Could Salahuddin and Hamza replace Misbah and Younus?
Pakistan’s loss to New Zealand has been associated with many reasons including old horses, Younus Khan and Misbahul Haq, showing signs of aging, senior batsmen, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed, not playing to the best of their abilities, lack of match practice prior to the series and unfamiliar conditions.
Many former players including Mohammad Asif, Muhammad Yousuf and Shoaib Akhtar, to name a few, have been extremely vocal about their criticism of Pakistan playing their home matches on flat decks in the UAE which has done more harm than benefit to our cricket as a whole. While their arguments do have merit, I strongly believe that is and has always been the lack of attention and funds invested into our FC structure that is taking our game backwards.
While we start preparing ourselves for life after Misbah and Younus and search for replacements, hardly any names come to mind who could find themselves at ease in the Pakistani middle-order that will eventually be put to trial. Usman Salahuddin would beg to differ with the aforementioned statement. Salahuddin’s previous and only stint with the national side came to a tragic end just as quickly as he was inducted into the team. While many, including Salahuddin himself, would not recognise that as the most accurate representation of his abilities as a batsman nor the best of opportunities, the “discarded player” label is bound to sting.
With five additional years of First Class cricket under his belt, Salahuddin has grown in terms of confidence and maturity which is proved by his effortless racking up of runs in the domestic circuit. With 829 runs to his name in 15 innings, second only to Kamran Akmal who is a mere three runs ahead, Salahuddin is averaging 82.30 in this year’s Quaid-e-Azam and already has three centuries and five half-centuries to his name.
He has everything you look for in a Test batsman – technically correct, temperamentally solid and the ability to keep the scoreboard ticking with singles, something rarely associated with our countrymen. Representing National Bank of Pakistan, Salahuddin has been the backbone of his side batting primarily at number four and number three when required to. Soft, grassy pitches and humid conditions favouring swing bowling are what typically welcomed him during most of National Bank’s matches in Punjab which implies no easy runs for the batsmen.
Moreover, out of the 19 FC centuries that he has scored to date, 17 have been scored on difficult pitches in Punjab. The on-going edition of the Quaid-e-Azam trophy could be Salahuddin’s breakthrough season and the runs could not have come at a better time.
While Salahuddin could be an answer to Pakistan’s middle-order woes following the retirement of Misbah and Younus, Pakistan’s bowling was the actual let-down in, what were supposed to be, bowler-friendly wickets. In plain and simple words, Pakistan’s bowling unit in Tests is only slightly above a level of mediocrity. Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali are erratic with their line and lengths and only tend to produce moments of startling brilliance at scattered time intervals, while leaking runs with great consistency. Imran Khan is disciplined, but unthreatening for the most part of it.
As the bowlers disappointed massively in New Zealand, Mir Hamza continued to tear through line-ups in Quaid-e-Azam Trophy at a staggering average of 14.60. While I would take any bowling records with a pinch of salt bearing in mind the conditions and overall quality of batsmen in the domestic circuit, Hamza has continued to deliver for United Bank, forming a sublime partnership with another brilliant talent, Sameen Gul.
Hamza has 43 scalps in 11 innings, only behind Mohammad Abbas and Tabish Khan, including five five-wicket hauls and best match figures of 11/104. He has been performing for the Pakistan A squad consistently and is ready to step into the international arena. He is not the quickest and there is no need for him to be either. Colin de Grandhomme’s recent success against Pakistan bears witness to the fact that hitting the right areas and maintaining discipline is good enough.
Credit where it is due, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has taken notice of the questions raised by players over financial concerns and this FC season has seen a greater influx of day/night matches that were televised. However, if Pakistan is to develop into a solid Test team and recapture the top spot, the players and the board need to begin taking the country’s premier FC tournament more seriously. More effort needs to go into the preparation of pitches that are competitive and have enough pace and bounce in them to ensure less trouble for our batsmen when playing in hostile conditions – like the ones in Australia and New Zealand.
Salahuddin and Hamza are two players who have shined throughout this Quaid-e-Azam Trophy season and with both players being under the age of 30, which seems to be one of the obvious selection policies of Inzamamul Haq, could end up serving Pakistan for another decade. Both players would ideally be part of Pakistan’s squad touring the West Indies in March next year which could formally kick-start Pakistan’s new era.
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