Friday, February 20, 2015

Bench the Veteran!

So Pakistan has lost what many think is the be-all and end-all of their World Cup dream. Many would take a victory over India than a place in the Finals of the tournament, such is the sentimental value attached to the sport, and it’s most riveting rivalry.

While the loss could have been expected, given India’s dominance over Pakistan in World Cups, there is a feeling that this was probably an opportunity missed, keeping in mind India’s recent woes on their tour of Down Under. But this was definitely not the best Pakistani lineup to come up against India in a World Cup.  

One can hardly call any one the eleven who were selected to be an ODI great. Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi might be considered by many as greats, but just as many would disagree!

But not having a handful of greats should not be an excuse for the defeat. In fact there should be no excuses. Granted that the team does not have at its disposal the legends of World Cups past; the team does have enough firepower to defy expectations, and morph into a good ODI unit.

All of Pakistan’s recent problems can be traced back to a couple of events from late last year:
  1. The banning of Mohammad Hafeez from bowling in international 
  2. The dropping of Younis Khan from the ODI unit for the Australia series, and his tirade afterwards (in Septmeber).

The banning of Hafeez from bowling in internationals was probably the biggest setback for Team Green. Not only is Professor a better opener than Younis, he also provided the team with a genuine fifth bowler option. Hafeez was no part-timer with the ball; he was an attacking bowler with an exceptionally good economy rate, who could open the bowling.

But that happened a few series ago. Pakistan never had a Plan B, a reserve allrounder as good as Hafeez. Pakistan tried making do with Haris Sohail, Ahmed Shahzad and Younis sharing ten overs between them but that experiment never bore any fruit, which forced a rethink of the team’s composition.

It was decided that five specialist bowlers would play. But who would make room for the fifth bowler to come in? Instead of dropping your worst performing batsman, Pakistan chose to get rid of the most specialized position that the sport has: the wicketkeeper, Sarfraz Ahmed.

Not only had Sarfraz done better than Younis recently with the bat (barring Younis’ century against New Zealand which did not result in a win), Sarfraz had also performed decently as an opener in the couple of games that he was handed an opportunity.

That, in turn meant that Umar Akmal would keep wickets for Pakistan. All the Akmal jokes aside, Umar has never been too keen on having the dual responsibility. Moreover, throughout the preceding series, Umar had not kept wickets, and was probably rusty when the time came to step up. You can’t blame a part-time wicketkeeper for a drop, just as you wouldn’t blame a part-time bowler for leaking 80 in 10!

Opening with Younis meant that he himself was playing in a position unfamiliar to him. To do so, in foreign conditions is absurd. To do so against India, in what might be the highest pressure game for the team, is outright crazy.

Not only was the opening partnership new and unsettled, our number 3 was a raw player, who had never played at first drop. Playing Haris Sohail at that position was not only a disservice to the batsman, but also one against the team’s balance and its middle order.

If blame is to be placed on someone, it has to be the management; the captain, coach, and selectors on tour. Their inability and/or reluctance to drop Younis Khan from the playing XI has robbed the team of balance. Selecting Younis does not mean just choosing him over another batsman; it has consequences that go beyond just one position out of the XI; an unsettled opening pair, a raw number 3, a weaker middle order, and a part-time keeper.

No one has ever doubted Younis’ commitment to the team, his patriotism, his fitness, or his work ethic. But more than anything, his form needs to be evaluated. Younis may well be our best Test batsman, and one of our top 5 ever, but his one day record has been ordinary overall, more so of late. It’s time that the management realizes that his use-by date has come and gone, and his inclusion will hurt the team more than helping it. For Pakistan’s fortunes to take a turn for the positive, the stalwart has to be benched. 

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