October 19, 2013

The sweet taste of M&M's success

Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood, Pakistan's new opening combination, were the ones who put their team on the path to the big win in Abu Dhabi
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Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood's success at the top will ease one of Pakistan's batting headaches © AFP

Pakistan's opening batsmen do not score runs in Test cricket. Score runs at the same time? Forget it. For a nation fed on the indigestible drivel of Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Farhat, the century partnership between Khurram Manzoor and Shan Masood was a gourmet treat. Pakistan never looked back. A fright in the final session didn't deflect from their unexpected superiority in Abu Dhabi.

Pakistan's last outing was a defeat to Zimbabwe. Pakistan cricket's appeal is built on such mood swings. Misbah-ul-Haq prefers a steadier, incremental improvement in his country's results. He has little chance of that. The background tomfoolery of their board makes a captain's task all but impossible. Only this week, the prime minister of Pakistan, a former first-class cricketer of ill repute, anointed himself patron of the national cricket board. The governing body of the cricket board was hastily dissolved and replaced with an ad-hoc committee. This is an exercise in semantics since whether ad-hoc or constitutional, whichever body runs Pakistan cricket tends to build more ruins.

In defiance of these developments, Misbah's team produced their best first-innings batting display in recent memory. Pakistan's bowlers, we know, are ever competitive. It is the batsmen who destroy our faith in fellow man. Here, Saeed Ajmal and Co enjoyed the rare luxury of a large total to exploit. They indulged themselves, almost sealing an innings victory. Questions about South Africa's ability to succeed in Asian conditions quickly resurfaced. Any team with ambitions to rule the world must vanquish challengers on all continents.

That might prove difficult as Pakistan have turned the Middle East into an impenetrable citadel. But the true test of champions is how they respond to defeat. The great West Indian and Australian teams summoned an instant reaction, bloodied your nose at the next bout. England failed to react when they toured the Emirates in 2011 and were whitewashed. South Africa now face a similar fate, especially with the unfamiliar challenge of Pakistan's batsmen in confident mood.

Younis Khan and Misbah may offer peace of mind in the middle order. Asad Shafiq may be an able sidekick. But the key to this match was the difference made by a proper top-order performance. Pakistan's bowlers were no better or worse than they have been, simply as excellent as ever. South Africa's batsmen were no less responsible than usual. It was Manzoor and Masood who shifted the balance. They set Pakistan on course for victory, allowing their middle order to play a more natural game instead of the wars of attrition many supporters have cringed over.

With Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shehzad in the wings, eager for the limelight, Pakistan have some openers to work with. Which of these players end up being part of a long-term opening partnership is unknown but it would be nutty to prefer another option to M&M, or to recall the Professor after his "rest". Pakistan cricket finds players with international ability but is generally unable to develop them. A test of the new ad-hoc system will be how successfully it nurtures this crop of promising opening batsmen.

A more immediate test will be what Pakistan do about the No. 3 spot, where Azhar Ali is struggling with technique and form. It seems premature to drop him for the final Test of a two-match series. A better option is to support him now and review the position at the end of the contest.

These are important considerations for Pakistan's new cricket committee. A productive top order is fundamental to challenging consistently, and Pakistan have been weak in this area for a decade. For the committee's attention, it is a weakness that must become a strength. One performance offers a ray of hope, nothing more, but at least Pakistan can relish a grand opening.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • PakFollower on October 21, 2013, 16:53 GMT

    Well said Mr. Abbasi. Umar Akmal is the batsman for # 3 spot. He is the most talented player we have.

  • Desihungama on October 20, 2013, 14:10 GMT

    @Wess- That's a perfect assessment of Azhar Ali. He held one end from faltering with his strong defensive technique rather than flashy stroke play. I also think if he is move down he can be really frustrating for the opposing team. I also think we can move Shafique out of the order and bring Hafeez down at No. 6 spot which gives us the 5th bowling option and he is no better or worse than Shafique in batting. 4 bowlers worked in last match but it won't in every match. The moment one bowler breaks down you will be staring at defeat.

  • mazdonal on October 20, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    Pakistan indeed were surprised at their own success. They always seem to be resigned to defeat and their supporters more than half expect it. . Their fielding needs to improve hugely. To say that Adnan Akmal is the best of the three evils (read Akmal brothers) is not enough. Pakistan need a specialist world class keeper, who can bat a bit.

