Sunday, March 8, 2015

You just cannot write off the unpredictable Pakistanis!

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Unpredictability has always been synonymous with the Pakistan cricket team over the years. On one day, they can be just brilliant and on another day they can be absolutely poor. The world cricket has learned to accept the unpredictable ways of the men in green. The Misbal-ul-Haq-led Pakistan side were pitted in a tough pool alongside the likes of defending champions India, South Africa and West Indies. Lack of consistent international exposure has hit Pakistan cricket hard over the years and with no foreign team touring Pakistan citing security concerns and opting to play in neutral venues like the UAE.

Pakistan team is far from having a ‘settled’ look with too much of chopping and changing happening on a regular basis. The team is bereft of quality of the team that won the 1992 World Cup and is probably banking on a few guys to do the job. Skipper Misbah and Shahid Afridi are now ageing and with no youngster really stamping their authority in the side, the going is always going to be stern for Pakistan. Given this backdrop, the Pakistan suffered a listless opening game defeat against arch-rivals India and later against West Indies, which put them under severe pressure. They were given a scare by Zimbabwe before romping home – their first win of the tournament. The win injected some dose of confidence in the side as they went on to pip the UAE and the best of all – stunning tournament favourites South Africa in
Auckland to literally assure their quarterfinal berth.

Although Pakistan’s fightback in the World Cup was crystal clear, the team haven’t shown signs that they are playing as a unit. Skipper Misbah has been in prime form with four half-centuries – most by any batter in the World Cup and if you take him out of the equation there is not much to write home about the Pakistan batting department. Ahmed Shehzad has looked good but hasn’t been able to get the big knocks, which would release the pressure on their middle-order. In fact, the opening slot has been a concern for Pakistan with southpaw Nasir Jamshed going through the horrors in the three games he played and was replaced by wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed, who scored a breezy 49 opening the innings against South Africa and later gobbled six catches to bag the Man of the Match award. Ukmar Akmal also hasn’t fired as the team management would have desired and hopefully being released from keeping duties (Sarfaraz kept wickets against South Africa) will allow him to focus more on his batting.

Pakistan fans will be happy with the resolve the team have shown in the last three games, but it will not be easy for their batting department going into the knockout phase as there is overreliance on Misbah to hold fort. Veteran Shahid Afridi has a key role to play – he can come with those lethal cameos as well as chip in with handy wickets with the ball.

It’s the Pakistan bowling which has really come off well. The seven-footer left-arm Mohammed Irfan has troubled all batsmen with his awkward bounce and movement and it is not surprising why batters are struggling to get on top of it. Another left-armer Wahab Riaz has also hit a purple patch with the ball and even with the bat, scoring his maiden ODI fifty. Rahat Ali also made an impression against South Africa in Auckland.

Maybe Pakistan’s batting can take a lesson or two from their bowlers – the way the likes of Irfan and Wahab have stood up to the challenges. We all know that Pakistan can be a dangerous side and upset the applecart of any side on their side. They seriously need to fix their batting unit and if they manage to do it, they would give all teams a run for their money.

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