Matches (12)
ZIM v WI (1)
SA20 (1)
ILT20 (2)
BBL (1)
BPL 2023 (2)
Ranji Trophy (1)
WI 4-Day (3)
Super Smash (1)
Kamran Abbasi

Batting has changed, and Pakistan have not kept pace

In limited-overs cricket, they are a side woefully behind the pack, and it has to do with the way their batsmen come up through the system

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi
There has always been batting talent in Pakistan. It's the hard work that's lacking  •  AFP

There has always been batting talent in Pakistan. It's the hard work that's lacking  •  AFP

Let's talk about batting. Pakistan's batting. It's been talked about before - many times - but when your batsmen help you to No. 1 in Test cricket and drive you to the bottom in other formats, it needs to be discussed again. Not just discussed, it needs to be understood and addressed because the disparity is too great.
First, we need to understand what modern batting is. And for this we might turn to Graham Thorpe, the ECB's lead batting coach. Before the first Pakistan Test this summer, I hosted an event with him at Histon Cricket Club near Cambridge. He talked about his career, and he spoke mostly about batting.
When he spoke about batting method, he didn't speak about his batting method, which was gritty and pragmatic. He spoke about modern batting and future batting and what is required. He spoke about 360-degree run-scoring and fast hands. He spoke about generating momentum into a shot.
He spoke about unorthodox batting, or what we think is unorthodox batting, but will be normal batting in the future even if we think it is unorthodox now. He spoke about how England are embracing modern batting. He spoke about the sophistication in identifying future batting talents and the effort to make them, and the complexity in adapting coaching and mentoring to an individual's needs.
You don't need to take Thorpe's word for it, though perhaps you should because making batsmen is his job and England are doing rather well because of it. England might not yet be the best in any format, but they're impressive across them all - and there are any number of batsmen waiting to take the place of those who might fail in international cricket.
You need to look at what's happening in youth cricket in England, in youth county cricket, and in county academies. The system has its faults but they are making batsmen, batsmen who live Thorpe's vision, and they are making them from a young age.
The modern batsman isn't made when he has won a professional contract or when he has become an international cricketer. The modern batsman is made from a young age, with effort and time and investment and repetition and muscle memory. England are making better and better batsmen despite recreational participation in cricket dropping year on year.
It wasn't so long ago - less than 20 years - that England were bottom of the Test rankings. In August 1999, after losing a home series to New Zealand, England were the worst Test team in the world.
Even more recently England were off the pace in limited-overs cricket. All that has changed. Change has taken planning and structure and commitment and facilities and, importantly, an eye for talent.
Pakistan aren't making batsmen. Pakistan are making a mess of batting. That isn't itself new. Pakistan have always made a mess of batting to some degree. Just as Indians have peered over the border with envious eyes at Pakistan's pace bowlers, Pakistanis have done the same, looking at India's batsmen.
Once Younis and Misbah are gone, only Asad Shafiq is established to lead the next generation of Test batsmen. Unless Pakistan acts now, the decline in one-day cricket will be followed by a collapse in Test cricket
India has a batting culture and it continues to inspire. Pakistan has a batting culture too, but you wouldn't know it. Indeed there was a time when, despite the stylists over the border, you'd judge Pakistan's batting to be stronger.
That's a long time ago. Pakistan now makes hard work of batting for the simple reason that they aren't putting in the hard work. Making a batsman requires talent, yes, but it also requires effort, time, investment, and muscle memory. Consistent hitting and shot execution require a honed technique, mental bravery, and impeccable preparation.
On matters of effort Pakistan cricket falls short. When the game changed at the end of the 1990s, Pakistan failed to change with it. The talent pool didn't change. If anything, in desperate times cricket became more central to the nation's self-worth. But the performance of the batsmen continued to decline.
I say again, the talent pool doesn't change. From the 1970s to the 1990s, Pakistan produced world-class batsmen capable of excelling in both formats. Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan, Javed Miandad, Salim Malik, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, Mohammad Yousuf. Not too many, just enough. Even Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq are really from that era.