    The fact that Zulfiqar did so well should not lead us to ignore that Abdur Rehman is considered by many the best left arm spinner in the world. He has a high reputation in the UK. Even though he is a bit of a "Charsi", Rehman and Ajmal have the potential to become the modern day "those two little pals of mine".

    By the way couldn't they teach the Pakistani players a bit of English, knowing that they might have to face a mocrophone, every now and then. Even Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra learnt to express themselves adequately in time even though they also used to give interviews through interpreters.

  • on October 20, 2013, 2:23 GMT

    I will not out alot of money on this partnership.v they had a lot going for them . Styen and kallis coming after a long time, dropped catch, edges not going to fielders, perfect batting conditions, heat getting the better off the sa ... and the list goes on. It was a very gutsyeffort and its too early to comment on these 2 players

  • on October 20, 2013, 1:59 GMT

    Azhar Ali's Qualities are not under question but his spot at 3 is still a mismatch. He has only one gear to his batting and that is raw defense. Lately he has been trying to disprove that by playing more strokes but his shots only end up in the hands of fielders and he is frustrating himself.

    At no.3 you need a strong batsman who carries the threat of going on to make a big innings at a reasonable pace, enough to put pressure on opposition just by being there, Azhar Ali is not capable of putting this pressure on. During a test match, stalling out is only truly effective during latter stages of an innings and I believe Azhar Ali will work best at no.5-7 as a rear guard frustrating act.

    Younis Khan, Shehzad or even Umar Akmal are the ideal types for a no. 3 slot, ones that can mantain strike rate over 55 or thereabouts while not getting out cheaply.

  • on October 20, 2013, 1:10 GMT

    I think Pakistan has find their top 6 for test matches. They should persist with this order now. Stop panicking over Azhar Ali. The kid has scored 2000+ test runs, averages 40 and scored runs against quality bowling. Instead of giving him confidence in his first failure, you are talking about dropping him after one more test? He scored 78 two matches ago. Pakistan hurt his confidence by playing him in ODIs against India. It would have served him best if Pakistan had sent an A team to South African prior to test matches there which included Azhar Ali. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq are here to stay in test side, they have proven themselves when they struggle give them confidence.

  • on October 20, 2013, 1:09 GMT

    Its refreshing to see domestic players make it to the international scene and make an impact. Atleast they are showing the more experienced players how its done. But the battle here is just starting for these two. Nasir Jamshed found this out the hard way when he made a huge impact and than pressures of international cricket reduced him into hiding in a shell. The one thing these openers need to do different is not fall victim to the same mindset and allow themselves to reach their potential.

  • syedahmed91 on October 19, 2013, 23:48 GMT

    Too early to praise these openers honestly, I remember when Hafeez and taufeeq got together for Pakistan in the middle east and had similar success but we all saw how that went once they left the UAE. From what I witnessed, there wasn't anything that impressed me about the current openers, and I think the second test will just give opening to another set of opening pair because I predict a top order melt down whenever Pakistan bats. I hope i'm wrong but Pakistani batsman are lacking in technique and grittiness required to dominate a bowling attack sa has.

  • on October 19, 2013, 19:00 GMT

    I think the Dubai Pitches suits Pakistan team very much. They are more batting friendly which helps Pakistan's brittle batting lineup a support while the bowlers can bowl out any opposition on their day even in batting condition and from the 4th day the spinners starts to have their say which Pakistan currently is having the best lot.

  • Desihungama on October 19, 2013, 17:56 GMT

    @ CricIndia208. LOL. And at the same time Pakistan has the ability to blow other teams for 77, 80 and 99 all out. Let's see if India only plays outside of India what would the record be. My 2 cents are 0 and ?

  • PakFollower on October 21, 2013, 16:53 GMT

    Well said Mr. Abbasi. Umar Akmal is the batsman for # 3 spot. He is the most talented player we have.

  • Desihungama on October 20, 2013, 14:10 GMT

    @Wess- That's a perfect assessment of Azhar Ali. He held one end from faltering with his strong defensive technique rather than flashy stroke play. I also think if he is move down he can be really frustrating for the opposing team. I also think we can move Shafique out of the order and bring Hafeez down at No. 6 spot which gives us the 5th bowling option and he is no better or worse than Shafique in batting. 4 bowlers worked in last match but it won't in every match. The moment one bowler breaks down you will be staring at defeat.

