Originally for Pakpassion.net
There has been a lot of debate recently in Pakistan Cricket circles about the efficiency of the current batting line-up. Is the purple patch the batting going through the real deal? Will the batting line-up return to its brittle nature once exposed to better attacks? Are they too defensive to push competitive sides into forcing favorable results? These are all valid questions, but in answering them the fans seem to have taken two very distinct sides when the answer really, as Michael Hussey displayed quite articulately today at the MCG, lies somewhere in the middle.
On one side you get the hard-hitting fans who have become used to the exuberance and flamboyance from the Pakistani sides of the past twenty years. The positive results, the sixty percent win rate (highest for any Test side this year) to them doesn’t matter much if Pakistan are not willing to play the attacking brand of Cricket they have become so used to. On the other side (this is where the majority lies) are the people who have become sick of seeing Pakistan collapse time and time again playing the “attacking” cricket that is exciting but almost always short lived.
A collapse in Sydney, a gutless breakdown against Herath in Sri Lanka, the continuous self-destruction against England… the list is endless and the more conservative “Azhar Ali camp” to put it more aptly, has a point. Pakistan had not won an ODI series or tasted success in the Test arena for the best part of two years when trying to follow the panache of the nineties. They were a batting unit low on confidence before Misbah took the reigns, trying to emulate the flare and fire of sides both superior in skill and success. To them the dead bat of Azhar, and the snooze fests of Misbah serve as a welcome change. They are fine with the 2.75 run rates and forty percent strike rates as long as it means a zero in the losses column.
The “Afridi fan club” of course begs to differ. Style and aggression to them are the bread and butter of Pakistani batting, and any positive results are not worth the hype if there is no apparent soul on display. This group would be quick to point out that the victories have come against the weaker oppositions or sides on the decline. And in the only significant challenge the Pakistanis faced against S.A, there was about as much intent shown as an Inzamam sprint.
Frankly, the correct approach, as Michael Hussey’s belligerent play showcased today, does not lie in either camps. It wasn’t Mr. Cricket’s exquisitely timed pull shots or the powerful late cuts that really caught the eye in the last two sessions of Day 3 of the Boxing Day Test. As impressive as they might have been, no one who watched the proceedings would debate that it was in fact the “old” guy’s running between the wickets that was most impressive.
His first ball on strike, with Australia reeling after the loss of Clarke and facing a steaming Ishant Sharma, was a deft touch to the leg-side for a quick two. This of course set the pace for the century stand with Ponting, in which Mr. Cricket would just dab the ball on either side and sneak a single or couple every other ball. Pushing his former captain at the other end, and simultaneously putting pressure on the fielders Hussey showed why he is probably one of the most intelligent Cricketer’s playing on the current circuit. At one point the pair, both on the wrong side of thirty, ran a four to take Ponting to a well-deserved fifty.
Running between the wickets is always something that separates the rational Cricketers from the rest. The thinkers of the game are not just fast runners but know the art and importance of placing the ball in the gaps. They realize how a little rotation of the strike can go a long way in disturbing the mindset and comfort levels of the fielding captain; how a sneaky couple results in a misfield or even leads to an entire change in plan that a boundary might not be able to bring. They know that nothing gets under the skin of the opposition captain more or requires more thinking on his part than a constant exchange of the strike.
It is because of this tactical advantage that Team Misbah’s current approach is a bit confounding. A man who looks like he values mind over skill would seem like the perfect candidate to instill this highly important facet of the game into the young guys of the side. Yet, he is still to implement running consistently into his own game. As much as Misbah et al would like to revel in the glory of 2011, they must realize the true challenge is yet to come in the form of England. As Hussey and Ponting admitted themselves today on a pitch that is hard to feel completely settled on, making it count while you are in is of the utmost importance. Even Sehwag, who likes the flashing blade more than any body else remarked in the press conference how both of the important partnerships in the game (Hussey/Ponting &Tendulkar/Dravid) were set up on excellent rotations of the strike.
The pitches might not offer up the same challenge in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but the caliber of bowling the Pakistani batsmen will be up against will certainly be from the top drawer. Simply hanging around on the crease without getting a move on will not be an option any more because the likes of Broad, Swann, Tremlett and Anderson will certainly send one down sooner or later that wll inevitably carry the batsman’s name on it. The team, one hopes, does not suffer from the lack of confidence it was facing a year back. Thanks to Misbah’s leadership the green shirts must be feeling upbeat about their chances in the Emirates. Unfortunately this confidence, despite the clean sweep, didn’t show its face in Bangladesh, for with it the fans rightly expect a gradual improvement from the dead bat approach to one of more intent and purpose. Meandering along just won’t work this time round unless Pakistan intend to shut shop from the get go, and we all know how enthralling the Cricket was when that happened against S.A last year.
That approach was understandable when the team was going through such turmoil and turbulence. Not so much now, when the Pakistani fans who are demanding to see some purpose on the crease are actually in the right. What the current batsmen and many of the fans need to realize is that aggression does not necessarily mean a return to the hot-headed approach from two years ago, and that is one valuable lesson Pakistani batsmen can learn from Mr Cricket.