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Writer based in Karachi

Zaka and Qasim's diplomatic coup

Their victories in India may have set the ball rolling for future bilaterals between the teams, but Pakistan's selection worries remain ahead of the South Africa tour

Saad Shafqat

January 8, 2013

Comments: 39 | Text size: A | A

Junaid Khan took four wickets in his first spell, India v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Chennai, December 30, 2012
Junaid Khan, along with Mohammad Irfan, was underestimated by India's batsmen © BCCI
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Being chief selector of Pakistan is a thankless job at the best of times, but in the build-up to a series with India it is almost impossibly so. Last month, when Iqbal Qasim sat down to finalise the two squads for the T20 and ODI clashes in India that were to straddle the New Year, he knew he couldn't win. If the team did poorly, he would be spared no blame, and if it did well, then he would remain unacknowledged while the entire nation rejoiced. Thanklessness didn't even begin to describe it.

When PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf was trying to make this India series a reality earlier last year, he found himself trapped in a similar bind. Thanklessness is not a concept typically associated with the position of the PCB chief, who tends to be feted and celebrated for anything even remotely positive in Pakistan cricket. Yet in the days when Ashraf was building up the courage to start lobbying his BCCI counterpart, N Srinivasan, he was mindful that even his best efforts might go unrewarded. His biggest immediate goal was successful negotiation with the BCCI, which would be nothing short of a heroic victory given the tense geopolitical climate in South Asia. But it would remain unappreciated if the team did poorly in India.

In their own distinctive ways, Ashraf and Qasim put their heads down and concentrated on the immediate task at hand. Both found success, but their styles were different. Ashraf possesses a shrewd and clever brain, but he hides it well behind a disarmingly mild, humble and soft-spoken manner.

His strategy, it has been learnt, was to invade Srinivasan's personal space during the ICC annual forum in the hopes of triggering a conversation and a breaking of the ice. Ashraf had nothing to bargain with but he realised that, deployed properly, this could be a bargaining chip in itself. He started out with some cosmetic demands - neutral venues, revenue-sharing, and the like - but yielded easily on them. A general thawing of India-Pakistan relations was the catalyst, but in the end the tour came about because Pakistan asked for nothing other than simply the opportunity to play.

Pakistan's two captains, Mohammad Hafeez and Misbah-ul-Haq, had their own burdens to worry about. India were a formidable outfit, Indian crowds tend to be massive and partisan, and India's extensive print and broadcast media can play tricks with your head. On top of that, Pakistan were entering the series as a nomadic and stigmatised team with a stature far diminished from that of the previous Pakistan sides to have visited India.

Perhaps worst of all, Pakistan's recent limited-overs form had been mediocre. They were ranked sixth in both Twenty20s and ODIs, while India were on a significantly higher perch. Pakistan's batting and wicketkeeping was a shambles, the team had never been known for its fielding, and the spin bowling of Saeed Ajmal and Hafeez was the only real threat. Among the seamers, Umar Gul was erratic, Junaid Khan had been around for a couple of years but hadn't built a reputation, and hardly anyone had heard of Mohammad Irfan.

That Pakistan had come prepared to fight was evident soon after they took the field in the opening T20, in Bangalore on Christmas Day. India were racing off with a productive opening partnership but Pakistan's body language continued to be incredibly sharp and aggressive. They lunged, leapt, charged and pounced with athleticism and accuracy. But for the green kit, you couldn't tell it was Pakistan.

What does one do with Umar Akmal, for example? Or, for that matter, Shoaib Malik? Is Kamran Akmal still the best wicketkeeping option? Will Irfan's seven-foot frame withstand the rigours of Test cricket?

A few days before departing for India, Hafeez and Misbah were interviewed together on a local TV channel. Asked about the negative circumstances surrounding Pakistan cricket, Hafeez replied that while the team had been through great difficulties, this had also made them hungry to win and prove themselves to the world. Misbah concurred. After seeing Pakistan in the field in Bangalore, you could tell that both captains had truly meant it.

