Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Harare, 2nd day September 11, 2013

The Professor's problem

Pakistan have a problem at the top of their order. Their experienced opener is struggling, and they are still having try-outs for the other spot

If Mohammad Hafeez makes a trip to Lake Kariba after this series, he would fancy his chances of returning with a decent stash, considering that every time he has gone fishing recently, he's caught something. The edge.

Twice in three innings against Zimbabwe and four times out of six in South Africa, Hafeez has been caught behind the stumps, chasing deliveries he should have left alone. Even on a placid pitch at Harare Sports Club, Hafeez's uncertainty outside the off stump was exposed by the moving ball.

This time it took 32 deliveries against an attack that took some time to find its line - understandably so, because one half of the opening pair, Brian Vitori, had not played a Test in 19 months - but it happened nonetheless. Vitori pitched the ball up and moved it away so that Hafeez had to play, and the outside edge carried to Hamilton Masakadza at first slip.

Vitori would have seen Hafeez's doubt against previous deliveries. He had shouldered arms tentatively when Vitori first found movement and was beaten when he tried to defend on the back foot. Against another delivery, Hafeez was surprised by the lack of bounce and withdrew his bat too late. There was an edge but it fell short of first slip.

That was just before lunch and it must have got Vitori thinking. During the break, someone may have reminded him how Hafeez had been dismissed in the first Test. He had been caught in his crease by Tendai Chatara and pushed forward, only to be caught at second slip in the first innings.

Vitori and Chatara are no Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander but it may have been brought to their attention how the South African bowlers got the better of Hafeez six months ago. In five out of six innings, he edged - once onto his stumps - and the rest to be caught by the keeper or slips. The exception was when he played down the wrong line to one that moved across him and was trapped lbw. Steyn was responsible for four of those dismissals, moving the ball away from Hafeez every time.

With Vitori's natural angle taking the ball away from Hafeez, he could use that to his advantage. And all that is before considering the dry spell Hafeez is experiencing in the longer format.

Hafeez has scored only one hundred and one fifty in his last three series and both of them were in batsmen-friendly conditions. His 196 was at the SSC and was followed by a 52 in Pallekele. On anything livelier, he has struggled.

Those who have watched him for years are not surprised and point to a distinct lack of improvement in his Test cricket. Hafeez's highest score against a major team outside the subcontinent is 95 against England at The Oval in 2006. Four of his five hundreds have come in his home country, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. The exception was 119 against Zimbabwe two years ago in Bulawayo, on a surface that was as flat as the attack he was facing.

With no marked progression in ten years of playing Test cricket, questions over whether Hafeez should continue opening are valid, especially with a series against South Africa ahead. He averages only 17 against them, and though pitches in the UAE are likely to offer little to the quicks and opening is likely to be less challenging than it is in Africa, Steyn and co will not make life easy for Hafeez.

His value as a spinner aside, Pakistan may have to consider other options if they hope to present a strong resistance upfront against the world's top-ranked team. Taufeeq Umar would appear the leading contender because of his record against South Africa. In six matches he played against them, he scored two hundreds and four fifties and averaged 60.83. However, most of those runs were scored ten years ago and whether Taufeeq can summon similar resolve is the question.

Imran Farhat is another candidate, although his presence seems to be anything but palatable to many Pakistan fans. He also has decent numbers against South Africa, an average of 36.83 in six Tests with a century and two fifties. He played against them in the most recent series and appeared in control when he scored 30 and 43. Or they could revert to Nasir Jamshed, who opened in two Tests in South Africa and was dropped after not faring well.

Alternatively, Pakistan could gamble on a youngster in Ahmed Shehzad. Although he has not played Test cricket, his limited-overs form in Zimbabwe hinted at promise and ability. They would have to risk partnering a rookie with Khurram Manzoor, who impressed Dav Whatmore on his comeback but is still re-finding his feet in international cricket.

