Archive for April, 2009
The next few days bring an uncanny excitement to Pakistan cricket fans. We have seen captains changing, disasters wrecking sport in the nation and political and social turmoil affecting the morale of the Pakistani public and cricketers, but the next few days can improve the situation for everyone who has some kind of association with Pakistan.
A new leader is at the helm in the form of Younis Khan, a generally respected figure. Younis is one of the few stars of Pakistan cricket of the past decade who have not been involved in scandals or disgraceful incidents. Across the world Younis Khan is known as a friendly, caring individual who is deeply patriotic about his country and passionate about his culture, but who does not let that come in the way of respecting other countries and cultures. Although it is too early to speak in favour of or against Younis’s captaincy, he needs to lead with relentless aggression because that is the only way Pakistan can become a top side.
The top performers for Pakistan going into this series are Younis and Umar Gul. Whereas
Younis has been Pakistan’s best batsmen for almost 2 years now, Gul has been Pakistan’s best bowler for almost the same duration. Apart from testing Younis’s captaincy skills, this series will also test his character when it comes to batting. Younis only averages 16 against Australia in ODI’s and he needs to improve that figure.
Gul needs to bowl with fire and aggression. If he can extract the right bounce, bowl quick and use reverse swing, he can cause Australia plenty of problems.
LOOK OUT FOR…………….
Shahid Khan Afridi: Afridi has been in good domestic form and made an impact both with bowling and batting in the recent RBS One Day Cup. If Afridi can get into some kind of batting form, he will be a force to be reckoned with in this series. He is going into this series as Pakistan’s most reliable spinner.
Sohail Tanvir: Tanvir got into some form in recent tournaments after consulting Javed Miandad. He started with a bang and he needs to retain the same attitude. If he can bowl with pace he will trouble some Australian batsmen.
Nasir Jamshed: Younis reportedly prefers Ahmed Shahzad over Nasir Jamshed, not least because of obtaining the right hand/left hand opening combination with Salman Butt. However, Nasir has more experience and has impressed to some degree so far in international cricket. He needs to bat with confidence and play his natural game. A good series against Australia will guarantee him selecton in the team at least for another year.
Australia will be banking on captain Clarke, all rounder Symonds, keeper Haddin and medium pacer Bracken.
Symonds averages 62 against Pakistan in ODI’s which is his highest average against any Test playing nation. Haddin is averaging 43 this year. Clarke is going into this series as Australia’s best batsman. Bracken is amongst the best ODI bowlers in the world, although against South Africa he was not in his best form.
A lot of Pakistan fans are predicting a series win for Pakistan, and some are also saying that Pakistan will end up winning 2 matches. Australia cannot be underestimated and in fact the LS Management is doubting Pakistan’s potential, although they acknowledge this potential. Players like Hauritz and Shane Watson have the ability to turn matches around single handedly. Hauritz was the Man of the Match in the last match against South Africa, so he is in form.
The biggest advantage to Australia which is also Pakistan’s biggest disadvantage, is that some consistency can be expected from the Aussies. Clarke can bank on knowing the limits to what his players can and cannot do. Younis will be less sure of his team’s potential, but his job is just to offer support to his players and persuade them to play positive and aggressive cricket.
Pakistan cricket thrives on uncertainty. The fans expect the unexpected. That has been the pulse of Pakistan cricket for a long time. Today Pakistan is devoid of legends like Wasim, Waqar, Imran and Miandad. The problem I have with Younis and Qadir’s management is that we are only seeing 1 or 2 new players in this squad. Barring Nasir Jamshed, Ahmad Shahzad and Fawad Alam, all of these players have been tried and tested. When his career ends Younis will probably be considered a legend, but ODI cricket has not been his forte until very recently. So, none of the players in this squad are capable of emulating the feats of Saeed Anwar, Miandad or Wasim Akram.
However, playing under a new captain and in home-like conditions, still offers limited hope to Pakistanis. Younis will be in the spotlight because he has supported playing these tried and tested players. Now it is upto Younis Khan to create some magic and create history by leading his team to a series victory against a formidable side, a win which will go in history books as the revival of Pakistan cricket. A loss is expected, but a win will transform the morale of a bruised nation, and an emotionally battered people. This is Pakistan’s chance to make a difference.
Recently MY Kasim and Javed A Khan discussed whether batting has become easier in international cricket. There are numerous arguments to say that it in fact has. Mitchell Johnson, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh are examples of bowlers who have recently demonstrated they can bat ably. Has batting become easier?