Fans are ruing the embarrassing defeat in the final ODI, but it is hard not to see the tour as a spectacular success for Pakistan overall. There is the sheer audacity of overcoming India's ODI side in India, and though the T20 rubber was split 1-1, Pakistan competed well even in defeat.

The real gain for Pakistan has been the rise of young individuals. Nasir Jamshed was castled for 2 in the opening game, but thereafter he shut his critics up with scores of 41, 101 not out, 106, and 34. As for the seam-and-swing combination of Junaid and Irfan, they had plainly been underestimated by India and proved the ultimate difference between the two sides.

For Ashraf and the PCB, this tour could not have turned out any better. Pakistan pocketed the ODI series but it ended on a winning note for the hosts, which bolsters the credentials of the arrangement. The T20 honours were shared, with something in it for everyone. This tour may not advance Ashraf's proclaimed vision of restoring international cricket to Pakistani soil, but it does nicely pave the way for a Test series with India in the months ahead. That too would be a brilliant coup.

The trip to India provided some comforting answers, but raised some uncomfortable questions too. What does one do with Umar Akmal, for example? Or, for that matter, Shoaib Malik? Is Kamran Akmal still the best wicketkeeping option, despite his horrible batting failures in India? Will Irfan's seven-foot frame withstand the rigours of Test cricket? And what about the bench? Do you stick with untried youngsters like Haris Sohail, Anwar Ali, Asad Ali, and Zulfiqar Babar, who were sent to India but didn't get a game, or do you bring in someone new? There are no perfect answers, but decisions will have to be made. Thanklessness doesn't even begin to describe it.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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Posted by   on (January 10, 2013, 2:12 GMT)

Umar should be rested for at least a year. guys like him promote immaturity and affect discipline

Posted by avmd on (January 10, 2013, 1:50 GMT)

Umar Akmal, is unlucky to have a negative captain with him in ODI, Misbah. I'm sure Misbah forced Umar to play a pathetically slow inning like him in last ODI. Umar is not ready for test yet but should not be dropped from limited over format, yet. Misbah is a real problem, he actively participates in losing ODIs, should be discarded. Asad Shafiq, deserves a permanent spot in middle order in ODI and tests now and time to through talented new comers Haaris and Umar Amin in deep now to face the nest fast bowling combination in SA. Wahab Riaz, due to his pace and supreme fitness, should be in tests agains SA, hope he had learnt to bring the ball in for right handers, which he has been lacking.

Posted by avmd on (January 10, 2013, 1:36 GMT)

Not many people would have remember the background of Salim Malik's Calcutta innings. Malik, until then was going through a bad patch, even prior to the tour. Just before the Calcutta ODI, he was announced to leave the touring party due to poor form and supposed to lead a Pak A team to Zimbabwe ( or Kenya ? ) to regain some form. Malik was very disappointed and was visibly angry at the start of that match and poor Kapil Dev became his victim. After his heroic knock, everything changed, Malik was kept in the touring party and from then onward, hit a purple patch for some time. It was the most important inning of Malik's career.

Posted by   on (January 10, 2013, 0:05 GMT)

There should be no questions about Akmal Brothers. Without doubt, Kamran Akmal is the worst wicketkeeper in the History of Pakistan. Yes worse than Moin Khan, who at least got us the WC 92, not lost WC 2011. As for Umar Akmal, his attitude is worse than his batting and there are more talented players like Haris Sohail who deserve the chance.

Posted by manizee on (January 9, 2013, 19:02 GMT)

The Akmal bros. must go. Kamran has lost many a series and matches for Pakistan and destroyed promising careers of talented bowlers. Consequently they were dropped yet he retained his spot. Umar has faked injuries and the bubble surrounding his hype has burst... a more deserving middle order batsman's potential is being wasted. Both brothers have serious questions over their characters as well. Their selection brings a bad omen to the green kits.

