What we lack

January 17, 2021

If due attention is not given to domestic structure, Pakistan’s cricket team will continue struggling on fast and bouncy tracks

In the last three years Pakistan cricket team’s performance has been on the decline. Since Jan 2018, the Green-shirts have played 21 Tests, lost 11 and won only six. During the same period, Pakistan played 46 ODIs, won only 19 and were beaten in 24 matches.

In the shortest format, Pakistan’s performance remained much better with 25 wins in 40 matches. They lost 13.

Recently, Pakistan faced humiliating defeats in New Zealand. They lost the T20 series 1-2 and later were whitewashed in the Test series (0-2). The Test series defeat at the hands of New Zealand was their third consecutive loss in the format during the past 14 months.

It was a total failure of the team in every part of the game. Pakistan suffered four defeats in five matches against the Kiwis, which included a huge defeat by an innings and 175 runs in the second Test.

As usual the batsmen mostly let us down. The young batsmen lacked experience and faced difficulty in playing on the fast and bouncy pitches.

Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq is under severe criticism after the team’s dismal show against the Black Caps.

After the series, Misbah said the cause of the defeats was the lack of practice due to the isolation of the players for 18-19 days.

“Absence of the skipper Babar Azam and the regular opener Fakhar Zaman were the other reasons for the team’s poor performances. We should accept that the opposition were better than us in all three departments. They have been playing good cricket for the past couple of years,” Misbah explained.

If we accept Misbah’s excuse, the other teams’ performances should also have declined because they faced similar circumstances.

Indian cricket team after a two-week quarantine in Australia lost the ODI series 2-1, but later they won the T20 series, and after a defeat at Adelaide bounced back by winning the second Test at Melbourne.

It was the performance of a team that was bowled out for their lowest ever total of 36 in the first Test. They fought back in the next game and won convincingly, by 8 wickets.

It must be remembered that their regular captain Virat Kohli was not part of the team for personal reasons. Regular fast bowlers Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav were not available due to injuries. But it was the mental toughness and self-belief that gave them a comfortable win against a strong Australia team on their soil.

Even in the third Test at Sydney, the Indian middle-order survived 94 overs on the last day and lost just three wickets. Hanuma Vihari and spinner Ravichandran Ashwin resisted for 42.4 overs for the sixth wicket to save the Test. Overall team India played 131 overs and lost only five wickets to save the match against the fiery Aussie pace attack.

On the other hand, Pakistan team failed to survive on the last day in the first Test against New Zealand at Mount Maunganui when their seven wickets were remaining. Fawad Alam played over 40 overs alone but the other batsmen failed to support him.

It was not the first time. During the tour of Australia in 2019, Pakistan lost the T20 series (0-2) and also both Tests by an innings margin under Misbah’s coaching.

Under Misbah’s coaching reign, Pakistan’s overall record has remained poor as the Green-caps suffered whitewashes against Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand in Tests and T20I series.

The 46-year-old Misbah has a three-year contract with the PCB. He was appointed as head coach and chief selector in place of Mickey Arthur and Inzamam-ul-Haq after the 2019 ICC World Cup. But last October, Misbah stepped down as Pakistan’s chief selector, but agreed to continue as head coach till 2022, but after a pathetic performance from the senior team, Misbah may lose his position before the expiry of his contract.

After the appointment of Misbah, Champions Trophy 2017 winning skipper Sarfraz Ahmed was removed as captain and dropped from the team in all three formats.

Azhar Ali made the Test captain while Babar Azam was chosen to lead the team in the limited-overs formats. However, after the England series last year, Azhar stepped down as skipper and Babar was made the captain in all formats.

Winning and losing is part of the game, but the way Pakistan team performed and batsmen threw their wickets was disappointing. They looked helpless against Kiwis’ pace battery and lost their wickets one after another on short balls.

Batting on seaming tracks has always been a problem for Pakistani batsmen, but bowling always remained a strong point. But in the pacers friendly conditions where Kiwis bowlers took Pakistani wickets quite easily, Pakistani bowlers looked toothless.

During the 2018 tour of New Zealand, former batsman-turned-commentator Ramiz Raja warned that Pakistan batsmen were vulnerable to short balls. Raja wrote: “When will Pakistan batsmen & batting staff realise that batting woes stem from lack of ability & technique against the short ball. Not a single batsman in this team pulls or hooks. not even good at leaving them.”

After Pakistan’s defeat against New Zealand in 2018, batsman Azhar Ali realised his team’s problem against short-pitched deliveries. He said that Pakistan are still working on their ability to handle short balls.

“If you come to this part of the world, you do expect short-pitched deliveries,” said Azhar. “You expect teams from the subcontinent to be tested with that short stuff.”

But after more than two years, there is no improvement in the players’ batting style, batsmen are failing to learn from their mistakes.

Due to lack of proper guidance they are inconsistent and are prone to throwing away their wickets in crunch situations.

Pakistan’s batsmen score 20, 30 runs easily but when they are set and can play big innings throw their wickets with stupid shots.

Pakistani players should not blame conditions for the loss in New Zealand. The pitches did not behave unexpectedly. Professional cricketers should be ready to face every challenge.

Replacing coaches is the solution to the long-time batting problem? Obviously not.

There is also a question mark on the batting coach’s performance. Many foreign coaches have coached Pakistan: Richard Pybus, Geoff Lawson, Dav Whatmore, Bob Woolmer, Grant Flower, and Micky Arthur. But there is no sign of improvement in the batsmen’s technique so far.

If the domestic structure and academies are not helping them improve their skills, the players should themselves consult with senior players to rectify their weaknesses.

Former Indian player Sanjay Manjrekar suggests that the only solution to Pakistan’s overseas batting woes is more ‘A team’ tours abroad on a regular basis so that young players learn early in their careers how to handle fast and bouncy tracks.

It’s a good suggestion, but I think instead of spending money on tours, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should improve the infrastructure, ground conditions and prepare pitches with grass at home.

What can a player do when he is not used to the conditions he faces at the international level!

The board never provides the opportunity to domestic players to play their trophy matches on fast and grassy tracks. In the domestic matches, batsmen score tons of runs as they face little bounce and hardly any movement.

Every country prepares its pitches according to its team’s strength, but Pakistan is most unfortunate in this. We have had the services of the world’s most lethal fast bowlers in Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.

Currently we have such talented players as Mohammad Abbas, Hassan Ali, Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah, but the PCB hasn’t taken advantage of this.

If attention is not given to domestic structure, the Pakistan will continue struggling on fast and bouncy tracks as they did in Australia and New Zealand.

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What we lack