March 14, 2014

Pakistan's pace-bowling talent is dwindling

Fast bowlers always bailed the team out of trouble. But in this Asia Cup, we saw the trend reverse

It's clear that the methods of bowling coach Mohammad Akram (in the white hat) are not working © AFP

The batsmen performed. The bowlers didn't. That's an unusual post mortem for Pakistan in any series or tournament, but it is the atypical verdict that keeps recurring however you choose to dissect the Asia Cup. One tournament, on flat wickets with short boundaries, is dangerous to draw strong conclusions from. But an important underlying trend in recent years is the steady decline in Pakistan's bowling attack. For a country that stands on the shoulders of its bowling heroes this is sombre news.

Since the 1980s at least, high-class fast bowling has come naturally. When the chips are down, the bowlers, especially the fast bowlers, step up. Partly they have had to. Pakistan's batting has been so unreliable that the bowlers have grown familiar with defending small totals. Success has generally been achieved in alliance with quality spin bowlers, but pace bowling has been fundamental to Pakistan's competitiveness.

The loss of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif in 2010 certainly hurt Pakistan, but Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan were once worthy replacements. Now, Irfan is unfit and Junaid is struggling for form. Umar Gul's powers have dwindled and Mohammad Talha is new to international cricket. In the Asia Cup, despite heroics from the batsmen and Saeed Ajmal, the pace bowling carried an unfamiliar ordinariness.

Form is temporary, we know, but class has dwindled. Pakistan's bowlers were once unerring in their ability to hit the right areas, as commentators love to describe. It was almost taken for granted. Yorker, bouncer, length ball, you name it, the ball was on a string. As Sri Lanka chased down the victory target in the Asia Cup, yorkers were absent. There was no pressure on the batsmen, the kind of pressure that brings wickets. There was no sense of attack or threat. The plans were poor, and if the plans were good the execution was abysmal.

Unlike his more illustrious contemporaries, Mohammad Akram wasn't known for his attacking style. His trade was containment, or what passed for it in a bowling line-up that knew only how to attack. The difficulty is that this decline in Pakistan's pace bowling coincides with his tenure as bowling coach. Let's be clear that despite many pointless coaching appointments, Pakistan's bowling maintained its sense of threat. Bowling is a natural skill, which was executed with verve.

This doesn't mean that Akram doesn't know what the bowlers need to do, but it does mean that his methods aren't working. The outcome is there for all to see. The steady decline in fast bowling has been a matter of disbelief but the Asia Cup exposed it. Yes, the wickets were lifeless in Bangladesh but that sequence of bowling performances was as docile as I can remember, on any track.

There was plenty to inspire in this Asia Cup and it all came from those scoundrels, the batsmen. How could they fail us for years on end only to deliver, in the space of a few days, some of the most thrilling performances ever by a Pakistani batting line-up? In Ahmed Shehzad and Fawad Alam there is real hope, while Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi showed what can be achieved if they channel their craziness.

But why do we have to suffer such uneven performances? When the bowlers excelled, the batsmen didn't. Now the batsmen impress and the fast bowlers capitulate. Pace bowling comes easy to Pakistan's cricketers. It's been a defining feature of the country's cricket. It will be a tragedy to make an ordinariness out of a strength.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 20, 2014, 6:06 GMT

    @Prasanna_310, i read all coments but only one was spoyt on. Mr @Prasanna_310 you said the right thing.

  • ESPN on March 18, 2014, 22:43 GMT

    It seems Pak batsmen are doing rather well as a result bowlers take less pressure. This is lack of professionalism by Pak bowlers and management plus a defensive bowling coach. Which means Pak bowlers don't apply there abilities unless there is smaller total. This is clear lack of professionalism

  • ESPN on March 18, 2014, 19:10 GMT

    Saw a ray of hope on the horizon when Gul shattered the wickets vs kiwi's, he is getting back there.

  • Dummy on March 17, 2014, 17:05 GMT

    One bad series and Pakistan's pace-bowling talent is said to be dwindling. We still have one of the most potent bowling attacks in the world. Yes the pacers may not be consistent at this point in time but they've got the capacity to turn it on. I presume we ought to stop criticizing for the sake of criticism only. We latch onto every opportunity to criticize without offering tangible solutions.

  • ESPN on March 17, 2014, 16:02 GMT

    Agreed! Pacers did not have any luck whatsoever.. Line and length could at least stop runs from leaking you cant make any big changes in the recent squad since we dont have wide choices. Tanvir could prove himself surprising with his tactics in t20 format.. He has been good in t20 since 2007.. Relying totally on spinners wud not be a fair decision you need to circulate the bowling cleverly if u want to grab hold in t20.. Witnessing Gul's bowling gave me some hope in todays warm up match. I hope we produce some good bowling against India and restrict them below 150.

  • Android on March 17, 2014, 15:11 GMT

    I agree 100% with Kamran Abasdis observations.Pakistan bowling fast bowling in particular has been wanting quite for some time now. Agredd wickets in Bangledesh are flat and lifeless.But then line and lenght can not absent bcoz of that. It never appeared in recent times that a particular fast bowler is in operation and things will start happening.Only with Syed Ajmal arond one attaches a hope.Batting is also up and down.It clicks only once a while.Pkt defginitely are a tallented side.Unfortunately they dont apply themselves.What happens on 21st will be a decider for developments ahead.Though even a defeat is not the end of it. They have strong side to recken with.

  • Vikas on March 16, 2014, 22:54 GMT

    The under 19 Indian bowlers at the WC cup were faster than the Pakistani bowlers ! There hasn't been any real tearway from Pakistan since Shoaib Akhtar !

  • Raheel on March 16, 2014, 13:48 GMT

    With all due respect. Pakistan still holds one of the best bowling attacks in cricketing world. Can't judge bowling quality in just a one tournament which was held on lifeless and flat tracks. Once Irfan will make his way to Pakistan side after injury and when Aamir will make his way back to team in 2015 which isn't far away. Even Steyn and Johnson would suffer on flat tracks.

  • Subramani on March 16, 2014, 10:46 GMT

    I think it is a cycle that every team goes through.There was an unending line of spin bowlers in India once. Now they are struggling to find even a couple.The point is that when two bowlers like Wasim and Waqar get together, they will rule for a decade and a half.Aamir and Asif were wonderful too but sadly went out the wrong way.They would have lasted for at least 15 years if they had been fit. Now that sad part of this longevity is that similar excellent bowlers do not get the chance to come in.That probably explains why Pakistan is playing bowlers who are not young.I never saw this before.I remember in the past they would have some tearaways even at the U 19 stage like Aamir.Zia ul haq was the best Pakistan bowler in the U 19 WC this year He seemed so unlike the fast bowlers we have seen from Pakistan.While robust young men like Irfan will always be around in Pakistan,it is the skills that one saw in the two Ws and Asif that seems to have dried up.I only hope someone turns up again.

  • Dummy4 on March 16, 2014, 9:17 GMT

    Kamran, its only a matter of time when new fast bowlers show up. Though I have personally felt that we are losing on the class of Fast bowling but I expect the best from the Heavens to grant us more of the class of the 2 Ws, the 2 As etc etc. The ever so flowing talent and the craze for cricket in this nation, I am sure we will have a new superstar in the rising. How soon we get one, thats the question.

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