ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
World Cup 2011
Hafeez, Akmal ease opening conundrum
March 25, 2011
The one piece in the jigsaw Pakistan have been unable to fit during the World Cup has been, to no great surprise, the opening partnership. For five matches in the group stages, with commendable patience, they stuck with Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez despite the pair putting on a highest of 28.
Eventually they chose to drop Shehzad for the game against Australia; Hafeez's skills as an offspinner enough to retain him. The change meant a reuniting of one of Pakistan's more successful ODI opening pairs in recent years, of Hafeez and Kamran Akmal. Almost immediately there was a return; the pair putting on an unbroken 113 against the West Indies in the quarter-final in Dhaka in the ten-wicket win.
That was their second century stand in the ten ODIs in which they have opened together, to go with four fifty starts and a healthy average overall of 62.55. Though they had opened twice before, in 2006-07, it was last summer in the ODI series against England that they had an extended and successful run, putting together stands of 62, 122, 8, 62 and 63 in the series.
But since then, in the continuing fall-out of the spot-fixing scandal, the pairing has been disrupted again, allowing Shahzaib Hasan, Imran Farhat and Shehzad to open with Hafeez. "There was a problem in opening; the performance that was expected wasn't happening, like we had in England with Kamran," Hafeez told ESPNcricinfo. "In Abu Dhabi I had different guys like Shahzaib, Imran Farhat opening with me; in New Zealand Shehzad was there. So it was difficult to adjust to everyone."
But Hafeez has always felt most comfortable with Akmal, with whom the contrast in intent works well. "I have opened before with Kamran and obviously, when you play together, you understand each other's game," Hafeez said.
"When Kamran plays with me, I have great confidence because I know he attacks the bowlers. He plays beautiful shots and the opposition gets under pressure. I actually find batting easier because I know he is attacking the bowlers at the other end. That gives me confidence in playing my own shots."
The domestic and international careers of both have overlapped to a large extent and they know each other well off the field as well, spending time together in Lahore. Kamran's younger brothers Adnan and Umar also play with Hafeez for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd (SNGPL) on the domestic circuit in Pakistan.
"Hafeez has been doing so well since the England series with ball and bat," Akmal told ESPNcricinfo. "He brings so much confidence to the team. I love batting with him because we have a good understanding. We communicate with each other all the time at the wicket, talking about the wicket, the bowler, what we need to keep doing. If one of us is struggling a little, the other is always there to help him out. I had that understanding with Salman Butt as well."