The biggest headache for Inzamam and the rest of the selection committee is not what has happened in Australia to their selectees but who they should pick for a relatively easier competition in West Indies. If they answer the cry for fresh blood and that team loses to West Indies for lack of experience in playing in those conditions, the Pakistan Test team continues to slide in ICC rankings, the fans at home get further disappointed and the morale of the Pakistan cricket team dips further.
Remember, West Indies beat a quite full strength England team at home a couple of years back when the host side had some of their best players culled from the team for discipline.
Yet if they continue with the old guard in Tests in the shape of Misbah and Younis Khan, and Pakistan lose, they will be shamed for not being brave and innovative. Likewise in ODIs in the shape of Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez, and if they continue with Azhar Ali, then him too.
So how do they pick? Because they don’t have experienced players performing and the youngsters are too raw. This is what has come out of the Australian tour. In the ODIs Shoaib Malik had the best batting average of 69.00 and yet, barring one innings, none of the other three helped post either a total beyond Australia’s potential to score or paced the chase correctly. On most occasions it was a selfish innings, short of the strokeplay that was required.
At the other extreme take Babar Azam, who came second in the batting averages with 56.40, presented a similar case. Such a brilliant batsman indeed but could not help Pakistan win despite a hundred in the last game because it was simply not paced enough.
In both cases, it can be said that considering the failure of the bowling there was little the batsmen could do. But then, that is what the batsmen need to do. Remember it was the bowling that was winning Pakistan games a few years back when their batting would flop many a time. Like in the World Twenty20 in 2009 or the Cricket World Cup in 2011.
Taking stock of the tour, it seems that Sharjeel Khan was one who came out playing the right brand of cricket. He may have scored 32 runs less than Babar and averaged 50.00 compared to Babar’s 56.40, but all of his 250 runs in the 5 games had the right attitude behind them. He was the only one in Pakistan’s batting line up who played the 21st century brand of limited overs cricket.
Of course we shouldn’t forget that Pakistan did not have Sarfraz Ahmed, the most aggressive batsman in the side along with Sharjeel Khan. He had proved when he was at last included in the last three games in the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand that he could not only bat on these pitches but that he could take on the fastest bowlers on them.
Had he been there perhaps Pakistan would have come closer at least to the targets or posted better ones. But then it is not sure how Azhar Ali would have used him. It was only after tremendous public pressure that he was included by Waqar and Misbah in the team and that too as opener. Once he had established himself in that position, he was eventually denied a contract at home and dropped down the batting order again.
Perhaps the time has now come to do the right thing and make him the captain of the ODI team as well. He should also take up Azhar’s position at the top of the order. Azhar should of course be limited to playing Tests where he is an extraordinary run scorer. Maybe even captain the test team once Misbah and Younus retire.
Sarfraz would bring aggression in the field as well as energy. Both are desperately needed when the pressure is on by the opposing batsmen. These days it lasts a few overs and then the shoulders start to drop. Sarfraz is likely to attack the batsmen more with his field placings and will also rotate his bowlers more intelligently. He proved this when he led the relatively less talented Quetta Gladiators to the final of the PSL 2016.
His batting at the top will also free up space to play either another specialist bowler down the order or include an extra all-rounder. This was one of Pakistan’s drawbacks in the recent ODI series. Though there was the presence of Hafeez with his off spinners but then he failed to get even a single wicket in the five games and went for 5 an over. His batting is not tuned to what is required. Even his one 50 came after a simple dropped catch in the very first over by one of the best slip catchers in the world, if not the best: Australian captain Steve Smith.
Inzamam and Co, also have to decide what is the best bowling combination to put on the field, not including the all-rounder. It was crazy to send back Sohail Khan when he generates good pace early on that can incite an edge or trap a man leg before who is late on an inswinger. And he was their best lower order batsman in the Test series. To retain Rahat Ali, who had not played in any of the five games, and then to send him back was ludicrous. If the coach felt he got slower in the third spell, well he would have bowled only ten overs in spells of maybe 3-4 overs each.
The selectors also have to give Wahab Riaz a rest. Not only is he looking tired but has become too monotonous. Ironically he hardly bowls an inswinging yorker or late outswinger which made him famous when he first came in. His batting in the lower order also, like his bowling, has not become that consistent. A time of soul searching as well as body recovery would be good for him and Pakistan.
It would be a tough call to give Mohammad Amir a rest as well though he too has been overplayed. Plus Pakistan lack a bowler of his class even though he has not been getting wickets that rapidly. Pakistan also need him lower down the order where he can bat aggressively and defiantly, depending on the situation.
Mohammad Irfan will also become available for West Indies ODIs and perhaps Junaid Khan should be given the opportunity to prove whether he can carry the burden of being Pakistan’s strike bowler in both Tests and ODIs. He showed promise in Australia despite
some stick he got later in the series. Likewise, Hasan Ali can be trusted to partner him. He got 12 wickets and at an average of 25.66. The best average after him was Amir’s who got 8 wickets at 35.37.
I would stick with Imad Wasim also, though he went for an average of 50 and an economy of 5.40. He just needs to work on turning the ball more. He can carry a good strike rate and can be a good finisher if he doesn’t get loaded with too high a required strike rate when he comes in during a chase.
Pakistan also need to now give bowlers like Sadaf Husain a chance while he is on the right side of 30. We missed out on Tabish Khan who is 32 now though we must remember Tanvir Ahmed was 32 when he impressed on flat tracks in UAE when given the opportunity late.
Unless Inzamam and his fellow selectors push for these players to be given the chance and rest Wahab, Rahat and Amir, our bowling will run out of steam. With our position being 6 in Tests and 7-8 in limited overs cricket, what have we got to lose? •