Pakistan's trouble at the top

Openers are a neglected breed on the country's domestic circuit, and that's been a key reason for the team's failures in Tests in recent times

Sidharth Monga

July 9, 2009

Comments: 25 | Text size: A | A

Salman Butt ducks under a short one, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Galle, 3rd day, July 6, 2009
Salman Butt has enjoyed an extended run as opener but hasn't lived up to his promise © AFP
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This is not a post-mortem. One frame on TV during the Galle Test, though, summed up a bulk of Pakistan's problems. The screen was split in two, each one showing the stances of Salman Butt and Khurram Manzoor, the former's weight too far forward and the latter's back. Those who follow Pakistan cricket will say, "What's new?" Those who follow Pakistan cricket will know there haven't been solid Test-match openers since Saeed Anwar and Aamer Sohail, and very few before. Even Anwar was a naturalised opener: he used to play in the middle order in domestic cricket.

There is no better feeling in a small chase than the knowledge of having reliable openers, especially when the bowlers have finished their stupendous work in the final session, with an edgy period to follow. In the first innings in Galle, Pakistan lost Butt and Manzoor before the half hour was out on the first day; in the second they lost Manzoor in the evening and Butt first thing in the morning. There is no way the openers should solely be blamed for the dramatic loss, but No's 1 and 2 have always been a lottery since Sohail and Anwar opened together for the last time in March 2000.

Nineteen different openers have been tried since that period - and 37 combinations - including Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi. That even by Pakistan's standards is a fairly big number: 56 players opened in their 48 years of Test cricket before that.

Younis Khan's response to the issue tells a story. "If you see, this has been the story for the last four-five years," he said moments after the defeat. "Sometimes they do well, sometimes they do badly. That's not a big issue - anybody who's played there. It keeps going up and down like this." In the land of reverse-swing, masterful spinners and great middle-order batsmen, opening the innings has been a neglected art, perhaps non-glamorous. Heroes do play a big part, and Pakistan simply haven't had enough heroes opening the batting.

Ramiz Raja, himself a fairly successful naturalised opener, wants an emergency declared on the opening front. He has seen over the years that in all levels of cricket in Pakistan the opener is the most neglected entity. "It has never been given importance by captains," Ramiz told Cricinfo. "It was thought that on docile subcontinental pitches, where you played almost 70-80% of your cricket, specialist openers were really not required. That has been the thinking of most Pakistan captains, but it doesn't help."

The approach perhaps comes right from the domestic circuit, where more such pitches mean the openers are hardly tested, and anybody does the job. The business, as is the case in Indian domestic cricket, starts in the middle order. Sohail, one of the more traditional openers, has an interesting theory.

"Ultimately reverse-swing hasn't helped Pakistan cricket at all," Sohail told Cricinfo last year. "How many new-ball bowlers have you seen who are very good? Reverse-swing has helped Pakistan achieve things temporarily, but when you look at it in the long term, it has actually hampered Pakistan cricket. You are not getting good new-ball bowlers. If you are not getting good new-ball bowlers in your first-class structure or club cricket or at the top level, how do you actually think of getting good openers?"

 
 
"You need a special temperament for the job. Different levels of energy for different situations and times. There isn't enough emphasis on that at the domestic level, or at the academy level. Openers are not made at Test level." Ramiz Raja
 

But if that be the case, why aren't there openers scoring thousands of runs in domestic cricket and putting pressure on Butt, who can't complain of not having been given a full run? "I have no plausible reasoning," Ramiz says. "The players in the seventies, even in the eighties, had a chance to hone their skill in county cricket, so that helped Pakistan batsmen to rise to a certain level. When it got stopped, our domestic set-up was not of a certain standard that provided a strong base for openers to grow.

"It's just that we have got to develop openers," Ramiz said. "There is not enough importance given to that aspect. When I say that, I mean both technically and temperamentally. You have to leave a lot of balls, you have to be technically correct, you have to see off tough situations like batting in the last half an hour of the day. You need a special temperament for that job. Different levels of energy for different situations and times. There isn't enough emphasis on that at the domestic level, or at the academy level. Openers are not made at Test level."

Times changed, foreign coaches came and went, but the callous attitude towards openers didn't. In the 2005-06 series against England, under Bob Woolmer and Inzamam, Pakistan went with Butt as the only specialist in the squad of 16, with Akmal, Malik and Afridi as options.

