Misbah must give Pakistan its best shot

Why rely on mediocre seamers when you have the best spin attack in the world

Orginally for Dawn.com

First thing first … congratulations Team Misbah on following up on Moin Khan’s side of 2000 and bringing home the Asia Cup but the victory alas does seem rather hollow to me. Why shouldn’t it when the ‘Tuk Tuk’ motorcade took the easiest possible route towards the checkered flag, spluttered barely across the finish line, and more importantly faltered woefully at the all-important Indian Pit Stop.

Lets make one thing clear, as fine an addition as this intricate work of craftsmanship must appear in Pakistan’s ODI trophy cabinet, there was only one real contest on the cards for Misbah’s men in Dhaka. Having thrashed Sri Lanka and Bangladesh last year, I for one would have been content if the results of the first two games were decided on a mere coin toss. What I was looking forward to, of course, was a chance at slight redemption for Mohali in a probable double bout with the current World Champs. This dreamy scenario of course entailed softening them up in the group stages followed by a solid knock-em-out punching job in the final. Even a false-hope-raising win for our archrivals in the first one, only to be quashed a few days later in the all-important final would have done the trick. But no … Bangladesh had to go ruin it all with their well-deserved run into the final, leaving me with nothing but the most bitter after taste and an image of Kohli’s smug smile plastered across his face on the trip back to India.

Usually, I have a snarling retort ready for my Indian friends no matter what the magnitude of defeat/humiliation. But this time when one correctly pointed out that “it’s a bit more acceptable when you lose out due to your batting rather than bowling” I could do little but sigh in exasperation. She had a point of course, not being able to defend 330 when you claim to be one of the better bowling line-ups going around should not only hurt but is a tad inexplicable… plus it just looks bad when you fall short of an opposition that contains the likes of Ashok Dinda.

There was no reason we should have lost out to the Indians this time round. They were coming off one of the worst tours for a respectable touring team to Australia in recent memory. Pakistan had momentum on their side with hard-fought wins in the first two games and that man Ashok Dinda was also playing. Yet lose we did, and it wasn’t one of those “Oh … it’s ok we played well, it just wasn’t our day” sort of losses (they never are with India). We were out played and out thought as the opposition stroked their way home to a comfortable finish, leaving us with little else but our unmentionables clutched in our hands. As well constructed and beautifully orchestrated Kohli’s symphonic innings might have been, it still shouldn’t and wouldn’t have been enough if Pakistan had given themselves their best shot at a win.

For that is what Pakistan has not been doing off late with their selections in limited overs cricket. We have drifted away from a strategy that actually finds its roots in ODIs only to be drafted into Tests much later to wondrous effects against Sri Lanka and England. I talk of course of the ‘spin strangulation policy’ and the effectiveness of playing a quartet of spinners simultaneously. There is a notion amongst fans and critics alike that Pakistan is over dependent on spin and that an attack of such nature is only suited to certain conditions. But it is a claim that has little evidence to hold water. There has been ample proof on display now over the last year and a half that Pakistan is best when playing Abdul Rehman alongside Ajmal and Hafeez in Tests as well as ODIs. It’s not like I wouldn’t love to have quality fast bowlers in the side being assisted by spinners, but with the crop we have at our disposal at the moment (Yes my finger is squarely pointed at you Wahab Riaz) I would take four spinners any day of the week.

It’s not like Pakistan is compromising by playing Rehman over Cheema/Wahab either. A much more economical as well as wicket taking option, any man who is capable enough to roll over the world’s number one side two Tests in a row should really be a shoo in at the ODI level. Here is a bowler who offers you a guaranteed quota of ten with a maximum of 4.5 to the over, adds variety to your attack and snaffles up a crucial wicket or two as well … I mean why wouldn’t you play him? Not only that, having dependable bowlers like Hafeez and Rehman in Misbah’s artillery means the batsmen are forced to play more aggressively against Afridi and Ajmal and more often than not that automatically means more wickets.

This pressure valve leaks severely when Pakistan entrusts its bowling duties in the less capable hands of Wahab/Cheema, and the lethality of Misbah’s strikers (Ajmal & Afridi) is reduced to bits as the captain is forced to take on defensive fields for them as well. Remember the edge of Kohli’s bat as Ajmal flummoxed the set batsmen with his signature doosra in the first over of the batting power play. (If you are remembering a moment in the game when you suddenly scrapped out a good tuft of your hair, and simultaneously imploded into shouting obscenities at Misbah’s mother and sister, you remember correctly). That would have gone straight into Younis’s dependable hands at slip, if only Cheema hadn’t been clattered for a humongous six over square leg the previous over, forcing Misbah to just concentrate on blocking out the runs.

Let’s take the disastrous ODI series against England as an example. You would have thought after his performance in the recently concluded tests, Rehman was a sure shot selection. Deciding to re-live ground hog day instead the team management went in with Wahab, who obliged with 6.71 to the over. The left arm spinner was given a consolatory outing in the second ODI returning with appalling figures of 10 overs for 36. Alarmed at how much of a dent the egos of our sensitive faster men would take, the left arm spinner was understandably dropped for the third. Cheema was pursued with and went for a not too surprising 6.31 to the over. Carrying on with the consistent selection policy the old hand was given another go in the last game, disappointing the management and fans once again with paltry figures of 10 overs, 31 runs and the lowly wicket of the number three Jonathan Trott. Rightly enraged at this performance Rehman was shunned for the T20s and the entire Asia Cup.

The spinner’s only crime it seems is the fact that he doesn’t have his chest puffed out at delivery stride, and doesn’t have the thirty-yard run up to back that stride up with. The management and fans have become so blinded by pace that they can’t seem to come to grips with the fact that they actually don’t have worthy fast bowling options at the moment. It stabs at the ego of an entire spoilt generation brought up on a buffet of Wasim, Waqar, Shoaib and Asif to come to terms with the fact that it is indeed a quartet of spinners who are for the time being the flag bearers. The sooner Pakistan Cricket can swallow this false pride and realize the value of what is staring it in the face, the quicker it will relieve itself of having to sit through Kohli’s annoying angry young man celebrations…but more importantly it will mean that they at least would have given themselves their best shot.


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