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Pakistan cricket

September 11, 2013

Mediocrity isn't helping Pakistan

Ali Umair Chaudhry

Shoaib Malik powers one down the ground, India v Pakistan, 1st T20, Bangalore, December 25, 2012
Pakistan must get rid of the notion that performance against India is the sole benchmark for selection © BCCI

What makes a team great? Throughout history, it has been the desire of the most ambitious of men to mould a group towards a certain idealistic perception of excellence. From Plato to the Third Reich, excellence has been a muse for mankind in pursuits virtuous or otherwise.

This quest had carried on into the endeavour of professional sport, and fortunately, with results far less gruesome - if one can overlook Buzkashi, Afghanistan's version of Silence of the Lambs.

As in all other activities, very rarely is excellence achieved in competitive sport where the individual units (players) of a combined whole (team) are comprised of an unexceptional quality. There have been few rare cases that implore us to think otherwise, but this is essentially in sports where the very nature of the game allows individual brilliance to decisively fashion the difference between two sides. Michael Jordan's six championships with the Chicago Bulls were the result of one man's paramount ability and drive over his contemporaries. Pippen was classy, Rodman was effective, but the rest of the roster was quite pedestrian.

Cricket, and especially Test cricket, is no basketball; it is a fundamentally different game in temperament and structure. In cricket, the cumulative tally of individual statistical output is much more vital here than 'team chemistry' or the dominance of one or two people. Yes, a record-breaker like Muttiah Muralitharan can single-handedly win you a Test every now and then; but Murali, and the three other world-class performers in the Sri Lankan outfit from the last decade, couldn't transform their team into consistent winners.

The schoolyard bullying of the 90s Australian era was not a work of probability. You may cast votes for hard work, team chemistry and the Australian domestic cricket structure. But more than any other factor, the reason for their success was the irrefutable fact that a majority of their players were (or went on to become) naturally gifted individuals with an array of personal glories and achievements; each capable of being marketed as a superstar of the modern game. From a similar standard, the recent rise of South Africa is no surprise.

It's an interesting exercise to look at the current Pakistan squad in this context. The fact remains that this Pakistani outfit, despite some recent success, is a tragedy in waiting. Pakistan's recent triumphs were in spin-friendly conditions where even the most undistinguished Pakistani batsmen have historically held their own. If each match in the next few years is in similar conditions, Pakistan may be fairly confident of a fair bit of success. But a very simple lesson from history could be learnt just about right now. To be a good side, you must have players that are capable of excellence in all conditions.

The first anomaly to this clause is Mohammad Hafeez, perhaps the most inflexible opener to have survived for so long. An average under 29 at a strike-rate in the low 70s would not have been acceptable even in the 90s. Not only does Hafeez score very little, he does it at a detrimental rate. Most of his centuries have been against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and an Indian bowling unit a tad better than the one in Lagaan. Against any half-decent bowling unit, Hafeez is an eyesore. He premeditatedly defends countless deliveries, good and bad, hits a couple of solid strokes, and gets out. While it may just make a little sense to have him as a lower-order ODI allrounder, he doesn't merit automatic selection in any other format. .

Not too long ago, Pakistan's opener alongside Hafeez was Imran Nazir, the poor man's Shahid Afridi. Yes, that is a lot of batting poverty. There are great strikers of the cricket ball (think MS Dhoni) and then there are those, who like Nazir, are just strikers.

Then there is Sohail Tanvir. The most Sohail can achieve considering his erratic control over the cricket ball at this ripe old age is to round up a 33-35 Test match bowling average. Is this the statistical output for the spearhead of a bowling dynasty?

Which brings me to the fundamental question here: why surround yourself with players who have not only been unable to show sufficient talent to the naked eye (no one questions the talent of an Umar Akmal) but have persistently handed out pedestrian statistical output? Who ever raised a Rome with an army of Hun tribesmen? Or is it that we do not want to construct a Rome, and are content with our little village?

Mohammad Yousuf is perhaps classiest batsman the country has ever produced. A 52.29 average with 24 centuries in 90 Tests ranks him with the best. A player of his class being sidelined at the peak of his powers due to any reason in a team with a defenseless batting lineup is unacceptable. Unless Yousuf has a knack for stealing cricket bats in the dressing room during the tea interval, there seems to be very little in wasting such a player due to disagreements with previous board employees and players who have probably made a fraction of his contribution to the game.

Pakistan, like any team, or sporting unit, will ideally want a team that continues winning over a succession of years, perhaps the better part of a decade. That should provide reason to the method and madness employed every day by employing thousands of employees and spending billions of taxpayer rupees into the cricketing infrastructure. Additionally, Pakistan must get rid of the notion that performance against India is the sole benchmark for selection, as proven by the persistent selections of Salman Butt and Shoaib Malik over the years.

Pakistan certainly is not without talent. Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shahzad are ample proof of this. They are extremely talented individuals who often fail to make the team due to the opener's spot being reserved for the likes of Imran Farhat and Hafeez.

