Prior to the ongoing Pakistan/Sri Lanka cricket series, there was a lot of discussion in local sporting circles about a large chunk of the visiting team comprising of players that in the presence of more established ones would be classified as “unwanted”. Monday’s T20 series humiliation for Pakistan made it evident that it was, in fact, the hosts and by no means the Lankans who selected their third-string players (let alone second) for the series.
Misbah Ul Haq, the newly appointed Chief Selector/Head Coach/Batting Coach/God knows what else, has proven he has a keen eye for players that must strictly not be in the team and can exercise his right to somehow get them in as he pleases.
Starting from the gentleman with blonde streaks and a face glowing more than Scarlett Johannson, Ahmed Shehzad. Wasted precious deliveries when the asking rate was climbing and couldn’t middle one. Full marks to the show pony for his audacity to still want to sport national colors at the expense of the country’s honor, in spite of all his batting flaws. Perhaps the biggest favor he can now do to the nation and the sport itself is by never holding a cricket bat ever again.
Next up, the man who refuses to learn from his mistakes, Umar Akmal. All his “hard work” in the gym he posted videos of on social media sometime back resulted in two golden ducks in two consecutive matches. What’s worse, his presence made cousin Babar Azam forget how to bat too! In the 2nd T20 Akmal who could have negotiated the first delivery conservatively, went for a cut shot off a wrong one, which cost him his wicket and implied he can never be taught how to be responsible. If Mickey Arthur once insulted Umar Akmal by calling him names (which the latter cribbed about as part of one of the million controversies attached to his career as an international cricketer), you by now can tell the South African had legitimate reasons to do so, after all.
It wasn’t just the players making a comeback who were a sheer disappointment. The regular members were equally atrocious. Mohammad Amir, to whom, money has always been the name of the game, a recent evidence of which is his decision to retire from Tests to prolong his white ball career (and more importantly his life as a franchise cricketer) lacked the lethal vibe of a fast bowler. He seems to play every single game for Pakistan just to tick a box and certainly not to prove his worth. Why does he walk into the side every time if winning matches for his country seemingly doesn’t interest him anymore? How long will his name keep taking precedence over his performances?
Asif Ali, who has been given dozens of chances never really unleashed himself as a “big bitter of the ball” that commentators from Pakistan keep calling him for reasons best known to them. He couldn’t even connect full tosses in the 2nd T20 where the team needed him to fire. It is not just one game where he has let the nation down. He seems to have taken up being a total flop as a full-time hobby. His never-ending poor run makes him one of the top contenders to be driven out of the team on priority basis.
The skipper himself has been under the cosh for various reasons and rightly so. The fact that Sarfaraz backed failures like Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal after their dismal show in the first T20, let Iftikhar Ahmed be dropped and Haris Sohail/Abid Ali be ignored, makes him party to the overall selection blunder. His field placements and bowling changes are anything but impressive. His individual form as a player leaves much to be desired. One wonders sometimes if he really is the best wicketkeeper batsman in the country at the moment. Probably not. Time for him to have a taste of wilderness, perhaps.
Apart from weaknesses of the players, the strategic aspect of the game was also were Pakistan team were found wanting. Their pace attack lacked much-needed yorkers when the Sri Lankans were going berserk with the bat. All our pacers did was bowl short or length deliveries, something they have been obsessed with for ages. It never worked for us before and never will in the future. The Sri Lankan bowlers on the other hand were spot on with their line and length in spite of the absence of big names like Malinga, a great exponent of bowling in the blockhole. Not sure if Pakistan’s bowling coach Waqar Younis asked any of our bowlers to bowl “toe-crushers” like he did back in the day. Perhaps he has taken a leaf out of Grant Flower’s book by taking a vow of silence, even if our bowlers keep spraying deliveries all over the pitch. All is well as long as the pay-cheque arrives in time, isn’t it?
Pakistan’s average show in the World Cup should have been an eye-opener for the men who call the shots for Cricket in the country. Instead what it resulted in was something that often happens when the team fails to live up to the expectations associated with it; cosmetic changes. It’s not change of faces that will do the trick, especially when attitudes remain the same. If we really are to embrace newness, we will have to take some bold steps by not just bidding farewell to good-for-nothing names tarnishing the cricketing reputation of the country but also introducing a fair procedure for selection. The question is, can we really do it in a place where personal likes and dislikes, political influence, a professional dishonesty and towering egos dictate our cricketing affairs?