Posted by   on (January 9, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

Excellent Usman ! Brilliently crafted Artical, way to go. As far as Umar Akmal is concern, he sould be sent back to domestic Cricket, where he can remember and learn some of the very basics of Cricket. He is way too away from some of the basics which are required for a professional cricketer at that level. Shoiab Malik deserve a place for some time if he still continues to play like the way he did in India. Finally PCB need to find a proper Wicket Keeper who can bat aswell, i know there is a lot of wicker keeping talent in Pakistan just like Bowling talent.

Posted by RaadQ on (January 9, 2013, 7:10 GMT)

SA suggestions: T. Umar & A. Ali as openers, then Younis, Hafeez, Misbah & A. Shafiq, A. Akmal, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Anwar Ali/Wahab Riaz & J. Khan. Mohammad Hafeez to be demoted to #4, because just like Watson, he struggles against quality attacks with new ball. If Taufeeq also struggles, replace him with Jamshed, although Jamshed needs to adjust to Test matches (footwork, fitness), and this tour might not be the best for his introduction. M. Irfan cannot bowl in Test conditions I've heard, so Wahab Riaz should bowl, and if he fails in 2 matches, the third one Anwar Ali should be trialled. No more Cheema or other failed experiments. Rehman is banned anyways, so no selection dilemma there.

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (January 9, 2013, 4:37 GMT)

Shouldas-Wouldas-Couldas: I agree with you that Pak should have shared some financial rewards out of this tour, but look at this way. A board is as strong as their team display on field.Now Pakistan has beaten India in India and that is a reward itself. Pakistani players are in some cases even more popular in India than Indian players. The B'desh tour saga is a farce! I do not believe Zaka did anything wrong except that PCB needs to end that farce. B'desh board has backtracked on written comittment so what can you really do?Good to see youGetSetGoPak: Did you enjoy Pak win :). I fully agree that K.Akmal got to go mate! He dropped a catch in 3rd ODI and cost Pakistan 6 runs. At end those runs made a difference! Kamran almost cost Pak first T20, he failed in second. He did not bat in first ODI and cost Pak another 20-30 runs in second third, he again failed! and other Akmal cost Pak third ODI. Asad Shafiq is Pak's bets young batsman!I must also mention Khurram Manzoor!Brilliant!

Posted by getsetgopk on (January 9, 2013, 3:12 GMT)

Its high time we look beyond the Akmal brothers. These guys lack temperament, genetically, there is absolutely no other explanation for that. Kamran's wicket keeping has improved but you'll never know when he will be back to his old ways and again cost us a series with his poor wicket keeping only. Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail and Ramiz Raja Jnr should now be given an extended run. I'm sure they will do better than Umar Akmal. Also Sadaf Hussain should now be given a chance instead of Umar Gul. Gul has had a fairly long and uninterrupted run and with varying degree of success but we need real strike bowlers who can dent the top order in the initial burst. That sets up the game nicely and very easily for the spinners, Ajmal and Hafeez.

Posted by LillianThomson on (January 9, 2013, 2:54 GMT)

@KiwiRocker I'd disagree about the 86-87 side.

Imran was a superstar returning from a career threatening injury, and at 34 there were doubts as to whether he would ever succeed as a bowler again.

Wasim Akram's career was earlier in its infancy than Junaid Khan's now: he had 10 wickets on a helpful track in NZ and one good ODI v Australia in Melbourne behind him, and that was it. He was promising, that's all.

Javed Miandad was perceived as resentful about Imran's return.

This left a very unbalanced team, psychologically as well as in playing terms, which is why for the Tests Imran recalled the semi-retired 39 year-old Younis Ahmed, who has passed his peak in county cricket almost a decade earlier.

Pakistan has rarely been stronger than now: if Butt, Asif and Amir were not banned this would be their strongest ever side.

Posted by syedahmed91 on (January 9, 2013, 0:54 GMT)

I feel TEAM India did not want to play Pakistan under the given conditions. They just suffered a huge lost in the hands of England in their own backyard they were just recovering from that and than came Pakistan and the attention Pakistan vs India brings. I feel for the Indian Team even though I despise BCCI. Pakistan should not celebrate too much about these few odi victories, honestly they mean nothing odi's are on the way out and T20's we all know are meaningless in cricket, both the PCB and Pak team should focus on test cricket.