My query to those who question selection based on pure statistics and the visual aura of a player is: what else is to be the criterion? Is it an innate talent in chewing gum? Or the subtlety with which a player enters the good books of Misbah-Ul-Haq?

Cricket is a team sport where success lies more on the sum of individual productivity in comparison to harmony in operation. When a batsman goes out to the crease, he must face the delivery and perform alone. It is time the country's cricket board looks at the composition of the team from a long-term point of view. Are we just looking towards chance and Saeed Ajmal to help us win the next series or are we looking to mould a team of extremely talented individuals, each capable of turning the game on its head?

Pakistan just might win a few more series, or they might not; either way, Dale Steyn on a Johannesburg pitch would almost always dismiss Hafeez for very little. In the long run, and in formats where a couple of talented players cannot always win you an entire match, we might be headed towards a big disappointment.

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by Dummy4 on (September 13, 2013, 6:46 GMT)

We never c Australian Fawad Ahmed in Pakistan . But see Australians are more capable to find talent even in pakistan they found it and took it... Shame on you pakistani selectors

Posted by Dummy4 on (September 13, 2013, 6:34 GMT)

@asim229 remove dhoni and India would be a b grade team? Man, you seriously have some issues about having knowledge about cricket...

There are at least three members in Indian team who can take over the reigns of captaincy from Dhoni and be good at the task... Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and make sure that the difference between the quality of Indian unit and that of pakistan is maintained for years to come.

The problem is ... as much as you guys were better than us in 90's (that too at imes)... you have failed to beat us in any WC match... and I am sure you know that Dhoni was not the part of all those matches...

You guys fear the Indian factor and can never stand to the fact that this team is outdoing you in every department now

Posted by VENKATACHALAM on (September 13, 2013, 5:47 GMT)

An excellent article straight from the heart. I have doubts over just two issues: is Mohammad Yousuf still willing and fit to play for Pakistan? Why so much hatred for Imran Farhat- He bats better than both Hafeez and Khurram Manzoor.

Posted by James on (September 13, 2013, 5:32 GMT)

"Pakistan must get rid of the notion that performance against India is the sole benchmark for selection" Very aptly put! I can add a few more names that stayed on only because they had an occasional success against India- players like Kamran Akmal, Gul, hardly deserved the long run that they got in test and ODIs. Nows a chance to recoup. Amir's ban should be almost through-that should remove any problems in bowling. Yes, talent is the key word- talented guys should be given a longer run. Players like Umar Akmal, Jamshed. Shehzad also looks a long term prospect. Pakistan certainly have a good core of a team that can become very good if nurtured for a couple of years.

Posted by Dummy4 on (September 12, 2013, 21:20 GMT)

The writer's opinion is 100% correct. Pakistan needs to keep the naturally talented Umer Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad , Haris, Adnan Akmal & Nasir Jamsher in all the versions of the game and set aside Hafeez, Imran Farhat, Sarfraz, Khurrum , Asad Shafiq as they have basic flaws . Bowling, once great advantage has become a big concern. We must loccate the raw hand talent on Tehsil & district level to earn some respect in the game.

Posted by Nasser on (September 12, 2013, 17:03 GMT)

Test position of 4 is flattering for Pakistan. With poor fielding and poor batting, excluding Misbah (who is a genius in consistency - but has as his biggest and only fault being the inability to rotate batting), this team deserves a test position no higher than 5th. It will get there may be after this series and definitely 6th or 7th position after test series with South Africa next month, as the positios between 4th and 7th are within 4 points.

Posted by Pintu on (September 12, 2013, 16:48 GMT)

Pakistan team has been always ruined by the politics of the team management. Is it not a pity that a great player like Mohammad Yusuf is sitting on the bench?...many young players can learn from his as well. The President should step in to get rid of the selection team!

Posted by M on (September 12, 2013, 15:39 GMT)

Well spotted @irishwolfhound! It has become a fashion of late, to citicise every move on or off the cricket field by the Pakistani team. This test team is the same that beat England 3-0 just over a year ago. And talking of Salman Butt, Imran farhat and the likes is useless. Let us, for once, concentrate on the positives...

Posted by Dummy4 on (September 12, 2013, 13:44 GMT)

@Posted by asim229 on (September 12, 2013, 4:44 GMT): I do agree with other stuff. But about openers i dont, the openers you are referring to who have changed their approach because of misbah were slow in their whole career. Ahmed has list A strike rate of 76. Misbah can change them in odis but what about domestic. Domestic is a relatively easy level. How can we expect some 1 to score at 100+ SR if he was not able to do that on Flat wickets in Pakistan?

Problem is that these young players we are testing are not that good. Just because of t20 or 1 off innings we think they are super aggressive & great players. Real domestic performers are being ignored. Very good example in this squad. Shaan is way down in the list of good domestic openers. I am also of the view that they should test youngsters but atleast select those who are doing some good at domestic level.

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