Butt, who's enjoyed the longest run in the post Sohail-Anwar era, had the promise, but needed a better opener to learn from. Openers grow together. They are a team within a team. They are often good friends, they often sit and discuss their batting and the bowlers even after the cricket. They are honest enough to ask the other to farm the strike against a particular bowler who's troubling one of them. They point out to each other the mistakes they are prone to making. They are almost a couple, and Butt has been pretty polygamous there, though not by his choosing.

There is an interesting story about how Sohail chose to become an opener. When he was fairly young, Wasim Raja, his captain at Lahore, told him if he wanted to play for Pakistan he needed to start opening the innings. Sohail hesitated. Raja said, "Do it. Pakistan won't be needing middle-order batsmen in the next four or five years. There is Saleem Malik, there is Javed Miandad; it will be hard for you to get in. Start opening the innings, you will play for Pakistan."

By that logic, chances of a 16-17-year-old starting to open the innings look bleak. From the current middle order, Yousuf and Younis are nearer to the end than the start. Pakistan better start doing something about it, as Ramiz said, at the school level, club level, academy level and first-class level.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Sorcerer on (July 11, 2009, 5:20 GMT)

I don't understand how anyone here is calling Inzamam such a great batsman. After all, a single century against the two best bowling attacks in the world - SA and Aus in at least 150 international outings (yes, 1 in 150!) tell the picture of an epitomy of a flat track bully, nothing more.

Funny how Inzamam's "life-threatening back ache" only used to surface when he had to face McGrath and Warne on the Test arena....,remember how he copped out of '01 Series V Australia too leaving lambs for the slaughter. Contrary to the false claim that he was advised to rest in the Aus Series, he was taken apart by the very best - Imran Khan for dereliction of duty and leaving the young team at the mercy of a rampaging opposition. Mind you, he had scored 1 & 0 in the Test before then - a "dubious feat" he repeated again in the Super Test a few years later against the same Aussies after crying against his earlier excluson from the team.

Salman is our best bet amongst the current lot of openers.

Posted by lovegirls on (July 10, 2009, 19:55 GMT)

MY dear friends its no use arguing here o commenting bcoz PcB will select those players who are from well known family or friends of politicians.Asim kamal suberp left handed player he should be in this team instead of misbah who is of no use n he becomin aged now get him in the team

Posted by lovegirls on (July 10, 2009, 16:45 GMT)

Pak should play more test mathches to be a good team.to get good openers or these openers to improve pak be allowed or given moe 5day games tht ill help big time

Posted by aamir007 on (July 10, 2009, 16:19 GMT)

They keep saying how many combination of players being used for open but most of the time these are the same players who have failed on many occasion. What Pakistan needs to do is to try new young combination of players who they can grow. By the time these batsmen gets a test cap it's too late for them to change their habits. It's good to try young batsmen who have the talent and then build on it. Misbah and Shoib has not done anything major in a while but they are still in the team.

Posted by kaiser1 on (July 10, 2009, 12:16 GMT)

I don't know how is anyone praising Butt head as a good opener. His 100 is recalled to shower affection up on him against Australia. Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s Ct Tests 22 40 0 1146 122 28.65 2428 47.19 2 6 168 1 9 An average of mere 28.65 doesn't make him a good opener maybe a cork opener can be suggested. Inzimam's volumes of runs speak for themselves even he made a solitary run against Aussies in that test but remember he had a back pain and due to pressure from former player's comments he decided to play that test. Inzmam was a great player and leader.

Posted by alidaas on (July 10, 2009, 7:28 GMT)

The World has witnessed a great opener from Pakistan, and he was undoubtedly the Great Saeed Anwar. Aamer Sohail was successful because Anwar used to take all pressure of him. In all the good partnerships that the pair had, Anwar contributed more than 60% of the runs and Aamer only 30 to 40%. A string of failures from PCB was tried to make Afridi a formidable opener but he failed. Where are those great young openers Pakistan had like Imran Nazir and Imran Farhat. They must have been given longer period to prove a point. Unfortunately, when they scored, the PCB selectors needed a change. Why was Wajahat-ula-Wasti given an opening spot for more than 2 years when others were around? He played in the World Cup 1999 and did nothing. PCB can do ANYTHING and they have to sort things between themselves first before we can blame our cricketers.

Posted by Akhsami on (July 10, 2009, 5:40 GMT)

The problem is not lack of openers, its lack of selection and strategy. Butt's inclusion in 20-20 format has ruined his confidence for tests even though he was never a 20-20 player. Similarly players like Azhar Ali, who have the temprament to be openers have not been given the proper chance. Finally there has been too much chopping and changing. Butt needs to be told that he is only a test player and then be given an extended run, Azhar Ali needs to be inducted for the NZ series and Ali Asad needs to also be given an extended run.