  • mazdonal on October 20, 2013, 9:22 GMT

    Pakistan indeed were surprised at their own success. They always seem to be resigned to defeat and their supporters more than half expect it. . Their fielding needs to improve hugely. To say that Adnan Akmal is the best of the three evils (read Akmal brothers) is not enough. Pakistan need a specialist world class keeper, who can bat a bit.

    The fact that Zulfiqar did so well should not lead us to ignore that Abdur Rehman is considered by many the best left arm spinner in the world. He has a high reputation in the UK. Even though he is a bit of a "Charsi", Rehman and Ajmal have the potential to become the modern day "those two little pals of mine".

    By the way couldn't they teach the Pakistani players a bit of English, knowing that they might have to face a mocrophone, every now and then. Even Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra learnt to express themselves adequately in time even though they also used to give interviews through interpreters.

  • on October 20, 2013, 2:23 GMT

    I will not out alot of money on this partnership.v they had a lot going for them . Styen and kallis coming after a long time, dropped catch, edges not going to fielders, perfect batting conditions, heat getting the better off the sa ... and the list goes on. It was a very gutsyeffort and its too early to comment on these 2 players

  • on October 20, 2013, 1:59 GMT

    Azhar Ali's Qualities are not under question but his spot at 3 is still a mismatch. He has only one gear to his batting and that is raw defense. Lately he has been trying to disprove that by playing more strokes but his shots only end up in the hands of fielders and he is frustrating himself.

    At no.3 you need a strong batsman who carries the threat of going on to make a big innings at a reasonable pace, enough to put pressure on opposition just by being there, Azhar Ali is not capable of putting this pressure on. During a test match, stalling out is only truly effective during latter stages of an innings and I believe Azhar Ali will work best at no.5-7 as a rear guard frustrating act.

    Younis Khan, Shehzad or even Umar Akmal are the ideal types for a no. 3 slot, ones that can mantain strike rate over 55 or thereabouts while not getting out cheaply.

  • on October 20, 2013, 1:10 GMT

    I think Pakistan has find their top 6 for test matches. They should persist with this order now. Stop panicking over Azhar Ali. The kid has scored 2000+ test runs, averages 40 and scored runs against quality bowling. Instead of giving him confidence in his first failure, you are talking about dropping him after one more test? He scored 78 two matches ago. Pakistan hurt his confidence by playing him in ODIs against India. It would have served him best if Pakistan had sent an A team to South African prior to test matches there which included Azhar Ali. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq are here to stay in test side, they have proven themselves when they struggle give them confidence.

  • on October 20, 2013, 1:09 GMT

    Its refreshing to see domestic players make it to the international scene and make an impact. Atleast they are showing the more experienced players how its done. But the battle here is just starting for these two. Nasir Jamshed found this out the hard way when he made a huge impact and than pressures of international cricket reduced him into hiding in a shell. The one thing these openers need to do different is not fall victim to the same mindset and allow themselves to reach their potential.

  • syedahmed91 on October 19, 2013, 23:48 GMT

    Too early to praise these openers honestly, I remember when Hafeez and taufeeq got together for Pakistan in the middle east and had similar success but we all saw how that went once they left the UAE. From what I witnessed, there wasn't anything that impressed me about the current openers, and I think the second test will just give opening to another set of opening pair because I predict a top order melt down whenever Pakistan bats. I hope i'm wrong but Pakistani batsman are lacking in technique and grittiness required to dominate a bowling attack sa has.

  • on October 19, 2013, 19:00 GMT

    I think the Dubai Pitches suits Pakistan team very much. They are more batting friendly which helps Pakistan's brittle batting lineup a support while the bowlers can bowl out any opposition on their day even in batting condition and from the 4th day the spinners starts to have their say which Pakistan currently is having the best lot.

  • Desihungama on October 19, 2013, 17:56 GMT

    @ CricIndia208. LOL. And at the same time Pakistan has the ability to blow other teams for 77, 80 and 99 all out. Let's see if India only plays outside of India what would the record be. My 2 cents are 0 and ?

  • on October 19, 2013, 17:32 GMT

    We need to get an opening 50 partnership

  • wrenx on October 19, 2013, 17:23 GMT

    Compelling evidence that we jve one glaring weakness that has prevented us from becoming a top team. A single decent partnership at the top of the innings (decent, not not amazing), and we can comfortably win tests with out bowling attack. We don't need freaks who put on double century opening stands, we just need people who can see of the new ball, and not have our middle order coming out at 40-4.