Posted by LillianThomson on (January 9, 2013, 0:50 GMT)

The selectors have a few big decisions ahead of them for the South Africa tour, but if they get the selections correct, and the players get enough practice in bouncy conditions, back-to-back series victories over South Africa would have Pakistan ranked number 1 in tests by mid-2013. (I don't expect that for a minute, as I think they will fall apart on bouncy tracks).

The Hafeez-Taufeeq pairing worked in UAE until they met Anderson and Broad, and it is pointless to take Taufeeq to South Africa. They need to work on replacing him with Jamshed, but getting the big guy to move his feet.

Younis is now 37 and Misbah is nearly 39, and their ability to perform on quick, bouncy tracks is uncertain. Much will depend upon Azhar and Shafiq's ability to play the moving ball, and the superior eye (not brain) of U Akmal might be needed.

I'd prefer Kamran of the Akmals, as runs from number 7 are essential in SA.

Lastly, I'd take Wahab AND Sadaf Hussain to vie with Irfan for 3rd quick.

Posted by Shouldas-Wouldas-Couldas on (January 9, 2013, 0:32 GMT)

Instead of " ZAKA ASHRAF'S SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATION WITH BCCI -> HEROIC VICTORY", the tour was really a by-product of recent "ease" in India-Pakistan political relations. Yes, the truncated tour provided "India Vs. Pakistan" fans some traditional thrills and Pak. boys to show case their talents/a hit ahead of S/Africa tour. All the monetary rewards/gains went to BCCI and who still declined to reciprocate (even on neutral venue ). Fact remains, Zaka Ashraf FAILED to persuade B/Desh to play in Pakistan ( mainly due to prevailing security scenario ) !!! Pak young guns continue to excite but we will know more about them only after the acid test ( S/Africa tour ).

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 22:25 GMT)

As far as selection is concerned for the ODIs, why don't ppl point their fingers at younis khan? what has he done during the last 3 years? an average of 27.9 with a strike rate of 73.80. Thats simply pathetic. He should only be selected for the tests.

Posted by Desihungama on (January 8, 2013, 19:27 GMT)

@marlboro19 - For that, you got 100 million dollars. You want a Thank in addition to that? It may as well be You pulling the strings of Bangladesh Cricket Board and ICC at large. Still want our Thank? Pakistan played with you not to just play Cricket but to show to the world how good they are and just what is World missing by not touring and locking horns with Pakistanis in their background. Guys like Umar Akmal may not be flashy as Kohli but then guys like Umar Akmal has not played a single ODI in Pakistan and yet have averages in 30's. Your refusal to play us is called AVOIDING EMBARRASSMENT.

Posted by Desihungama on (January 8, 2013, 19:19 GMT)

Saad! Nice write up. Answers to your questions are rather simple. Relegate Umer Akmal to T20 Cricket. Make Shoaib Malik permanent member if not T20, then at least for the One-Day games. He is best suited for that format. Kamran Akmal is a true conundrum. I am speechless about him but he did redeem himself in the series but is that good enough when opposition is Aus, SA? Mohd Irfan again is only a T20 player and keep him to that if we really interested in preserving him. Do not injure him by playing him meaningless One-day's.

Posted by Class-Apart on (January 8, 2013, 19:08 GMT)

Big biggest disappointment for me has been umer akmal, he had perfect opportunity to show what he is made off in the final odi. He been failures time and time again.

Posted by ejsiddiqui on (January 8, 2013, 18:39 GMT)

@marlboro19 you are mixing things, No team in the world has refused to play against Pakistan. Last bilateral series of Pakistan was with Australia. The problem is, playing in Pakistan.

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 17:04 GMT)

over all Pakistan team played good cricket trough out the tournament . for south African tour Wahab Riaz should be included in the Team because he is a good fast bowler and he can be handy with the bat in lower order as well. Azher Ali is pure test batsmen so instead of him Harris sohail or Asad Shafiq deserve that place..