Posted by WASEEM.SAJID on (July 10, 2009, 4:58 GMT)

Yes ofcourse the huge responsibilty of building Pakistan innings is only on the shoulders of Yousaf and Younis........ Other guys like Butt, Misbah, Malik, were only their to have some chill on the field. They even dont bother to think that what are they doing.. Butt Thinks if i got runs well other wise Younis or Yousaf will do it their own. Malik thinks who am I? No one will ask me if we lose so just chill man...... and Mr. Misbah is always not a good finisher... He is a good batsman but cant finish it off as Inzi. And man dont talk about these young new players i dont know from where they coming or had they played at any level of cricket... 5% of our young cricketers are promising to Play for Pakistan. Others just wana to enter this hall of fame want to play for Pakistan never mind how they played.... Yes one man in this forum talked about Fawad... i had seen him he is a very good young guy who had the passion of cricket. I think we can teach these guys and promote them to open.

Posted by Cricketer4good on (July 9, 2009, 23:02 GMT)

I was so angry, frustrated and could not believe that Pak lost wich was supposed to be an easy win. Well my words fail to explain Pak's situation, such an embarassing, oh boy. Only Yousuf wanted to bat, others dey betta explain demselves.

Posted by Sorcerer on (July 9, 2009, 18:29 GMT)

I concur that Aamer Sohail was not an excellent performer but in tandem with anwer formed a formidable opening pair, touted by many including Michael Holding as the finest opening pair of their times.

Regarding the issue of Salman, I wonder how many would be aware that along with Misbah, he is the hardest working Pak team member. His routines for net practice like those of Misbah are drawn out and very arduous, what to say of his regularity in fitness training. Even the very next morning upon returning from Australia after his successful '04 Series, he was right there in NCA doing net practice for over a couple of hours. This excellent work ethic regime gets even more accentuated when you consider that the two players had someone like Inzamam as the supposed role model - the unfit out of shape skipper who hardly ever condescended to get up from his chair for considerable while whilst the rest of the team sweated in practice sessions.

Salman is the best talent we have as opener.

Posted by asad114 on (July 9, 2009, 17:39 GMT)

I wanted to dispel a notion that Aamer Sohail was a successful opening batsmen for Pakistan. Other than a double century against England in 1992, I don't recall if he ever played a really huge part in any of Pakistan's series on the tough tours abroad. He like so many Pakistan openers before him was a flat track bully. And that essentially is the problem with the Pakistani openers. I fully expect them to flourish on the flat pancakes of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. But when the ball starts rising above knee height, when it starts wobbling around they simply do not have the guts, technique or the previous experience to counter the challenge. They may get the odd good innings but the technical glitches remain visibly evident. Mohammad Yousuf is the only batsmen in this Pakistan team who actually worked on his technique against swing and bounce and his work paid dividends when Pakistan toured England in that fateful trip in 2006.

Posted by Sorcerer on (July 9, 2009, 15:10 GMT)

Salman Butt is the same player who scored a ton and an 80-odd in the Test Serries when the much-celebrated Inzamam scored just a solitary run on the tour against the likes of McGrath and Warne! Talking of a recent extended run, how was he rewarded later on then by the duo of Inzi and Bob? After a relatively minor fall in form, he was axed from the tour to India and then he returned with a bang silencing all critics with his heroics in the Test Series glory V England in Pak. Despite the skipper's comments that staying away had helped the player, Salman told me that he wanted to prove Inzamam-Bob wrong so dearly and that's what he did.

Some are raving about Ahmed Shahzad but somehow I do not see in him a player capable of bettering Salman Butt. Can anyone imagine that he would have scored against McGrath and Warne?

Posted by mithoauau on (July 9, 2009, 12:53 GMT)

I agree where Ramiz and Shoail is comming from, but as long as we have got hard head people in PCB it wont happen near in future to find real good prospect in Opening and middle order. when a new player starts playing for Pakistan they want to play for country, as their time clicks they become as a hero and their game dies like Shoaib Malik. Saqlain was discared coz Malik had the variety of classic off spin bowling and his batting was a plus point.

