Pakistani cricket fans received a rude shock on Sunday, when Pakistan crashed out of the Morocco Cup 2002. Everyone here had huge expectations after their incredible performance in the Super Challenge II against Australia, regarded by most as the best one-day team. Fans are just recovering from this shock and one can expect a lot of criticism and uproar in the next few days. It is very easy to be over critical of Pakistan's performance and ignore the positives that came out from this tournament. The Pakistani side played well, but was a little unlucky to come out on the losing side in three close encounters. In all three matches that the team lost while chasing, they were very much in the game, but the middle order wilted under the pressure exerted by the opposition. However, the Pakistan side and its management have a lot to think about, on everything ranging from team combination to the ideal batting order.
Perhaps the top issue is the oft-repeated 'poor chasers' factor. This has been said for a number of years, and no progress seems to have been made in this department. The bowling attack's brilliance has often knocked over oppositions for meager totals, but the batsmen have failed to capitalize time and time again. Quite realistically, any total within the 250 mark, on perfectly flat batting tracks, is quite gettable and if our batsman cannot cope with that, then it will always be difficult to defeat strong oppositions. It almost seems as if the Pakistan team is throwing themselves at the mercy of the toss, because opposition teams almost always opt to bat first, keeping in view Pakistan's reputation of being poor chasers.
One can't but feel the main reason for the frequent collapses is the lack of responsibility by the top order and losing 2 to 3 wickets in the first fifteen overs. I think the mistake the team management made in the last match against South Africa, was fiddling with the opening slot. While Shoaib Malik may be a highly talented cricketer, he is not yet capable enough to justify his place as an opener. The combination of Saeed Anwar and Imran Nazir must be allowed to settle, and then only can one expect them to deliver. Saeed Anwar plays a very important role, firstly he is a calming influence on Imran Nazir, and secondly he has the ability to play a long innings. That is exactly what we need to be successful chasers, a man who can play through the innings and allow the stroke makers to bat around him. Thus, having bits and pieces cricketers at the top of the order makes no sense at all. Saeed Anwar along with Inzamam and Youhana have to assume the responsibility of batting through the innings.
The second problem facing the side is that while we get off to blazing starts, the momentum is totally broken when a couple of wickets are lost. After Afridi set the platform on Sunday, with a smashing 62, Inzamam and Youhana allowed the innings to stagnate after that. That meant the run rate kept creeping up, which eventually resulted in the batsman getting out in attempts to push on the scoring rate. The middle order will have to be a little more positive and try and rotate the strike regularly when they come in. Inzamam especially starts off at a snail's pace, which builds the pressure on the man down the other end when chasing a target. This is the main reason, why we have sudden middle order collapses because the likes of Razzaq and Younis Khan have no time to settle when they come in, and have to push on from the outset. We have relied too often on our bowling to win us matches, its time that the batsmen stand up and make their presence felt. The batting order looks magnificent on paper, with Wasim Akram coming in at number 9, its simply a question of clicking as a unit.
However, Pakistan can take a lot of positives from this tournament as well, the main one being athe emergence of Shahid Afridi as a genuine all-rounder. Afridi's potential had never been realized as a bowler, and ever since he has been entrusted the duties of being one of the regular five bowlers he has done brilliantly. He is bowling to his field, and getting through his overs quickly in the middle stages without being expensive. Besides that his knock in the final match was a pleasant surprise, as he showed a lot of maturity, being very selective in his shot making. His position in the batting order must remain flexible, as was the case in this tournament, but sending him lower than the number 7 position is a waste of his talent. Azhar Mahmood was also very impressive in the concluding match with both bat and ball, and this gives the team a lot of flexibility, as he can be slotted in when Shoaib Akhtar is not around or out of form. The experienced duo of Wasim and Waqar, were brilliant as usual, taking wickets and were also very economical, and really no praise is enough for their efforts.
While being eliminated from the Morocco Cup 2002, was definitely a disappointment, it might have just given the Pakistan team an ideal chance to contemplate on their weaknesses before a grueling season ahead. The team is still one of the most competitive one-day outfits, only some departments require a bit of fine tuning. One hopes that they shall learn from their mistakes, and perform well in the upcoming series in Kenya and the ICC trophy in Sri Lanka.