Pakistan v India, 5th ODI, Lahore March 23, 2004

Send for Taufeeq Umar

Kamran Abbasi
No doubt Pakistan will be disappointed by their performance in Lahore on Sunday, but the urgent question is, will they have learned anything



Taufeeq Umar: folly to ignore him © Getty Images

No doubt Pakistan will be disappointed by their performance in Lahore on Sunday, but the urgent question is, will they have learned anything? They know already that this Indian team is just as composed chasing a large total as it is setting one; that their own bowlers sometimes go pop when they are supposed to go bang; and that bowling second under lights at Lahore is a hazard because the dew turns the ball into a bar of soap.

What's new? Not much, but some topics are now taboo -- Inzamam-ul-Haq's captaincy for one. Pakistan limped to defeat at Lahore, with barely a whimper. Rashid Latif believes that capitulation was pre-planned, and the robustness of the response from players and officials is unprecedented (another taboo). Whatever the reason, Inzamam's bowling changes were uninspiring, and his use of the sixth bowler was baffling. On the evidence of the last few months it is clear that Inzamam is barely able to juggle five bowlers effectively, let alone adding a sixth to the mental arithmetic. No wonder he wants only five bowlers again. But does Inzamam's inability to juggle all his balls make the sixth bowling option a bad strategy?

A second area of bewilderment is the erratic form of Pakistan's bowlers. Extras are an eternal embarrassment to Pakistan, but the sheer scale and persistence in this series suggests a lack of careful preparation or composure, or both. The fast men have also forgotten about the yorker length that we had come to expect as second nature. Pakistan has an advantage in the quality and depth of its bowling that has been shamelessly squandered, notwithstanding the benign surfaces and sublime Indian batting.

These are both complex areas. Pakistan's batting and fielding continues to improve but the bowling is stuck in reverse. Javed Miandad, with all his pride, may have to call for a bowling coach after all. More difficult is the Inzamam situation. The captaincy has turned him into a true gladiator with the willow, but he is a lost boy in the field. Inzamam needs better advice and he needs to listen to it. This is where Moin Khan and Yousuf Youhana must support their captain.

But one change is urgent and clear-cut. Javed once told me that quality players can perform in both forms of cricket -- pick the best and they should do the rest. Certainly there are grey areas, and some strategic flexibility is essential, but there can be no dispute over Taufeeq Umar's ability. Not so long ago Rahul Dravid was labelled a one-format wonder, but he is now India's most valuable player in all cricket. Surely Taufeeq carries similar potential for Pakistan? A century in the warm-up game showed that he is ready for the first team. It is folly to ignore him.

Who should he replace, though? Well, criticising Younis Khan is another taboo. People like his polite manner, humble no-frills approach, energetic fielding, and run-a-ball twenties and thirties. But for all that is worthy about him it is hard to remember the last time Younis won Pakistan a match (answers on a postcard please). Whereas with Shahid Afridi -- everyone's favourite punch-bag -- you only have to think as far back as Rawalpindi. Top sport rarely works out for nice guys, and for all the goodwill towards Younis he simply does not turn enough games Pakistan's way. Taufeeq Umar, by contrast, certainly will.

Kamran Abbasi is a London-based cricket writer and deputy editor of the British Medical Journal.

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