You see the problem. Nobody of genuine substance, of world-class standing, has emerged for a decade or more. If the talent pool remains stable, then how can that be? The answer is that the game has changed. Batting has changed. And Pakistan's preparation of batsmen hasn't changed with it. When hard work was required, it wasn't done or prioritised. The cricket board didn't realise or care. Pakistan still thought that talent was enough.
Pakistan got away with it for too long thanks to their bowlers. Despite a broken infrastructure and inadequate domestic cricket, Pakistan continues to produce world-class pacemen and spinners.
Why is that? Well, a bowler can be made later, once his physique is established. A bowler can be developed with less support than a batsman. The luckiest bowlers boast a natural athleticism and don't need a bowling machine or someone willing to wield a sidearm to sharpen their skills. Yes, bowling requires high skill and fitness, but the fact that you haven't prepared since you were 12 years old or younger won't harm you as much as it will in modern batting.
Pakistan's decline in batting, then, was covered up by the bowlers. Until recently, that is, when two regulatory changes made Pakistan's bowling less effective in limited-overs cricket. First, in 2011, two white balls were introduced in one-day internationals. Now there is less reverse swing to pull back a runaway innings.
But Pakistan stumbled on until the ICC clamped down on the actions of mystery spinners. That left Pakistan's batting exposed. It left its pace bowlers exposed. It left the emperor with no clothes. Pakistan's limited-overs performances fell off a cliff.
Pakistan still has good bowlers. The problem isn't as deep as the batting. It doesn't necessarily have good bowling. That can be put right with a modern coach and the quality of bowlers at his disposal.
Look no further than the evolution of Pakistan's bowling during the limited-overs series against England. During the T20 at Old Trafford, Pakistan's bowlers offered something different, something new. They won the match with an exceptional display, a world-class effort.
The batting came off too, at Old Trafford and in Cardiff. But there is some way to go before the right people are batting in the right positions and playing the right way. You don't end up ninth in the world for no reason. It has been said before: Pakistan's one-day batting is stuck in the 1990s. It's dot-ball cricket in a boundary world.
Yet, the end of the England tour offered a vision, the slightest hint, of something better.
When Mickey Arthur took charge as coach, he must have wondered at the disparity between Test and one-day performance - but not for long. The problem was obvious. The old virtues and teachings remain relevant to Test cricket, where Younis and Misbah are taking responsibility, leading and inspiring the next generation. Limited-overs cricket is different - and Pakistan haven't adapted.
But once Younis and Misbah are gone, only Asad Shafiq is established to lead the next generation of Test batsmen. Unless Pakistan acts now, the decline in one-day cricket will be followed by a collapse in Test cricket. The modern batting skills developed for T20 and one-day cricket are diffusing upstream, and will eventually transform Test cricket too.
Talent isn't enough, it's time for hard work. That hard work isn't just with the national team. It is there but also in academies, in domestic cricket, and on A tours, to prepare the next generation of batsmen. Pakistan cricket's greatest bane is its failure in player development. That needs to end or cricket will go the way of squash and hockey.
Responsibility for the failure rests squarely with the cricket board. The board creates the infrastructure, organises domestic cricket and academies, and appoints selectors and coaches. The board must act because Arthur can only succeed with its support - and he knows what's required.
Cricket is more a batsman's game than it has ever been but Pakistan aren't making batsmen. Yet they could. We've seen it in Test cricket. We saw glimpses towards the end of the limited-overs series. Pakistan's batting isn't done yet. It needs hard work, not just talent.
An entertaining tour of England is a moment to savour but it isn't a moment to be self-satisfied. It's a moment to reflect and analyse and build for the long term, for Pakistan leave England with an unexpected positivity and ambition, a Test ranking to preserve and a World Cup place to secure.
Pakistan are still in the game, fighting. They kill your hope and then they raise it from the depths. The story of Pakistan cricket moves on but the emotions endure.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. @KamranAbbasi