Pakistan v England, 3rd ODI, Dubai February 17, 2012

Misbah troubled by wicketkeeper issue

Misbah-ul-Haq has admitted that the frailty of Pakistan's batting is affecting the balance of the ODI side and obliging them to select an inferior wicketkeeper.

Misbah, Pakistan's captain, said the travails of the batsmen were responsible for the decision to press Umar Akmal into service as wicketkeeper. While 21-year-old Umar is a talented batsman, he has looked raw - at best - with the gloves and missed important chances in both games as England took an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four match ODI series.

In the first game Umar missed a tough stumping offered by Ravi Bopara when the batsman had just 1, while in the second he dropped a straightforward chance offered by Alastair Cook when he had scored 28. Bopara went on to make a half-century; Cook went on to make a century. Had Umar taken either chance, Pakistan may well have won.

Pakistan do have other options. The 26-year-old Adnan Akmal, one of Umar's older brothers, has established himself as Pakistan's first choice wicketkeeper in Test cricket. His problem, however, is a relative inability with the bat - he has scored two half-centuries in a 59-match List A career - while Umar is good enough to win a place as a specialist batsman.

While the rest of Pakistan's batting line-up continues to struggle - they have registered a score of 250 or more just three times in their last 27 ODIs - it renders it difficult for the selectors to compromise the team's batting strength further by recalling a wicketkeeper who is unlikely to contribute meaningfully with the bat.

"It's a really difficult decision for us to keep a wicketkeeper - especially such a talented wicketkeeper who performed well - out of the side," Misbah said. "But it's due to the pressure on our batting line-up. It's not clicking so it's troubling us at the moment. It's really a problem for us.

"The balance of the side is the problem. In the Sri Lankan series we had the same problem. We are not having contributions from the lower middle-order. It is really an area of concern for us to play a specialist wicketkeeper. In future, we have to concentrate and find a permanent solution to that problem. The PCB, the selectors and the team management, we're all looking for that."

Pakistan also have the option of recalling Kamran Akmal. While Kamran, at 30 the oldest of the three Akmal brothers, has not played international cricket since a poor display in the World Cup, he has five ODI centuries to his name and offers something of a compromise between Umar and Adnan. The fact that Kamran was mentioned in the spot-fixing trial that saw three of his former team-mates - Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir - jailed may also have counted against him. No charges have ever been brought, however, and Kamran continues to produce good performances at domestic level and in the Bangladesh Premier League.

Misbah did offer some mitigation for Pakistan's struggles. He said that losing the toss and batting under lights was a substantial disadvantage and that his side's faults had been magnified by the conditions in the UAE.

"Chasing has always been a problem for Pakistan," he said. "Even with great players in the batting line-up we've struggled most of the time. When it comes to UAE conditions it's difficult. With two new balls and batting under lights in the evening, the ball moves around a bit. Sometimes it skids; sometimes it seams. It's really difficult for teams - particularly Asian teams - batting second. But as professionals we have to adjust.

"England's fast bowlers are bowling really well and the performance of our fast bowlers is not like that. It's maybe due to bowling first rather than second - it's totally different bowling under lights - so I'm really pleased the way our bowlers are performing."

Misbah also defended the selections of Imran Farhat and Shoaib Malik. Perhaps, though, there was a little more passion in his defence of the former than the latter.

"Imran has played three games for us," Misbah said. "He has scored one fifty against Afghanistan and in the last game he scored 47. So how can you say that he's underperforming? Everyone in the batting unit has to take responsibility

"Our batting line-up is underperforming and we need a sixth bowler. That's why we asked for Shoaib Malik . He gives us five or six overs and, in the lower middle-order, he can add some runs. Sometimes you take decisions but they don't pay off, but you still have to take decisions.

"At the moment, the way everybody is performing, we have to improve. Throughout the Test series and in the ODI series, both teams are really struggling in batting. Most of the time, it is the bowling that is saving the teams.

"England have performed very well in both ODIs. They have beaten us in every department. They have bowled, batted and fielded well. Their fielding has been a major difference. We are still short of performances likes theirs. We need to improve."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo