There are a few constants in the universe. We know the Earth takes 365 days, give or take, to revolve around the Sun. We know it rises every morning. And we know Pakistan can’t bat. This isn’t some airy theorem. It has baffled most cricketing scientists: chasing scores, be it large or small, they never fail to fail. QED.
With the Pakistan Super League due to start in a few days, this should give the national team breathing space to uncover more hidden talent, though not necessarily improve their long-term batting woes.
This tale isn’t a new one, it’s been there since the creation of the Pakistan team. You could forgive it with a new-born team, but 70 years on they are still making rudimentary mistakes, some of which I wouldn’t expect my 10 year-old to make. Certainly enough time has passed to iron out any immature indiscretions, or so one would have thought.
The 1970s gave Pakistan the likes of Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan and the battle-hardened Javed Miandad. The last of these played well into the 1980s and 1990s alongside the likes of Mudassir Nazar, Mohsin Khan and the graceful Salim Malik the 1980s to back him up at the other end. Even Imran Khan, when he couldn’t bowl for an extended period, played as a batsman, and one could pretty much depend on him to hold down an end.
In the 1990s there came the languid Inzamam, though he didn’t need to run much especially with his exquisite stroke play, Ijaz Ahmed – and an older Salim Malik and Saeed Anwar. These were players you could rely on to set large totals or chase them down or die trying, and try they did, most times, though they were not without flaws.
The late 1990’s probably produced some Pakistan’s best batsmen ever, Mohammed Yousuf, Younis Khan and Misbah ul Haq. So what went wrong? Why haven’t the current crop learnt from some of these greats. They have been mentored by some of them, by Miandad, Mohsin and Younis Khan, and two of these have had stints as national coach. Yet has that helped?
From past PSL tournaments, Pakistan have been able to source talent for the shorter formats, but this doesn’t resolve the issue for the longer and most quintessential form of the game. Recently they have been undone by both New Zealand and South Africa, with the batting capitulating in both series, much to the dismay of Mickey Arthur.
If he had any hair left, I’m sure he’d have pulled it out due to sheer frustration. Since the retirements of Misbah and Younis, no one has stepped up. Players such as Asad Shafiq have now been playing Test cricket for seven years, but have still to evolve as batsmen, succumbing to pressure, unable to cope on fast and bouncy wickets. Azhar Ali has a triple ton to his name but is another who is found out quite easily in similar alien conditions.
This in part isn’t the fault of the batsman but of the infrastructure of grassroots cricket in Pakistan itself. The wickets are bone dry and flat, which then exposes technique and temperament when playing in South Africa or Australia. Pakistan certainly have the talent, but what use is that if you can’t utilise those abilities everywhere. No amount of coaching will help, it’s more a case of a psychological front foot block.
There is only so much even Grant Flower can do. They don’t need a coach, but a sports psychologist who can help them fight their inner demons when confronted by alien conditions. Pakistan have yet to win an away series in the two aforementioned countries.
Look at how India have developed as a major force in Test cricket, and have won a series in Australia, albeit against a weaker than normal side (without David Warner and Steve Smith), but the conditions were as alien to them as they were for any other team. They showed the mental resilience to overcome the odds and win a series. This should gee Pakistan up if anything.
If Pakistan are to do well then the new guys at the top, Ehsan Mani and Wasim Khan, have their work cut out for them. They will need to improve everything from grassroots level upwards; change the way wickets are prepared in the country, abolish departmental teams, and bring in regional sides, a template similar to that of the Australian Sheffield Shield competition. That could do wonders, creating more competition for a limited amount of places.
If Pakistan are to change their batting mind-set then the changes will have to be drastic, and start to be implemented as soon as possible given they are currently ranked at No 7 in the Test rankings after being at No 1 as recently as 2016.
They will need to reach the speed of light quickly before the force of gravity really pulls them down.
Virat Kohli and his men have put the Kiwis to the sword in all three ODIs to race away to an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match. The Men in Blue looked imperious in their first ODI series win on New Zealand soil in over a decade.
There have been plenty of positives to take for the tourists from their three victories against the Kiwis including the fine return of all-rounder Hardik Pandya from his suspension. However, the most pleasing aspect of India’s dominance over Kane Williamson and his men has been the form shown by pacer Mohammed Shami.
In the No1 ranked Jasprit Bumrah and the ever-reliable Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India have two of the most potent pacers in the ODI format. It has been the third seamer that has been one of the bigger headaches for India in the run-up to the World Cup.
Various bowlers have tried for that role in recent months including the likes Khaleel Ahmed, Siddarth Kaul, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Mohammed Siraj. None of these players have been able to make a convincing statement.