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 16:52 GMT)

The series went very well for Pakistan team except for the last ODI in New Delhi. I think the outcome of the last ODI was clearly influenced by diplomacy between the two cricket boards and even worse BCCI rejected PCB's proposal to play Pakistan at neutral venues right away.

Posted by Stark62 on (January 8, 2013, 16:49 GMT)

Pak need to take Sadaf Hussain to SA, at all costs!!

The guy has been tearing apart teams at the domestic level and even, after 10 months of no competitive cricket, in his comeback game he took 5 wickets in the 1st innings and 3 in the 2nd innings. Also, his currently playing a match right now and has already picked up 6 wickets in the 1st innings.

He is by far the best bowler Pak have but yet, the selectors keep ignoring him and yes, he is BETTER than Junaid.

Posted by xylofon on (January 8, 2013, 15:32 GMT)

The biggest question is who has to go and I do not see a place for Umar Akmal anymore no matter what. Anwar Ali is one replacement. Umar and Kamran Akmal are both gangsters, fixing and all.

How come pakistan simply didnt try out one or two new guys in the last match? I would have tried all new guys on the bench. Misbah has to go too, if he can stay awhile only as test player, nothing else.

These new guys must be introduced FAST. Hammad Azam needs to play t20 soon.

Posted by NasserAliKhan on (January 8, 2013, 14:37 GMT)

Nice for someone to write something positive for our unsung heroes. We, myself included, lump the PCB into one entity and sometimes forget a couple or so within this setup are trying their foremost for the nation. Saad was brilliant to highlight the strategy by Zaka Ashraf in gaining this tour by including relatively less important "demands/wishes". However, I am continually unhappy with the selection of the team. It is important that cricket writers question the validity of each selection. Let's think ahead to the SA tour, and lets discuss the performances of the 2 Akmal brothers. They, in total, batted in 5 innings, out of which there were 3 scores of Nil, a total of 49 runs, with Nil scored by Kamran. We also know very well that Umar Akmal can't handle pressure as he is mentally feeble, and lashes out and fails. There is no justification to pick such players other than nepotism, bribery, and corruption. It is so undefendable that it can't be put to sheer incompetence.

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 14:06 GMT)

very nice article i think there is favoritism and still politics in the team,bcz malik and akmal brothers are getting chances continuously, there is a lot of other talent in the country especially in batting,for example in the last one day why misbah choose the old nonsuccessive above mention players??,,they must gave chance to other players,,like haris sohail,,,asad ali etc,,but the above mention players have a strong lobby in the team,,,if these things do not finish we will see a huge failure in batting at south Africa it should be removed and merit should be followed,,

Posted by marlboro19 on (January 8, 2013, 14:00 GMT)

A little gratefulness to India won't be amiss. Ind played with Pak when even BD refuses to do so. Technically, we are the only cricketing neighbors Pak has(Excluding Afgans), and a series here is he closest to a home series for Pak.

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 13:31 GMT)

I apologize in advance if I offend anyone....but this series was planted even before the first ball was bowled..Can anyone explain the exclusion of youngsters in the third one-dayer, having already won the series, except the fact that they did not want the youngsters to misfire for the sake of losing the match and end up with a missed opportunity to kick start their careers....

Cricket is not a game is a trade...we traded the loss in the semi final of the world cup with a win in this series....We should have won 3-nil, even if this was not planned ... Junaid khan and Nasir Jamshed were just too good for the indians...

Posted by Dannymania on (January 8, 2013, 11:03 GMT)

It was definitely a good tour for pakistan,because pakistan won the odi series.Kamran akmal though,doesnt deserve my respect as a fan.he needs to be fired.Shoaib malik provided a couple of stands and those ultimately led the team to victories so his selection was justified.he also makes the middle order pretty solid and his bowling and fielding are the plus points.As far as the bench is concerned,there was no need to play those new players because pakistan was winning and had to go with the winning combo.Umar Akmal deserves a place in the side because he is definitely the best batsmen that pakistan have gotten in recent years.but he has to think!and i dont think this family has brains that most probably umar akmal's career will be destroyed by himself which is heart breaking for a cricket fan like me.Jamshaid played well but was definitely NOT the highlight of the series.anyways,against southafrica pakistan doesnt have that much of a chance,although i'll be rooting for them.

