Even though players like Razzaq, Butt, Ajmal, Malik etc have shown some improvement compared to how they used to field years ago, the problem Pakistan is facing is that the standard of fielding is not improving in line with how fielding has improved in countries like Sri Lanka, India and West Indies. This is sadly again due to the fact that, other teams are selecting players on the basis of their fielding ability and
then giving them exposure to cricket so that they can get better in other departments. At one time Pakistan could dismiss this strategy with minimal fuss because they had match winners like Anwar, Inzamam, Wasim, Waqar etc. But now for whatever reason the same calibre of players is not emerging, and therefore Pakistan needs to rethink its strategy. For example, Sri Lanka played Dilshan whose bowling was like Shoaib Malik’s when he started, and batting was like a tailender’s. But, he was in the team mainly due to his fielding and now he is one of the best batsmen in limited overs cricket. India used Suresh Raina who was also an expert fielder but then he improved his batting and has now become one of India’s most reliable players. Pakistan introduced Fawad Alam three years too late and he responded by playing some match winning knocks in T20, and an unprecedented century on a seaming track in Tests, but he has been sidelined due to politics. As a batsman and fielder both, Fawad was miles better than Dilshan and Raina (keeping in mind how they were when they started) but now his international cricket future is uncertain, simply because his countrymen would prefer to see someone like Shoaib Malik in the team rather than him.
The Pakistan think tank cannot impose a system where merit is the main factor in selection, and Pakistan cricket is suffering because of this. An important tour lies ahead for this underperforming team, and if predictions are anything to go by Pakistan is likely to lose the Test series against England and Australia.
The summer weather in England so far this year has been drier than normal, and how much that would impact the pitches remains to be seen. It goes without saying that Pakistani bowlers would prefer bowling on England’s pitches compared to how they would have
felt bowling on Sri Lankan pitches, but their batting on England’s pitches has never been satisfactory. The batting card for Pakistan on the tour of England should have read- S Butt, Yousuf, Younis, U Akmal, F Alam, S Afridi, but now three players from that card are not playing, which means that the batting has halved in strength. Naturally with drier weather, spin bowling becomes a useful option but Pakistan does not need to worry as much regarding their spin attack because Kaneria has experience in England, and Ajmal and Afridi are reliable.
Australia has shown improvement in T20 and this was clearly visible in the last T20 Cup. Pakistan showed some signs of concern in that Cup as they seemed to excel in neither bowling, batting or fielding. The signs are clearly ominous for Pakistan because they are not a force to be reckoned with in T20 anymore, they are worsening in ODI’s and they are weakest in Test cricket.
Pakistan plays some country matches before their first T20 against Australia on 5th July. They will probably win the county matches and they may win against Australia in T20, but they need to put up a good fight in Tests. In fact they will probably be treating the Tests against Australia as a testing ground for the Tests against England.
What Pakistan should have learned for the T20 Cup and the Asia Cup, is that it needs an improvement in all areas- batting, bowling and fielding. Improvement does not come overnight, but ratings do not change overnight too and Pakistan has constantly plummeted in international ratings. After watching Pakistan lose to India in the Asia Cup, one should realise that Pakistan- India matches are not “50-50 chance” contests anymore- one team is clearly stronger than the other. Shahid Afridi will have to work some miracles to make his team put up a decent show against Australia in Tests- and to his misfortune he is pitted against the deplorable standard of fielding, political selections of undeserving players and pathetic management of the PCB of over a decade.