As its written in the column Younis and Yousif era is about to end and we dont want to bother new players grooming among them like Fawad Alam. Consistancy in selection is the major problem since Imran Khan left, Fasil in and out Imran Nazir can be a good opening partner with Ahmed Shazeb or with Butt......last but not least God knows where Anwar Ali is. Pak A team is on Australia A tour two test been played he was not in. who is Anwar Ali he was the one who helped Pakistan under 19 to win the world cup in 2005 with is massive swing art.t

Posted by mahmoodsiddique on (July 9, 2009, 10:35 GMT)

The problems of Openers is more of a self made problem by the tour selectors. Soaib Malik was tried as an opener for 7 test and when he scored 148* he was discarded as an opener. Similarly Kamran Akmal's record as an opener in the last 2 years 42, 52 and 71 and this is against a team like SA. Ahmed Shezhad is an excellent prospect and a very technically correct batsman and after proving himself against australia he was played in T20 for which he is not suited at all. Test cricket is the ideal place for Shezad. He is the best prospect since saeed anwar and SL was an ideal place to start before he faces Australia in Australia later this year. By moving shoaib malik to open a allrounder can be played at number six which should be picked from Razzak, Afridi or Alam depending upon the pitch.

Posted by imrankhanno1 on (July 9, 2009, 10:19 GMT)

they fail and in the process look unfashionably out of place. Yes, in ODI's and twenty 20's they can camouflage into the scenery however in the longer game any faults are so over exposed.

Long note that this is, his one point he made, was that amongst all the openers he saw, Two openers who he believed had the aptitude and ability beyond Salman Butt were current opener Khurram Manzoor and young Afaq Raheem of ZTBL. Of course, naturally he backed himself to figure amongst the crop sometime in the future. Lets see how his hypothesis develops!

Posted by imrankhanno1 on (July 9, 2009, 10:08 GMT)

Thus, turning the ratios into his favour.When I asked of him his analysis of fellow openers around the land, his assessment was that in terms of braveness and single minded clarity to execute a shot, the process was being implmented in a very talented and profitable manner. However, the next stage, and arguably the most important stage, espeically as a new ball opener. The mental application and ability to refresh and recontinue you gameplan ball after ball is simply not apparant. His experience showed him, that Pakistani psyche simply did not allow for mental fatigue or extended periods of graft and combativeness and were rather viewed with a negative slur. Thus, as a result Openers across the nations, are inclined to bat positively beyond reason. Attack when cornered, play big shots when the bowler is on top, and never accept a bowlers tact or outright skill to reign their own game in. As a result, as statistics show, sometimes they come and look a millions rupees, however more

Posted by imrankhanno1 on (July 9, 2009, 9:56 GMT)

I am Imran Khan. Readers from the USA cricketing circles will be familiar with my name. In relation to this article, I believe I am aptly placed to make some rather relevant analytical comments. My brother, whose name is Jibran Khan recently made his domestic debut in Pakistan playing both first class and list A games. (please feel free to check his stats). Born and raised in the UK,where he continues his quest to secure a full time professional contract, somewhat frustrated he travelled this winter to Pakistan.Somewhat unexpectedly if you are going by the form book, his enjoyed an outrageously successful beginning. Averaging 186 in List A after two innings against arguably the strongest two attacks on the domestic circuit (KRL and PIA) I was obliged to discover how this acheivment had occured. He revealed it was simply a methodology of approach he had built that enabled him to be selective enough and mentally strong enough to conquer every single delivery which he tackled as a moment

Posted by cricketwriter1980 on (July 9, 2009, 9:44 GMT)

Ramiz has a point but it has to be seen that neither of Sohail and Anwer played county cricket before or during their international careers, and were a product of Pakistan's domestic set up.

They were both technically fallible and temperamental time bombs.

In actuality Pakistan never had a specialist opener after Hanif, except for Sadiq, Mudassar and Shoaib Mohammad. In between Hanif and son Shoaib, came Majid, Mohsin, Ramiz, Sohail and Amwar, all middle order batsmen who became openers to fill a temporary void and settled in. This is the reason we didnt develop specialist openers because the specialist openers from the 1990s onward were ignored to accomodate talent in the middle. it was always, "Oh, we have 5 middle order bats so lets accomodate one at the top and play the friends rather than bring a new guy in".

Posted by kaiser1 on (July 9, 2009, 8:13 GMT)

Salman Butt is overrated overly confident. He seems to lack penetration, concentration, short sighted and lacks range of shorts plus care free from being dropped if underperforms. There should have been other guys in place like Ahmed shehzad and Fawad alam just like Aamir sohail who chose to be an opener so should be the case with Fawad Alam he should come out opening for Pakistan in Tests and ODIs and this butt head (S. Butt) be dropped immediately and made to work hard to earn back his slot otherwise he would be doing the same antics as he has been. Neither he was successful in England during T20 wc nor in the tests or in ODIS in Abu Dhabi. His fielding is pathetic his scoring is minimal and his running between the wkt is also poor. Come on Selectors get some decent guy for the job. Get rid of heart breakers and chokers. Misbah should learn to be V.Captain or resign the post.