  • deconstruct on October 19, 2013, 15:46 GMT

    CricIndia208: Why wait for Pakistan to visit Australia and England to witness dismal performances? India performs that job better than anyone else! Have we forgotten the white-washes in England and Australia under the captaincy of the "Great Dhoni"? I'm afraid Shahid Afridi was right when - commenting on the hate-Pakistan campaign by Indian media on the eve of Pak-India WC semi-final, he said: "Indians are small hearted"!!!

  • ilililililililililililililx on October 19, 2013, 10:29 GMT

    Harris Sohail is my choice as a middle order batsmen. Umar Amin also. Promote Misbah and Younis and get these 2 batsmen in the team

  • on October 19, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    Pakistani batsmen have always scored runs if they get a good opening stand which has been elusive for last few years with rest of the team in defensive mode almost with in minutes of their innings.All test playing countries know to target their openers .Pak. 3 for 7 in 2nd innings is a true reflection of SA fast bowling battery and on the same pitch.Credit goes to Pak. bowlers for bundling them out for a score for less than they had expected on a good batting track.Shell shocked, it is their bowlers who lost their head providing Pak. openers chances to score freely to pile up an excellent opening stand and allowing others to play a normal game, a change for a change With Pak. quality bowling on these tracks,SA need to drop their target score of 250- 300,that will be enough for Pak to struggle against their pace attack unless Pak. can get them out under 200 which is possible, thanks to our multi dimensional bowling attack.

  • Zahidsaltin on October 19, 2013, 9:05 GMT

    Here is the way pakistanies think and act. Azhar Ali has scored a 50+ scored 19 times out of the 52 innings where he payed and got out. The ratio is the best among all pakistani batsmen and a very healthy one when you compare him to greats of this game. His batting average is 40 which is also a very good figure considering that he normally acts as an opner when we lose our real opners withing first 5 overs. Azhar Ali deserves respect and should be given times to get out of bad patch which he is going through.

  • on October 19, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    i think they should bring in Ahmed shehzad at no 3 for next game instead of Azhar ali. Azhar is struggling with form and need some rest. not dropping him permanently but some time off will help.

    With new ball doing some tricks early on, the idea of a 3rd opener ahmed shehzad is not that bad at all.

  • thE_baCk_beNcHer on October 19, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    @ Posted by CricIndia208 on (October 19, 2013, 6:55 GMT) : That's the point we are talking about that batting always has let us down otherwise our bowling did well in every part of the world. on other hand what have India achieved with their strongest batting line up ?? Would you mind to tell us?? 0-8 despite having greatest batters in your side and yes your BWOLING SUPERSTARS huh. at least show some gutts in having appreciation on what any team achieves.

  • CricIndia208 on October 19, 2013, 6:55 GMT

    Let's wait till these guys play in oz, sa, England etcetera. We will be looking at scores like 49, 72, 80 all outs whenever Pakistan tours these countries.

  • KiwiRocker- on October 19, 2013, 3:05 GMT

    A useful and insightful piece by Kamran as usual. I do not mean to take credit, but I have for long blogged about inclusion of Khurram Manzoor in Pak sqaud. I had seen his 77 against Australia and always thought he had the ability and more importantly patience to work at test level. Pakistan has already lost a player of unique ability Asim Kamal who had 8 scores of 50+ and was ruined. I fully agree that Azhar deserves faith and he should be given atleast one more chance. Azhar has played a huge role in Pakistan's test success in last few years and I am sure he will respond to some trust. I still do not understand as to why Taufeeq Umer is not in contention. What has the poor man done to deserve being dropped? Shahzad and Nasir Jameshed are excellent in ODI's so Pakistan all of a sudden has some good openers. However, I still feel experience of Taufeeq umer deserves him few more chances. As far PCB itself, nothing has changed and these changes are just cosmetic with no substance!

  • CricketChat on October 19, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    Great to see Pak openers come good for once after what seemed to be eons. Hafeez was never going to work against quality fast bowling. It is still early days for this new pair, but there is a ray of hope based on their showing against SA pace attack even though it was a flat track.

  • Diaz54 on October 19, 2013, 0:07 GMT

    Need to review no 3 spot....a very critical position in the batting line up. Also need to find an all rounder some where to be able to compete consistently.

