Pakistan drew the Test series with South Africa 0-0. This is being termed like a monumental achievement as Pakistan is considered to be a near minnow team these days. Not only are Pakistani players demoralised and lacking direction, they also have to bear the brunt of never-ending controversies that are a curse to Pakistan cricket.
The drawn series leaves one with mixed emotions overall, as there are many areas where Pakistan can still show improvement. Yet, it is an achievement. Pakistan was playing in “home” conditions in UAE; the pitches were flat as pancakes as you would expect a typical Pakistani pitch, and most of the crowd consisted of Pakistan supporters so the conditions were ideal for Pakistan.
Taufeeq Umar and Hafeez played with responsibility for most part and appeared spirited. They also gave Pakistan its first opening century-stand after what seemed like an eternity. Taufeeq has made a return to international cricket after many years. He has probably performed well enough to be selected for Pakistan’s tour to New Zealand. Taufeeq’s performance was always more consistent than Salman Butt and Imran Farhat, but somehow he was never dealt with as much patience. He averaged in the early 30s in this Test series which will pull his overall average down, but due to Butt’s suspension and Farhat’s ineptitude, Taufeeq may be Pakistan’s preferred left handed opener for now. Speaking of Hafeez, he has shown as overall improvement in all areas and is probably Pakistan’s surprise package of
2010. Hafeez always had shots, some temperament, he was always a good fielder but he never seemed comfortable in international cricket. Either he lacked confidence, or did not have sufficient “sources and connections”, and therefore he could never settle when batting. However, the new Hafeez has a solid defence, a better hand eye coordination and increased confidence. The conditions in NZ will not be ideal for Pakistan batsmen but they must make the most of them. Hafeez will be challenged but he needs to focus on preserving his wicket.
Speaking of preserving wickets, Misbah was a revelation in this series. Misbah has been criticised very liberally on this blog for poor performance which has been consistent for two years but this series will do wonders for his confidence. Not only was Misbah’s performance lacking, he was also accused of playing politics and taking part in oath taking against Younis Khan. However, on LS as long as a player is performing, he is valued and appreciated and therefore Misbah’s performance has to be lauded. However, it is crucial Misbah repeats this performance against NZ because if he does not he will rightfully be termed as a flat track bully.
Prior to this series Azhar Ali’s performance was unimpressive in Tests and his average was about 30. His temperament was regarded quite highly but he seemed to struggle against pace and seam. However in this series Azhar was composed and handled with SA attack with maturity. This was an excellent performance considering his poor record previously and considering this was a strong team. However, once his place in the side is cemented Azhar needs to realise that if his performance wanes he will receive the same treatment as Umar Akmal. The PCB management is showing the door to U Akmal, who talent wise is one of the best young batsmen in the world. Umar’s talent does not vest in his ability to keep the strike rate healthy, but in the fact that he can defend, attack and rotate strike easily. He is also blessed with excellent hand to eye coordination and picks up the length very quickly. He is good at playing cross batted shots, which is not a technique usually recommended but very useful
if someone can master it. Umar Akmal’s attitude has been concerning, but the PCB will have to devise a more fruitful way to control him as Pakistan might otherwise lose a super batsman. One wonders where U Akmal’s career is heading, after Pakistani batsmen like Hafeez, Y Khan, Azhar, Misbah and Razzaq have shown form recently? There are reports that Shoaib Malik will return for the World Cup 2011, so it may be possible that U Akmal does not find a place in the preferred playing XI which is diabolical considering his talent.
Pakistan’s bowling without Asif and Aamer clearly lacks punch. It is unfortunate Saeed Ajmal is lacking in form. One can imagine what a strong bowling line up it could be, with a fit Shoaib Akhtar, Asif, Aamer and
Ajmal? Abdur Rehman impressed in sessions but his strike rate was 94, although he out performed his left handed SA counterpart P Harris. This was not a series for bowlers but Pakistanis struggled more than South Africans, generally. Pakistan needs to plan astutely for WC 2011 because having bowlers who can’t take wickets in these pitches will not help. Ultimately Pakistan may have to rely on all rounders like Razzaq, Afridi and Hafeez to deliver in all areas to tilt the balance in their favour. All rounders have been Pakistan’s strength for some time and having Razzaq, Afridi, Hafeez and Rehman (who has shown he can bat) in the ODI World Cup line up may prove advantageous.
Mohammad Sami is unlucky as a bowler and his career
should well and truly come to an end. Tanvir Ahmed was excellent and got the best out of an infertile pitch. Tanvir was accurate, hit and right areas and identified the batsmen’s weaknesses. Tanvir should now carry on the same form in NZ as Pakistan has seen too many one-match, one-series or one-season wonders.
There are more positives from this series than negatives, but Pakistan cannot forget the series against Australia earlier this year when they beat Australia in one Test but then their form completely collapsed. This series represents the revival of the careers of Taufeeq, Hafeez, Misbah and Azhar Ali, while Tanvir Ahmed has shown promise. The next series against NZ will not be easy, as NZ is an unpredictable side and will be hungry for success after their recent defeat against India. One feels it will be a highly competitive series, as whoever wins will enter the World Cup will much needed impetus. From Pakistan’s perspective it is too late to get more new faces in and re-build, they have to perform with the current mixture of experienced seniors and promising youngsters. They need to realise that the NZ series will be the key test of their mental strength before the World Cup- which makes it even more important for the players to perform and go into the World Cup with their heads held high.