By Salim Parvez with Dr. Khadim Baloch
The second half of Pakistan’s tour of England, following its 2-2 drawn Test rubber, consisted of five ODIs and a one-off T20. Mickey Arthur, having taken charge of the national team only few months ago, could be forgiven for trial and error for he could not do much accept work with different combinations and hope for the best. Give him six months and he will be much clearer with three sets of squads for Tests, ODIs and T20.
Despite the loss of 1-4 in the ODI series one could sense a degree of improvement in the team’s performance. One thing is for sure it is only the youth that can be trusted with taking Pakistan ODI fortunes forward, particularly in view of its sitting at number 9 in the ODI ranking and a possible threat of having to qualify for the 2019 ICC World Cup.
Pakistan players, management and coaching staff did themselves proud by first avoiding a whitewash in the ODIs and followed it up with a nine-wicket thrashing of the hosts in the T20. By doing so they signed off on a winning note. With no controversy to write about, the England tour went on in a smooth way with the national team showing satisfactory improvement in all the disciplines of the game and in all three formats.
Pakistan selectors have some tough decisions to make. Azhar Ali, a fantastic Test player does not quite fit in the modern requirements of ODI that is often played at a hectic pace. Unless the big hitters click and up the tempo in the second half of the 50-over innings, Azhar’s long vigils at the crease lose its impact.
Sarfraz Ahmed stood out as the outstanding performer on the England tour. He is a world-class wicket-keeper batsman His energy level simply lifts Pakistan team and makes him an obvious choice for all three formats. His courage and street smart aura links him up with the likes of Javed Miandad and Moin Khan. Sarfraz has inherited the same traits. Always up for a challenge and excelling with unorthodox and innovative strokes.
In Sarfraz’s case his game plan is to stay on the offensive from the word go and gets into his stride in no time. On the England tour he enhanced his reputation as a dangerous lower order batsman, who very rarely plays the second fiddle. In the 2nd ODI he walked in, in overcast conditions with Pakistan scorecard showing 3 wickets down for 2 runs. He played an innings of great merit and his reached country’s first ever ODI hundred at Lord’s. He is often seen standing out of his crease to pacemen to play orthodox shots.
It is foolhardy to imagine that all the best talent lies in Lahore or Punjab. Sarfraz Ahmed’s appointment of T20 and a one-sided win against England at Old Trafford is a further proof of that. Hyderabad-born Sharjeel Khan is all set to prove a point that quality cricketers can emerge beyond Lahore and Karachi. After taking 154 off Ireland he did not hit his best form in the ODIs but his T20 innings should earn him a long run in Pakistan’s team.
The need for National Cricket Academy (NCA) model at Lahore to be copied and implemented in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Bahawalpur, Multan, Quetta, etc. is an absolute must. All the regions of Pakistan boast of rich talent and are dying to be given modern coaching and training environment to make rapid progress in domestic cricket with an aim to reaching the very top of their profession and represent Pakistan national side. One is eagerly waiting for players to emerge from the cricket academies run by Jalaluddin, Rashid Latif and Moin Khan in Karachi.
Mickey Arthur, formerly with his native South Africa and briefly with Australia, has the coaching knowhow, to emulate the work of Bob Woolmer, whose tenure as Pakistan’s head coach, ended when he mysteriously died during the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. It must not be overlooked that the vast majority of the Pakistan players – with the exception of Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammed Hafeez – have a brief experience of international cricket at home as Pakistan has not invited any team, except Zimbabwe for three ODIs in May 2015 – since the horrible shooting incident in March 2009.
Pakistan hit rock bottom in 2010 following the spot-fixing scandal and despite being one of the most popular T20 teams, its players have been denied access to up their skills levels in the Indian Premier League (IPL). It seems no stone has been unturned to sideline Pakistan cricket and its cricketers.
Mohammed Hafeez, an opener with pretty ordinary record outside the sub-continent, was once again a huge disappointment, and would not look back on the 2016 England tour, with any particular fondness. The two young openers, Shan Masood and Sami Aslam, should start the Test series in UAE against the West Indies.
If Azhar Ali is asked to open the innings it will allow Asad Shafiq to bat one-down. Only a settled batting combination in the three-Test series against West Indies can raise hopes of Pakistan’s success in the combined tour of New Zealand and Australia.
One wonders as to how long can Misbah-ul-Haq be asked to carry on in the captain’s role, which he has played so well, in the last six years. Maybe a Test series against the West Indies, a relatively weaker opposition, would have been an ideal time to name Azhar Ali as captain.