It is now common for batting sides to score over 300 runs in an ODI innings and over 400 runs in a day in Tests. There are various reasons why this is happening:
1) Short boundaries: the ICC and the boards of cricket nations have realised
that aggressive batting pulls crowds. Since commercialism has taken priority, boundaries are being shortened so that there are more fours and sixes
2) Restrictions on bowlers- A full toss above waist height is a no ball, a bowler gets a warning if he bowles 2 deliveries above shoulder height and he can be suspended from bowling by the umpire if he consistently bowls short pitched deliveries. This means that a bowler is restricted from bowling too attackingly, which leads to batsmen feeling more safe and confident
3) The emergence of T20 cricket- this has surely helped batsmen develop the aggressive psyche and dominate bowlers. The focus is on hitting and hitting hard and clean.
4) Flat pitches- Pitches are getting flatter worldwide. Flat pitches do not assist pace bowlers as much. There is less swing and seam and consequently, batsmen can play bowling with more ease.
5) Protective gear: Arm pads, crotch pads, chest pads- batsmen of today have more protection against genuine fast bowlers and accordingly can play more fearlessly.
6) Regulation of bowling actions: It was easy for bowlers to get away with suspect bowling actions in the past. Nowadays, a bowler is only allowed to bend his arm to a certain limit so as not to exercise an unfair advantage over a batsman.
The overarching factor, which acts as an umbrella for all the above factors, is that explosive batting is pulling the crowds, especially in the Subcontinent which has become the centre of the cricket world. In the current era of globalisation and commercialism, the focus is to do whatever it takes to make profit. Hence, the game of cricket is being tailored to achieve this objective.
However, to look at this discussion from a different angle, there are also arguments to say batting is as difficult as it was 15 or 25 years ago, or that is has in fact become more difficult:
1) The “pressure” factor- In this age of information technology and media, cricketers become superstars overnight. Players are treated as commercial commodities. This means that one crucial error in one crucial situation can potentially ruin a batsman’s career. There has been a substantial increase in matches that involve “crunch situations” where batsmen batting in the 2nd innings have to plan ahead, take calculated risks and often play against their natural games. This has made batting in certain situations, extremely demanding (although it is accepted that this pressure factor also applies to bowlers).
2) Depth in bowling: Decades ago, deliveries like the “doosra”, “teesra”, “carrom-ball” etc where unheard of. We often discuss batsmen inventing new shots like paddle-sweeps, but hardly anyone mentions new deliveries that have been
invented to flummox batsmen. Related to this is the concept of reverse swing. In the 1980’s only a few bowlers like Sarfraz Nawaz attempted reverse swing; nowadays. almost every fast bowler is able to reverse swing the ball to some degree or the other. Reverse swing has taken the careers of players like Simon Jones of England (who was instrumental in getting Australian wickets in the famous Ashes series which England won) and Zaheer Khan, to another level.
3) Ability, fitness and stamina of bowlers: It is now possible for 90mph bowlers to bowl in excess of 10 overs in a single spell. In the olden days, this could not be achieved because bowlers were not as fit, or fast. In the past, clocking 90mph was considered a rarity; nowadays, it seems every third bowler is an express pace bowler.
4) Ability, fitness and stamina of batsmen: Similar to the argument above, batsmen are also more fit these days. Fitness is linked to ability, so it may be a safe bet to say that the Pontings and the Smiths of today are more able batsmen than the Huttons or Sutcliffes of yesterday. The type of training received by Ponting and Smith is much more advanced than the type that would have been received by past legends. These days batsmen are trained how to play different kinds of deliveries on different kinds of pitches in different climates, all around the globe. So this argument is that batting has not necessarily become any easier, but that batsmen are of a much superior calibre.
5) Fielding standards: Only 15 years ago one could only expect perhaps Jonty Rhodes to dive and take a stunner. Nowadays, good fielding skills is a requirement for cricketers who want to play at the international level. It is common these days for expert hitters like Afridi or Dhoni to time the shot well, but only to find an athletic fielder diving and pulling off an impossible catch near the boundary rope. This was seen much less in the times of batsmen like Miandad, Gavaskar or Gooch. This has undoubtedly made batting much more difficult as batsmen have to be extremely cautious where they are hitting the ball, and having clean hitting prowess or good timing skills must be accompanied by excellent placement too.
So there are arguments for both sides, those who say batting has become easier and those who argue that times have changed, but batting is still the same as it was. As cricket is becoming a batsman’s game with shortened boundaries and flat pitches, Test cricket is being affected adversely. The interest in Test cricket is dwindling as batting sides are easily scoring over 500 runs in an innings. Since it is becoming difficult to get batsmen out in Test cricket, we are seeing plenty of draws. Now it will be interesting to see when the ICC and cricket boards take action regarding this, because the fans have hinted strongly that they want to see concrete results in Test cricket, not draws. And then we might see ourselves in the same situation as 15 years ago, when pitches were more bowling friendly and produced more convincing results.