Posted by Hangover on (July 9, 2009, 7:46 GMT)

its been more than a decade when saeed anwar made 194 alone vs india [still a World Record]. now most of the time the pakistan team struggle to make 194 as a total 50 over (ODIs). i believe the oldtimers were willing to put in the effort of spedning 100s of hours in the ground training... they say in boxing that for a 40 minutes match of 12 rounds you have to train for 4000 hours. i beleive pakistanies are nt willing to put it effort at all and are looking for easy meal and thats why the pak opers are the prey to most of the bowlers in all forms of cricket. looking at aussie combinations gilcrist and hyden, one believe that openers are supposed to b hunters.. but most of the pakistanis openers are hunted. cricket is nt a rocket science. just play the bad balls and defend the good balls and in the process if any good ball is able to stumble u, no one will blame. but now it seems pak opening problem is a uncurable discease.

Posted by vswami on (July 9, 2009, 7:39 GMT)

I dont think T20 has anything to do with the technical deficiencies of the openers. I would attribute it to lack of swing bowling at the top of the innings. The climate and pitches are hardly conducive to swing bowling with the new ball ( and with low bounce too ). Technically you see most top order Pakistani batsmen swinging the bat through the line of the ball, with no adjustment for any swing. Whatever adjustment is required, comes exclusively with hands and wrists and thats why the feet are all over the place. The moment there is some swing, the technique goes to pieces as the feet movement dont help with countering the swing. Its mysterious why India and Sri Lanka continue to produce batsmen at the top who are technically much tighter, under the same conditions.

Posted by nadal786 on (July 9, 2009, 7:36 GMT)

imran nazir and imran farhat need to open!

Posted by bhushanjain78007 on (July 9, 2009, 7:14 GMT)

very good introspection about the pakistan's biggest problem , which they have deterintg from a decade .When they are going to understand that openers are the integral part of the team .How can they ignore the fact that good openers can single handedly win a match ?In pakistan's perspective , now it is too late to find a good opener .Instead they can give a chance to malik as an opener alongwith butt , since this pair needs some time to get settled. And it would be quite unfruitful to test young openers right now in one dayers.Also since opening slot also demands consistency & ability to play long innings & these players have both. my pick in odis butt,malik,afridi,younis,yousuf,misbah,akmal,razzaq,tanvir,gul,ajmal

they can give opputunities to the youngsters in test matches.

Posted by akafen1985 on (July 9, 2009, 4:40 GMT)

Oddly enough the opening problem is not a big problem. The actual selection of openers for each distinct form of the game is a problem. For example, Shahzaib Hasan was picked for the T20 World Cup along with Ahmed Shehzad neither belonged in the touring squad. Ahmed Shehzad is more of a one day and test player while Shahzaib despite his aggression lacks the range of shots to consistently threaten. He was badly exposed against Sri Lanka quality. Unlike Ramiz Raja's era where there were no openers we have plenty to choose from. The problem is, we choose the wrong guy for the wrong format. Openers Shahid Yousuf Umar Akmal Afaq Raheem Umar Amin Shoaib Khan Ahmed Shehzad Kamran Younis Azeem Ghumman Nasir Jamshed Azhar Ali Khalid Latif Khurram Manzoor Mohammad Wasim Imran Nazir Imran Farhat Taufeeq Umar Yasir Hameed Salman Butt

T20 Imran Nazir Shahid Afridi

ODI Salman Butt Kamran Akmal

Test Salman Butt Yasir Hameed

Posted by Sampath_KCS on (July 9, 2009, 3:30 GMT)

Very good thoughts gathered by Sidharth.The objective of the coaches about 10-15 years ago was to produce cricketers to play the ultimate of the game The Test Cricket. But with the introduction of too many ODI competitions they looked for developing cricketers who can score quick runs. With the T20s it took a u turn & now they want hitters who can plant their front leg or back leg any where they want , who are ready to play at any position in the line, to hit the ball out of the park. This is why most of the teams finding it difficult to find the better batter for the correct position & keep on shuffling the batting line. I can remember Great Gavaskar touched on IPL & its impacts to the game. This has done serious damage to the sub-continent cricketing nations like Pakistan, India & Sri Lanka. Luckily in SL the school cricket structure is so strong therefore we have talent still coming in. But for the countries that aren't so should look at it & take action before it is too late.

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