Pakistan team, with two heavy defeats at Old Trafford, and Edgbaston, takes the field in the fourth and final Test at The Oval on Thursday, with added pressure of their last chance, to draw the series. The dismal run of its star batsmen, Younis Khan, who has been jumping around in the crease, in the most ungainly fashion, has not helped matters. Asad Shafiq, technically acclaimed as the best amongst the tourists, failed to get off the mark in both innings. The scenes at Edgbaston on Sunday, where they snatched defeat from a comfortable draw, took one back to the ‘bad old days’ – the pre-Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan team.
Now talking about Misbah, one of the most dignified leaders in world cricket, he is only a few days away from taking the right decision to announce his retirement from international cricket. Whether he does it prior to or after the game, remains his choice. Now 42 and yes still very fit for his age, he has been found wanting on the present tour of England, in both selection and the tactical side as a captain. Misbah is very correctly credited with picking up the national side in the aftermath of the 2010 spot-fixing scandal. He has been a tremendous leader of men and has rendered great service to the country.
In persisting with Mohammad Hafeez, who has always looked well short of international class, for far too long, as an opener, reflects flawed judgment on behalf of Misbah and fellow selectors. In bowling Pakistan’s ace spinner, Yasir Shah, virtually to the ground, in unfavourable condition, made him totally ineffective. The absence of a quality all-rounder or a part-time bowler amongst the top six batsmen, has resulted in the load being shared by just four bowlers. Misbah took a bold decision of opting to bowl first but was reluctant to attack English batsmen, on the fourth day. It was most bizarre for it saw Pakistan’s useful 103-run lead evaporate in no time and allowed England were handed the initiative. The Oval Test presents Misbah, even if Pakistan achieves an unlikely win, with an ideal moment to bid farewell and allow a fresher approach to take the team forward.
Pakistan ideally should have gone into The Oval Test with series levelled at 1-1. Its batting line-up simply crumbled under pressure, particularly with its key component Younis Khan, terribly out of touch whilst hopping around the crease, with more nervous energy than ever before. Pakistan management have run out of options and will do their slim chances of forcing an unlikely win no harm at all by sacrificing a batsman to bring in an extra bowler, Zulfiqar Babar. The slow left-armer will hold one end up and provide the other four front-line bowlers, particularly leg-spinner Yasir Shah, a much needed break between spells. If the Pakistan management finds the strip as dry August wicket and not so lush, it must take the field with two spinners, to stand any chance of levelling the series.
My XI for The Oval:
Sami Aslam, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed, Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz & Zulfiqar Babar.
Out: Mohammad Hafeez & Sohail Khan.
In: Wahab Riaz & Zulfiqar Babar.