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

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

  • kamran 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.

  • Jawwad 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.

  • Garolian 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.

  • Dummy4 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

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Android 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.

  • Syed 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.

  • Dummy4 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.

  • Jawwad 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 ?

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