become an internatioanl talent no matter how many chances you give them. Pakistan should play haris sohail, nasir jamshed, umar akmal, asad shafeeq and ahmad shahzad more and more in batting dept. rizwan should be tried in long formats for keeping. junaid and irfan are leading attack very well. bring in ehsan adil, anwar ali and asad to assist.

  • getsetgopk on April 28, 2013, 15:24 GMT

    Syed Ahmed Tirmizi: Your dead right regarding the older crowd supporting each other to remain in the team. Dropping Nasir Jamshed for Imran Farhat and Asad Shafiq for Younus Khan sums up PCB, their logic, their selectors and their vision and wisdom. And if that fails to surprise you, how about this decision from PCB, remove Afridi from captaincy and give it Misbah who is seven years older and nearing 40. Mind boggling to say the least. Misbah has no business being in the ODI squad. Afridi might not have been the best captain for Pakistan but was miles ahead of Misbah and his brand of ODI cricket. The job of selectors and cricket administrators is to be ruthless in their decision making. Nothing and no individual should come in the way of team and its future. Who'll be our next ODI captain is an epic mystery given that Hafeez can't bat outside UAE, Misbah is near the end and the youngsters aren't allowed to settle down because the old brigade has to be in the team. Thats one big mess!

  • dummy4fb on April 28, 2013, 15:15 GMT

    Time to Kick Younis and Afridi Out permanently. Imran Farhat does not a deserve a place as well. Let Misbah captain for the champions trophy and then start grooming a a captain. The obvious choice being Hafeez. Please Bring in Ahmed Shehzad who is a brilliant and aggressive opener. Hammad Azam to fill in Afridi`s place. And perhaps even try Raza Hassan in place of Saeed Ajmal so that he can soon take up the role of lead spinner.

  • Neo2K on April 28, 2013, 15:06 GMT

    For God sake change your mind set, these older guys are done. Bring in younger talents in the team why PCB are so petrified...our cricket is at the same state as our country..please bring in new faces don't worry about results...look at South Africa they brought in a young Captain years back and formed a young team around him...I would say of all the current Candidates choose either Asad Shafiq or Azhar Ali as the Captain for Test and One Dayer.. bring folks like Mohd Ramzan as wicketkpeer bat..Hammad Azam all rounder, bring the young fast bowlers..how many U-19 stars that got us the world cup were brought into the Senior team ..next to none..also bring in Mohsin Khan as coach as players had good chemistry with him...

  • Sports4Youth on April 28, 2013, 13:46 GMT

    The continues selection of Younis Khan, Misbah, I.Fartha, Shoeb Mallik & U.Gul is less bafelling for me when compared to the selection of KAMRAN AKMAL in the last 3 years. I would like to point to only two incidedents which according to me are enough to permanently sack Kamran.

    Fristly in 2010 in the Australia tour when Kamran had the ball in his hands and Shane Watson was struggling to get in the crease, but the great Akmal did not flick the bails but just waited for Whatson to get into the crease. Watson's face looked like a warehouse of surprises.

    Secondly in the 2011 World Cup in the match against New Zealand. NZ were strugling and Shoeb Akhtar was bowling really fast. Ross Taylor nicked the ball which went between the Kamran and the slip. None moved. Obviouslly it was the Keepers Catch. The very next delivery again Taylor nicked and this time a regulation catch his Kamran's Gloves. He did not have to even move. But guess what, again he spilled it.

    Still do you whant him ?

    .

  • dummy4fb on April 28, 2013, 11:46 GMT

    These older players are suffocating the life out of Pakistan Cricket. Misbah was initially brought in as a gap fill solution to stabilize after the spot fixing mess, but at almost 40,I dont understand what PCB is thinking,seems like there is no thinking involved at all.He has no long term future, they need to groom a younger captain(and i am not even talking about hafeez, he is too vulnerable outside UAE/India with his batting).It almost seems like the older crowd likes to keep the same people around and are afraid of new blood. Gul has been so inconsistent, Misbah's form is up and down, if misbah is there for stability, why did we kick out Moh. Yusuf?Younis khan is done, a few other half decent has beens like Malik.We need some BRAVE decisions and quick ones to stand a chance in the next world cup.

  • Sports4Youth on April 28, 2013, 11:44 GMT

    Most importantly, PCB could not get over KAMRAN AKMAL inspite of his villainy in the Australia tour when he refused to run out Watson and also dropped countless cathces and missed stumpings. His next England series was worse.

    Out of the hundreds of blunders commited by Kamran the most famous was the eye catching consecutive dropped cathes of Ross Taylor off the bowling of Shoeb Akhtar. Taylor went of to punish Pakistan really hard. What was the result? Akhtar was dropped for fightling with Kamran, while Kamran continued to torment Pakistan for many more matches. Defies all logic.

    .

  • Sports4Youth on April 28, 2013, 11:39 GMT

    I fully agree with this article, but somehow PCB have refused to groom the younsters. They kept persisting with players like Younis Khan, Misbah, Shoeb Mallik & Umar Gul.

    Also they kept recycling confirmed failures like M.Sami, W.Riaz, S.Tanvir & I.Farhat etc, this in turn further denied the much needed opportunity for the younsters. Infact Junaid & Irfan were delayed because of these tactics.

    Even now the PCB thinks that Misbah will play for them till the WC 2015. They are thoroughly wrong. Because even if they succeed in doing so, he will still remain a liablity but more importantly they are killing all the young talent in the womb.

    .

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