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 10:59 GMT)

Love the way Saad has analysed it. Our fielding was truly excellent apart from Misbah dropping Dhoni in the first ODI, we seemed more determined than the Indians in every department to be honest. The last ODI was honestly given on the plate to the Indian team for some face saving otherwise they were no match to our standard of bowling, batting and fielding throughout the tour. I have a strong feeling, Pakistan won't be any pushovers against SA. Pakistan Zindabad.

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 10:02 GMT)

Pakistani team comibition is really good, i personally like the dynamic leadership of ZAKA ASHRAF, we trust him fully and he is 180 degree opposite to Ijaz But who made Pakistan cricket a sitting duck for the rest of the world. I think Zaka Ashraf has vision and i hope he will be able to conduct PPL soon in Pakistan. Selectors did good job too. Hats Off.. Pakistan ZIndabad.

Posted by   on (January 8, 2013, 9:27 GMT)

Disagree that they didn't have time to test youngsters; last ODI was a perfect opportunity to test at least Haris and Asad. Unfortunately it was also the best opportunity to make money for some of the others; and that became more important. To see proof, just listen to Wasim's commentary during the Indian batting! Was he also involved?

Posted by Shazli on (January 8, 2013, 8:56 GMT)

Great Article...well said saad...really thankfull to PCB & selector's as well.....Many Thanks to all

Posted by ALiQamar on (January 8, 2013, 7:32 GMT)

Umar akmal is now becoming second afridi; He doesn't listen to any advise and has been throwing his wickets just like afridi. Either he should start working on his temperament or get ready to loose his place in this team.

Posted by Zahidsaltin on (January 8, 2013, 6:32 GMT)

THANK FOR WHAT?? Ehsan Manii warned that Pakistan should not tour India unless they promise to play pakistan in return. BCCI made a 100 million USD out of this 10 days series, nothing to share with Pakistan and then plainly refuse to play pakistan even at neutral venues. Even when india was mentioned as a venue for pakistan's home series, they refused. Isn't it shameful that we go begging and get nothing out of it. Just take the case of Bangladesh, what do we want out of it. If BD does visit pakistan for a couple days, will it change anything. Will then india, Australia, England or just the mino NZ visit pakistan? NO

Posted by ICCexpert.... on (January 8, 2013, 6:29 GMT)

why cant pak selectors be bold as they used to be in 80's and 90's, they seem to persist with old and tried players, they need to give players like Harris Sohail, Anwar Ali, Sharjeel khan, Rameej Raja Junior, Hammad Azam, Usman Salahudin, Zia-ul-haq, Ehsan Adil a chance, look at the youngsters like Jamsheed and Junaid, they have performed, same way these players can perform too, give Yunis, misbah and Malik rest for atleast one series.

Posted by wakaPAK on (January 8, 2013, 5:38 GMT)

Well said! We tend to be thankless and thanklessness is a sin, rule of the thumb is if you are thankless you get the worst but if you are content with what you get, you get more. PCB authorities did well and they also are the heroes here.

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (January 8, 2013, 5:20 GMT)

Continuing from previous comment: I rate Pak win in this series their most complete dominance of India. Indian team never scored 250 in any of matches. Pakistani bowlers enjoyed a dominance that is rarely seen before. I am not reading into third match results too much as India won because Pak batting did even worse than Indian batting. It was case of Pak losing rather than winning. Indian batting against failed and no one even got into 40's. Pak now seems to have regained psychological edge over India and it will set up a trend. I agree with Saad, Pak still has many questions to answer: Pak's biggest weakness in past years was openers but now they have become a strength!Akmal brothers simply are not good enough.Shoib Malik has shown enough to continue. He is a match winner.Mibah needs to end his ODI career and Pak needs to start grooming a new keeper.Llets do not forget, Asad Shafiq who is Pak's better batsman against seam did not even play! Raza Hassan also missed but Pak won!

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