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  • Diaz54 on October 19, 2013, 0:07 GMT

    Need to review no 3 spot....a very critical position in the batting line up. Also need to find an all rounder some where to be able to compete consistently.

  • CricketChat on October 19, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    Great to see Pak openers come good for once after what seemed to be eons. Hafeez was never going to work against quality fast bowling. It is still early days for this new pair, but there is a ray of hope based on their showing against SA pace attack even though it was a flat track.

  • KiwiRocker- on October 19, 2013, 3:05 GMT

    A useful and insightful piece by Kamran as usual. I do not mean to take credit, but I have for long blogged about inclusion of Khurram Manzoor in Pak sqaud. I had seen his 77 against Australia and always thought he had the ability and more importantly patience to work at test level. Pakistan has already lost a player of unique ability Asim Kamal who had 8 scores of 50+ and was ruined. I fully agree that Azhar deserves faith and he should be given atleast one more chance. Azhar has played a huge role in Pakistan's test success in last few years and I am sure he will respond to some trust. I still do not understand as to why Taufeeq Umer is not in contention. What has the poor man done to deserve being dropped? Shahzad and Nasir Jameshed are excellent in ODI's so Pakistan all of a sudden has some good openers. However, I still feel experience of Taufeeq umer deserves him few more chances. As far PCB itself, nothing has changed and these changes are just cosmetic with no substance!

  • CricIndia208 on October 19, 2013, 6:55 GMT

    Let's wait till these guys play in oz, sa, England etcetera. We will be looking at scores like 49, 72, 80 all outs whenever Pakistan tours these countries.

  • thE_baCk_beNcHer on October 19, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    @ Posted by CricIndia208 on (October 19, 2013, 6:55 GMT) : That's the point we are talking about that batting always has let us down otherwise our bowling did well in every part of the world. on other hand what have India achieved with their strongest batting line up ?? Would you mind to tell us?? 0-8 despite having greatest batters in your side and yes your BWOLING SUPERSTARS huh. at least show some gutts in having appreciation on what any team achieves.

  • on October 19, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    i think they should bring in Ahmed shehzad at no 3 for next game instead of Azhar ali. Azhar is struggling with form and need some rest. not dropping him permanently but some time off will help.

    With new ball doing some tricks early on, the idea of a 3rd opener ahmed shehzad is not that bad at all.

  • Zahidsaltin on October 19, 2013, 9:05 GMT

    Here is the way pakistanies think and act. Azhar Ali has scored a 50+ scored 19 times out of the 52 innings where he payed and got out. The ratio is the best among all pakistani batsmen and a very healthy one when you compare him to greats of this game. His batting average is 40 which is also a very good figure considering that he normally acts as an opner when we lose our real opners withing first 5 overs. Azhar Ali deserves respect and should be given times to get out of bad patch which he is going through.

  • on October 19, 2013, 9:12 GMT

    Pakistani batsmen have always scored runs if they get a good opening stand which has been elusive for last few years with rest of the team in defensive mode almost with in minutes of their innings.All test playing countries know to target their openers .Pak. 3 for 7 in 2nd innings is a true reflection of SA fast bowling battery and on the same pitch.Credit goes to Pak. bowlers for bundling them out for a score for less than they had expected on a good batting track.Shell shocked, it is their bowlers who lost their head providing Pak. openers chances to score freely to pile up an excellent opening stand and allowing others to play a normal game, a change for a change With Pak. quality bowling on these tracks,SA need to drop their target score of 250- 300,that will be enough for Pak to struggle against their pace attack unless Pak. can get them out under 200 which is possible, thanks to our multi dimensional bowling attack.

  • ilililililililililililililx on October 19, 2013, 10:29 GMT

    Harris Sohail is my choice as a middle order batsmen. Umar Amin also. Promote Misbah and Younis and get these 2 batsmen in the team

  • deconstruct on October 19, 2013, 15:46 GMT

    CricIndia208: Why wait for Pakistan to visit Australia and England to witness dismal performances? India performs that job better than anyone else! Have we forgotten the white-washes in England and Australia under the captaincy of the "Great Dhoni"? I'm afraid Shahid Afridi was right when - commenting on the hate-Pakistan campaign by Indian media on the eve of Pak-India WC semi-final, he said: "Indians are small hearted"!!!