All this while, the remedy to India’s third-pacer woes was right in front of their eyes; just that that they have bothered to look just now. Shami was one of the key bowlers for India in the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand and finished as the joint third-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 17 scalps to his name.
From being one of India’s leading pacers in the 2015 edition, Shami’s poor track record with injuries combined with poor form saw him become marginalised in the ODI setup in the years that followed. In the three-year period between 2016 and 2018, Shami played only five ODIs for India of which four came against the West Indies.
The 28-year-old found himself transitioning into a Test specialist for the country with his appearances being limited to India’s whites for the most part. Shami’s limited-overs international career seemed to be at the crossroads until he was given an unexpected ODI recall for the home series against the West Indies last year.
That recall came about only due to the absence of Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar in the series with Shami subsequently picking up three wickets in his two appearances. Despite those modest returns, the pacer was given an extended run in the one-day squad and was selected for the tours of Australia and New Zealand. He has not looked back since.
With Bumrah rested after his exertions in the Test series, Shami grabbed his opportunity with both hands by playing a pivotal role in India’s 2-1 triumph in the ODIs. He was economical in the first ODI before picking up five wickets in the next two including two in the decider at Melbourne.
In New Zealand, he has taken his form up a notch with seven scalps in the three games so far including man-of-the-match displays in the first and third ODIs.
He has been excellent with the new ball in both series and has even managed to overshadow Bhuvneshwar. His fitness woes look like a thing of the past as well with Shami looking in peak condition despite his heavy workload in the preceding Test series against Australia.
“The fast bowling group together believes they can knock any side over. And the belief in his (Shami) own ability and his fitness – this is the fittest I’ve seen him in his career. And his Test form has translated into one-day cricket,” Kohli gushed about the pacer after his display in the first ODI in Napier.
With such high praise from the India skipper and an impressive ODI track record which has seen him pick 106 wickets in 58 matches with an average of almost 25, Shami is certain to board the World Cup plane to England.
The quickest Indian bowler to reach 100 ODI wickets (56 games), Shami’s resurgence in white-ball cricket could not have come at a better time.
Virat Kohli and his men were convincing if not spectacular in their recent 2-1 win over New Zealand’s Trans-Tasman rivals Australia. However, the Blackcaps will prove a much tougher nut to crack in their backyard for the Men in Blue and will present a test greater by several degrees compared to their Aussie counterparts.
With the ICC World Cup in England coming up in less than four months, all teams are busy preparing their respective ODI squads for the showpiece event. Two-time champions India will rightly be one of the favourites for the crown on the basis of their recent limited-overs form.
Their greatest threat in the quest for a third crown will most likely come from hosts England who have been flying in the ODI format for some time now with their array of all-rounders and are deservedly ranked at No1.
While England and India will be the frontrunners, the Blackcaps are not too far behind. The Kiwis have historically punched above their weight at the international level and are currently the most competitive team going around on all surfaces and in all formats.
They have shown an ability to adapt quickly to foreign conditions in the ODI format and gave both India and Pakistan a scare in their backyards last year. At home, the Kiwis are as dominant a team as any, as shown by their series clean sweeps over West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the past 12 months.
Only one team – England – has been able to topple Williamson’s men in New Zealand in this period. Eoin Morgan’s men eked out a 3-2 win over the Kiwis during their tour in March last year.
If India are to challenge the Englishmen in the World Cup, they need to gauge themselves against the Kiwis. The Blackcaps are in red-hot form and a series win in their own conditions will be a big boost to India’s World Cup ambitions.
While a series win on Australian soil is never to be scoffed at, India will do well to remember that Australia are in all kinds of disarray in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner. In the three-match series against the Aussies, India also had the benefit of not having to deal with the pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.
The Kiwis though, are a different proposition. In skipper Williamson they have one of the most consistent batsmen across all formats while in veteran Ross Taylor they have arguably the most in-form ODI batsman. Their bowling attack isn’t too shabby either with Trent Boult leading the line-up and it will be further strengthened with the return to fitness of all-rounder Mitchell Santner.
India themselves are looking light in the fast bowling department with the rest handed to Jasprit Bumrah and the suspension of all-rounder Hardik Pandya. With Pandya and KL Rahul still out of the team, Kohli will have to put on his thinking cap to try out other combinations.
The middle-order is still a worry for the tourists despite the resurgence of MS Dhoni with the bat. Question marks remain over Ambati Rayudu in the number four spot while the lack of an explosive batsman down the order is a pressing issue.
Kohli’s men will take on Australia at home before departing for the World Cup in England but it is their performance in New Zealand in the upcoming series that will show where they truly stand as a team. England got the better of the Kiwis last year. It is now India’s turn to show they can do the same.