Pakistan's think tanks are to blame for the Shoaib Malik problem

His numbers have been dismal over the last four years - more so in England. Why does he keep getting picked?

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
Shoaib Malik has deceptively decent overall batting figures over the last four years  •  AFP

Shoaib Malik has deceptively decent overall batting figures over the last four years  •  AFP

Shoaib Malik has tweeted (or retweeted) 12 times since the start of the World Cup. That is four more than the number of runs he has scored since the start of the World Cup. He has, at least, scored one more run than he has put up Insta posts.
A player's social media activity has no bearing on his performances. It is certainly not a metric by which to crucify him. Else, the same could be said of Hasan Ali, who has many more tweets than wickets in this tournament; and this is probably true of any number of other flops. Except, with Malik it is a valid reference point because one, the strong suspicion remains that his ODI career stood resurrected in 2015 as much because of his social media profile as anything he had actually done on the field, and two, that profile has accorded him a larger-than-life status that makes him out to be a bigger player than he actually has been over four years.
If that sounds too blunt, let some numbers remind you of a few truths. First, when he was dropped after a disastrous Champions Trophy campaign in 2013 (0, 8 and 17 in that event, in case you'd forgotten), it was on the back of a three-and-a-half-year run of 29 ODIs in which he averaged 18.86 with zero fifties.
Three-and-a-half-years: even accounting for a one-year absence following the spot-fixing tour, during which time he was getting his name cleared by an integrity committee, that is a long run for those kinds of numbers. So long that at the end of it, for a player who was still not old at 31 but who had played for Pakistan for 14 years by that stage, that should really have been that. It wasn't as if Pakistan was discarding a young player who had not been given enough chances. By then they should have worked out exactly what value Malik brought - or did not bring.
Nope. Malik was recalled to the ODI side after the 2015 World Cup. It was his luck that the opponents were Zimbabwe at home (and not Bangladesh away just before) but he was luckier in being recalled in the first place. In the time he was out, he only played eight List A games. Great numbers in those, mind you - averaging nearly 70, striking at 100 - but it was just eight games. There were younger guys in that period who were also scoring runs and over a larger number of games too.
If you knew him only through social media, you'd think he was a legend. It was never said outright but kind of assumed; a status not commensurate with achievement
He was scoring T20 runs around the world, of course, except even there he had already returned to that format for Pakistan, in a world event (the World T20 in 2014), and had failed.
Immediately on his ODI return he scored a hundred against Zimbabwe on an emotional night in Lahore, shook hands with every journalist at the post-match presser, and without even snapping his fingers, seemingly magicked away his past.
The handshakes were important because he had had a prickly relationship with the press (once making a big show of recording a press conference himself to make sure he would not be misquoted) and this was part of a sustained PR reboot. His social media profile was not built organically off achievement but assiduously, off itself, off the principle that the more prominent you appear to be on social media, the more prominent you are. If you knew him only through social media, you'd think he was a legend. It was never said outright but kind of assumed; a status not commensurate with achievement. His tweets at this World Cup, for instance: getting in on some Yuvraj love, Eid greetings to the nation, and then, of course, a senior-statesmanlike plea to not criticise and get personal post-India. He was right, more so because the attacks did extend to his family. Except, this also came off in the cool, detached tone of a man not right in the middle contributing to the mess, but of one looking down on it from above, in passing. As neat a deflection as any he played off those hips to fine leg.
It's not his fault he's here or that Pakistan are in disarray. He - like any player - would not only kill to be part of a World Cup but also believe they are good enough to be part of it. No, this is on Pakistan's think tanks of the last four years: two captains, two coaches, two chief selectors and their many minions, who, the staggering conclusion must be, don't have anyone who can parse through some really basic numbers. If they did, perhaps a simple search would have told them that Malik's record from the last World Cup to this one was really not what it seemed. If you took out the bottom four teams in that period, his average falls to under 30. His strike rate is 81, and at No. 5, and sometimes 6, that strike rate is precisely what Pakistan's batting problem has been. There are some 30s and 40s there, you might think, which would be fine for a batsman in his first season of international cricket, not his 20th.
Look at where that places him against others who have played a minimum of 35 innings in between World Cups and against the same opponents. Only five players average less than him, and of those, four are legitimately allrounders and so contribute elsewhere. Malik has not been an allrounder since he became captain, in 2007.
The much simpler thing to do would have been to look at his ODI record in England, which is astonishing. Before this World Cup, Malik was averaging 14.60 in England. That is not a small sample size, where one poor series can have an outsize impact; it is built over 16 years and 25 ODIs, in ICC events, in bilateral series, on old England pitches and new England pitches. There are 11 single-figure scores in there, including three ducks. That's before the 8, 0 and 0 in this World Cup.
Maybe they do know these numbers. And maybe hard, cold numbers are not important to them, or not as important as seniority and experience. Those are the only reasons Pakistan have given privately and publicly for his continued selection here. Experience. Calm. Wise. It sounds less like a player and more like the tagline for some new Apple gadget.
Also, that sounds like a tacit admission that Sarfaraz Ahmed, 110 ODIs in, a captain at every level since since his U-19 days, is not a leader enough. Or that Mohammad Hafeez - 200-plus ODIs like Malik - is not enough of a guiding hand.
These are, in any case, Malik's final days in 50-over cricket. He will leave behind an absolute jalebi of a 20-year career, best navigated through a series of what-ifs. What if his action hadn't been reported early in his career, or if he had fixed it enough to keep thinking of himself a bowler? What if he had continued at one or two-down in Pakistan's ODI batting order, where Bob Woolmer thought he was best used? What if - and none is as important as this - Pakistan hadn't made him captain in 2007? Hadn't pulled him into leading a team undergoing full-scale implosion, in a country undergoing a full-scale implosion?
What if Pakistan was not genetically beholden to seniority and had not gone back to him in 2015? What if they had shown more faith in, say, Mohammad Rizwan? What if they believed - as they currently don't - that Asif Ali could bat six? What if they convinced Hafeez to play at five or six instead? What if Sarfaraz Ahmed had shown a little more self-belief and become the number five himself?
So many what-ifs, and now, so little point.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo