Yasir Shah is Pakistan's key to win against Ireland
After defeating the Proteas in Auckland, Pakistan has its sight set on yet another ‘do-or-die’ encounter with the giant-killers, Ireland, in Adelaide on March 15, 2015.
Amongst a group of seven, Pakistan is on the third position, one step ahead of Ireland, ready to qualify for the quarterfinals. In any other sport, this would be a favourable position to be in, but sadly, this is cricket. Unlike football, Pakistan cannot qualify for the next round with a nil draw.
The game of cricket is cruel. Pakistan has yet to make it through the next round, and if things do not work out, we might be on the flight back home sooner than expected.
Coming down to the match, the winning formula for Pakistan should be to include our very own ‘Messi’ – Yasir Shah – in the playing 11 for an all-important encounter.
Many may question the inclusion of Shah in the team, especially when our current bowling attack, which has defended two of the lowest totals in the tournament, has proven to be beyond remarkable.
However, as I mentioned in my last post, it all comes down to smart cricket and including Shah will prove to be a smart decision, regardless of what the result may be.
Here is why I think so:
Adelaide – a spinner’s ground
Adelaide is one ground in Australia where Asian teams feel at home, whereas, the home team feels out of their comfort zones. It is the sort of pitch one comes across in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, where you can play a shot on the up without having to worry about the bounce and lateral movement.
It is a pitch that is slow in nature and tends to get better as the game goes on, proving to be of great help to a spinner. Going through the statistics of the top seven grounds, which include Adelaide, Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA), Brisbane, Hobart and Canberra, I thought that it would either be Sydney or Adelaide with the best strike rate for spinners.
However, it surprised me that the WACA ground has produced the best results (42 balls per wicket), with Sydney coming in second (45 balls per wicket) and Adelaide coming in third, with a wicket after every 48 balls for a spinner.
These statistics might not seem as attractive, but someone who has watched the Big Bash League and watched different forms of cricket in Australia over the years, would agree that Adelaide is one of the few pitches in Australia which assist spinners more as compared to the rest of the grounds.
The Irish record against spin
We have always heard that teams outside Asia are usually not good with spin, and that seems to be the case with Ireland. Since 2007, 239 times out of 663 Irish dismissals came against spin bowlers. This figure is quite gigantic in nature, considering that they do not play top quality opposition day in day out and do not possess bowlers who are quality spinners. They play cricket either in their home ground or in Dubai against the weaker opposition.
Their average runs per wicket loss, while playing against spinners, is lower (24.68) than their overall average of 25.68 runs per wicket. These statistics should push our team management to make the correct decision.
The Irish record against spin is not that great, according to the statistics mentioned above. But the statistics that matter the most with Shah’s case is the ratio of right-handers in the Irish ranks, who had trouble batting against the spin. A total of 165 out of 239 dismissals were of right handed batsmen. Their top three batsmen’s are left-handed – Ed Joyce, William Porterfield and Neil O'Brien.
Going further into these statistics shows the real difference between the runs per wicket by right-handed and left-handed batsmen respectively. The difference is staggering. Left-handed batsmen in the Irish team have an average of 30.43 per wicket lost, which is far better than what right-handed batsmen produce – 22.36 runs per wicket.
Yasir Shah’s record
These statistics make Shah’s case even stronger. His record against right-handed batsmen speaks for itself, even in his short career at an international level. Out of 27 scalps that he took in his first five Test matches at an international level, 18 were right-handed.
This shows how valuable Shah can be against Ireland.
Many have argued that we should drop Shahid Afridi and bring in Shah because Afridi is not taking any wickets and does not score many runs. That would be a leg spinner to leg spinner replacement. I find these arguments futile and a step too far for the team.
Pakistan has already had a difficult time striking a balance ever since the ICC banned Mohammad Hafeez, and dropping Afridi, who is probably batting as consistently as he can in this World Cup by scoring an average of over 23, which is close to his overall career average and far greater than his overall World Cup average of 13 plus, makes no sense whatsoever.
He added a useful 20 down the order and dropping him would mean that the Pakistani batting would be shakier than what it already is. He is a match winner with the ball and he would have had more wickets if Umar Akmal had managed some catches. Dropping an experienced bowler like Afridi in the bowling line up, which already consists of many young bowlers, is a risky call, one that could easily unsettle the team.
Ideally, Shah should play instead of Muhammad Irfan, who has been facing problems with his upper thigh, which hopefully is not a hamstring injury. Giving Irfan an extended rest will help him recover completely and will let him stay fresh come the quarters. Making Irfan play on a subcontinent like pitch can lead to more severe injury.
With Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz, Rahat Ali, Yasir Shah, Shahid Afridi and Haris Sohail, Pakistan should have enough in the tank to outgun the Irish from the World Cup.