Manzoor took a step towards doing that today, by scoring the first half-century by a Pakistan opener in five Tests this year. His partner Hafeez, on the other hand, may want to get fishing out of his system before taking on South Africa.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • jhg on September 13, 2013, 5:24 GMT

    tiem to move on and drop Hafeez, Misbah players like Farhat for good. Include fresh talent and give them a chance to prove

  • Mohammad on September 12, 2013, 16:46 GMT

    Its time to drop Hafeez from the tests and look for a new opener.Misbah and Younis always arrive in the situation when there are 2-3 wickets down for a low score which is due to Hafeez so its better to bring Taufeeq Umer back and if possible then look for a new opener for tests.

  • Mohammad on September 12, 2013, 10:52 GMT

    This is Pakistani life coming full circle for you. Hafeez was never an international cricket contender were it not for Misbah and their common association at Faisalabad. The languid Misbah nurtured and exalted him (needlessly) to a point that Hafeez became a direct threat to his own captaincy.

  • Raad on September 12, 2013, 10:18 GMT

    I'm sorry but Hafeez cannot be picked over Umar Akmal, Umar Amin, Fawad Alam and others as a batsman alone. He is being picked as an "allrounder" but it is more to do with his seniority and being vice-captain (and T20 captain). As such, the least he can do is be less stubborn and move down the order where he play his shots when the ball isn't moving. That combined with his golden arm against left handers there is no reason why he shouldn't be legitimately picked. I think Taufeeq Umar should open with Azhar Ali, followed by Younis, Asad, Misbah and Hafeez. Misbah and Younis should be spaced out so others hopefully can benefit from their stability.

  • Adnan on September 12, 2013, 9:11 GMT

    There is no place of Mr. Professor in test team. I fail to understand how many matches Misbah/Dav need to understand this simple thing? Why on earth, they didn't give chance to Shan Masood (he was selected as an opener). Taufeeq Umar should return for SA series as well as Nasir Jamshed.

  • Dummy4 on September 12, 2013, 8:11 GMT

    Toufeeq umar has got more as well. He has done good in his return. In SL & UAE. he was unfit for SA series and then Dropped for this tour out of no where. Had scored a 200 vs SL in UAE just recently. Toufeeq should be continued as he was good in past year or 2.

    Hafeez no doubt a value player in shorter format but he should not be playing in tests. He is not bowling much in tests. if they are using him as bowling allrounder, Which they need vs SA in UAE then he should bat at no 6.

    Even in UAE, during that England series, broad & Anderson had good number of wickets. Pitches do support fast bowling early on. Hafeez can't open there.

    Ahmed may not be good for tests. He isnt good in odis so test is a far away option. Imran farhat also a failure. Best option is Toufeeq umar.

  • Hassan on September 12, 2013, 8:05 GMT

    After reading this article and all comments, I perceived that limited word is used for Hafeez only, so he should limit himself to limited overs cricket and should not cross limits in unlimited overs game.

    I totally agree with this. I was about to bang my head on wall when I saw his name in the playing 11s but then I realized I'll only hurt myself not Hafeez so I stopped myself.

  • naeem on September 12, 2013, 7:30 GMT

    Again and again, return and re-return, old and old that is what selection committee is doing in recent history.

  • Anwar uz on September 12, 2013, 6:31 GMT

    The names bandied around for PAK batting line up goes to show how far they have fallen down in Cricket. Except for Younis and Misbah, no other name gives a supporter any confidence, Akmal brothers were good but seems to have lost it too. Pakistan is still holding it's rank only due to it's excellent bowling talents

  • Anwar uz on September 12, 2013, 6:14 GMT

    Hafiz as no.6 will not be much of use. As No.6 or No.7 will have to face the second new ball. Hafiz can be taken as 3rd spinner sans one less fast bowler and also be used as an extended tail of batting line up. Jamshed should have been given the opportunity to gain some experience at ZIM for the SA series.