Pakistan squad: Younis Khan (capt), Salman Butt, Nasir Jamshed, Ahmed Shehzad, Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal (wk), Fawad Alam, Shoaib Akhtar, Sohail Tanvir, Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar, Yasir Arafat, Saeed Ajmal.
The reaction to the 15 man squad for ODI’s against Australia has generally been positive with most fans approving the selection of Nasir Jamshed, Shoaib Akhtar, Ahmed Shahzad and Saeed Ajmal. However, this thread argues that the some players should not have been selected.
There were reports that Younis was against the selection of Ahmed Shahzad in the Sri
Lanka series earlier this year. It is very strange hence that Ahmed has now been selected for this series, and that too against one of the best sides in the world. For those who are not aware, Ahmed Shahzad is a 17 year old aggressive opener from Lahore who has only played 12 List A matches at domestic level. With such inexperience, why was he selected over the likes of Khalid Latif and Khurram Manzoor?
Khalid Latif is a 23 year old opener from Karachi who has played 34 List A matches and averages 54 whereas Shahzad averages 45. In the recently concluded RBS One Day Cup, Latif averaged 114 with a highest score of 204 not out. Latif has a phenomenal conversion rate too, with 8 hundreds and 2 fifties which shows that when he gets going, he tends to score big.
It is accepted that Latif had a poor debut against Zimbabwe last year when he made 19 runs. However, many players have had lacklustre debuts. Surely Abdul Qadir or Younis Khan could not have made their decision based on one sole innings?
Since Younis is known to prefer experience over youth, it is just mindboggling why he
would prefer to play Shahzad over Latif or Manzoor. Manzoor has so far shown inconsistent batting technique. His debut was impressive, but in his next few matches he struggled with shot selection. However, largely he impressed and in the 2nd Test vs Sri Lanka at Lahore, he played more confidently than Salman Butt. Is this how PCB wants to reward performance?
One could argue that recent domestic tournaments have little bearing, or should have little bearing, for international selection but it would be wrong for someone to say that. Abdul Qadir stated at the start of the RBS Cup that players who perform will be considered for the series against Australia. Selectors around the world use domestic tournaments to decide who should feature in a given forthcoming international assignment. It is not that case that Nasir Jamshed or Ahmed Shahzad are established players, if one wanted to argue that one poor domestic tournament should not affect their chances of playing against a top team.
Speaking of Nasir Jamshed, we have always spoken in support of him on LS. However, as a matter of principle he should also have not been selected and his place should have gone to Khurram Manzoor who as stated earlier, has so far performed adequately (this is on the basis that Shahzad’s place should have gone to Khalid Latif). Nasir was out of form in the RBS Cup and only scored 153 runs in 7 matches, whereas Manzoor had a much better tournament, scoring 246 runs in 6 matches.
The reason why is it submitted this selection is diabolical is because the opposition team is Australia, not Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka. There are reports that a second string team will be sent to play Pakistan, but even a third string team will be tough for Pakistan to handle. It seems as though there is a conspiracy to favour Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shahzad, whilst depriving Latif and Manzoor. This is because you only need to score 1 fifty in 5 matches against Australia to build a reputation as a formidable international-level opener. Salman Butt went through his worst form after his century against Australia in one of his earlier Tests, but he was constantly picked on the pretext of being the batsman who “scored a century against Australia”. So this series is a tremendous confidence booster and a golden chance in all respects for Nasir Jamshed and Ahmed Shahzad. The only problem is that there were other players who deserved this golden chance more than them.
Saeed Ajmal has been satisfactory so far, but is he really useful to the team? Shoaib Malik has recently improved his bowling and seems to be bowling just as effectively as Ajmal. Ajmal is a pretty mediocre fielder and further, he failed to impress in the RBS Cup. Qadir had suggested selecting Yasir Shah, a young legspinner from NWFP who has been in good form over the past year or so. It is strange Qadir chose the ostensibly useless spinner Ajmal and ignored Shah, who is an attacking legspinner and shows considerable promise. With Malik and Afridi containing the batsmen and attacking them too occasionally, it would have been much more useful playing the attacking Yasir Shah, his inexperience notwithstanding.
Shoaib Akhtar and Kamran Akmal are other controversial selections. Whereas Akhtar is likely to be injured or unfit, Akmal’s batting performance is the RBS Cup was average. We have discussed both Akhtar and Akmal many times previously. One has to wonder that if Younis Khan is supporting the constant selection of Akmal, can he guarantee Akmal will stop dropping catches? Whoever has been responsible for the unfair selection of this squad should come forward and explain his choices. This series is all-important because the opposition is Australia and hence it was very crucial that the most in-form players should have been selected.