Rarely do we as Pakisatni fans praise the efforts of the more plain and simple in our team. We are naturally attracted towards the flamboyance of an Akhtar, the wild swings of an Afridi or the brazenness bordering on insolence of an Umar, but let their be no mistaking this, if the Pakistan team is going to go on and lift this World Cup it will be propelled as much if not more on the efforts of the unadorned in this squad as any of the others mentioned. The people who work their magic away from the spotlight and rarely get the praise they deserve from our unforgiving, and for the most part cricket illiterate fans.
Asad Shafiq probably played the most pivotal knock of his career against Zimbabwe in Pallekelle, but it is a shame that it had to come to that for him to cement a place in this brittle batting order. The guy is a complete package, has the advantage of being short so very stable at the crease and most of all has a very good cricketing brain. Any one who had watched him play his initial ODIs in the England series, a tour where the rest of the batting just kept on edging Anderson to second slip, completely at ease playing authentic cricket shots nudging and nurdling for ones and twos should have been immediately impressed by the youngsters sound head and technique. But no, like a moth naively attracted to a flame, we decided to completely sideline those efforts and instead became infatuated with the stroke play of the brash Ahmed Shehzad. “He is very naturally talented yaar” is the usual retort you get from the average fan. Why is it that we have to associate just stroke play and the abundance of boundaries with natural talent? The slow build up of an innings the single-double game to put it in gully cricket terms, is as much actually no scratch that, is more important when it comes to ODI and Test cricket. It requires the same amount of “natural” talent to score those runs, and in the end what matters are the numbers that go into the scorebook. Shehzad will cream one to the boundary and then show off his extreme lack of a brain and cricketing sense by remaining put on the striker’s end blocking out the next four five in the over because his job is apparently done. That’s a waste of more than half the over, requires much less effort and thinking to be done by the fielding side and makes you want to pull your hair out. Please don’t fool your selves into believing that Shafiq cannot play the big game and clear the field, watch the highlights of those England games and then form your opinion. The guy is equally capable of playing a fast paced knock compared to the anchor sheet role he has performed in the last two ODIs. Yes his innings was at a strike rate of around sixty in these games, but that’s because that is exactly what the situation required. The strike rate should be praised and not ridiculed and pointed out as a flaw for we shouldn’t lull ourselves into believing that the guy is not capable of more. What we should do is kick ourselves for not allowing him time out in the field and the opportunity to build his confidence ahead of the world cup. Had we played him consistently, he would have been assured of his place had the confidence of expanding his more (yet less “natural” to him) aggressive side and probably would have seen scores of much more substance from the guy. The insolent fools that we are one can easily see us jumping the gun and labeling the guy as too slow for ODI cricket if he falls playing the big shots in the immediate future. That would be a great loss for the team and a huge insult to him for the fault is entirely our own for not allowing him a consistent run.
Hafeez for me has been the most consistent one day bowler for Pakistan over the past year and a half. Yes Afridi might have taken more wickets and Gul has given us those match winning spells every now and then but both have gotten their fair share of a tap as well. Hafeez has been one who has rolled his arm over with such precise monotony and stinginess that one has been wrongly obliged into believing that there is a very nonchalance nature to his cricket. Nothing can be further from the truth, he is any thing but casual in his approach to the game and is probably the most intelligent of all the current Pakistani world cup squad (an approach that has earned him the knick name of the “Professor”). The guy has chipped in with spells of six to seven overs with an economy of four or less and has given us crucial break throughs. We tend to forget these crucial wickets because he unfortunately does not have the flashy finger pointing up Afridi celebrations to follow (which are geting very old honestly). His efforts seem to go unrecognized by the team and management itself, for even when he bowls seven overs for almost nothing (against N.Z) he is not allowed to finish of his full quota because that buddy of Afridi, Razzaq who has gone for 21 in his two overs has to come back and get whacked for another thirty runs. The beauty of it all is that his excellent economy has nothing to do with Afridi and his captaincy, for the skipper has absolutely no faith in his most consistent bowler. There are only four fielders inside the ring when Hafeez bowls, no attacking fielders (which is why he doesn’t have more wickets) and little praise for his efforts at the end of the over. What he achieves in his bowling is totally attributed to his skill and mental aptitude, for the guy knows where to bowl and knows his angles. Even with the biggest gaps in the infield he somehow manages to get top order batsmen to play straight to the fielder (three out of six times in an over). He consistently troubles the batsmen with variation in flight, and on responsive wickets gets it to turn appreciably. But still when almost sheepishly he asks Afridi to bring an extra man into the ring or have a catching position his pleading is met by deaf years and he is left to adjust the angles of the four fielders he does have saving the one reducing his role to the same as Abdul Rehmans (who basically just fires bullets in and is as capable of taking wickets as yours truly . Afridi having the perfect field for himself comes in and picks up the spoils using the pressure built up by Hafeez to pick half the wickets that should have been deservedly his. It is time we swallowed our egos and realize that Pakisatn’s strength in ODIs is no more their fast bowling and our whole game revolves around the stingy and consistent efforts of Hafeez and Ajmal. Ajmal as I have been consistently saying should be our main spinner, having Rehman just hurts the side for his role is more aptly performed by Hafeez and takes the extremely wicket taking dimension of Ajmal out of the game. Hafeez deserves more for his consistent run as a bowler, confidence by letting him finish his ten, an attacking field and not being hesitant in trying him at the death can serve as a start.
Bring back 1992 and seeing shades of that run in this campaign are utterly baseless and stupid. The 1992 triumph was more of a fluke based much more on moments of individual brilliance. The 2011 campaign lacks players matching up ability wise and oozing that same amount of “natural” talent. This side’s success so far has been the result of the sweat and hard work put in by players like Shafiq and Hafeez and it’s high time we stop being blind and dimwitted as fans and start giving credit where it’s due.