Akhtar’s presence vital for Pakistan
Saying goodbye to someone who has served the country with great distinction and valour is always a sad moment. It is even more painful for the individual who is bidding farewell to a glittering career.
Shoaib Akhtar’s retirement is indeed a time for reflection for all those who had the good fortune of seeing him in full flight. The world will certainly miss the sight of the ‘Rawalpindi Express’ bowling his lightning-quick yorkers and his clever slower balls that bamboozled the best of batsmen.
Considering the immense amount of experience and skill that Akhtar possesses, I found the decision to drop him for the match against Australia, a shocking one. It was completely inexplicable to go into a World Cup contest against the defending champions, without a bowler of his class. I only hope that he was kept out because of fitness issues and that he will be played in the quarter-final, as his experience in the knock-out stages of the World Cup will be crucial for Pakistan.
The 1992 champions were lucky to have encountered the Australians when all their key batsmen were having a collective bad day. To say the least, the four-time winners put up a shoddy, pathetic batting performance, not worthy of a side that enjoys the number one ranking in One-Day Internationals.
Admittedly, Umar Gul did bowl brilliantly, especially with the new ball. He was accurate and seamed the ball around, which made life tough for the Aussies. Opening the bowling with Abdur Rehman was also a good move that paid off as he did a fine job containing the openers and was also among the wicket takers. It will not be a bad idea for Shahid Afridi to make use of this tactic again in the knock-out stages.
However, notwithstanding the decent bowling display, the team management must not ignore Akhtar for future matches, keeping in mind that many Australians simply gifted their wickets away, and Pakistan may not find themselves in this fortunate situation again in the tournament.
One weakness that has plagued the team throughout the World Cup - and that has been pointed out time and again by all experts - is the dismal run of form of the openers. I have been advocating the promotion of Kamran Akmal to the opener’s slot all along and I thought the right decision was made in going in with the wicket-keeper at the top of the order and this opening combination must now be persisted with. It would have been better if this move had been made in one of the earlier matches, which would have given Kamran time to settle into this key position.
As we approach the tougher terrain of the World Cup, one hopes that the national side’s shortcomings, that had become all too apparent during the group stages, will be worked upon effectively. The team management is now facing a tough task, where every match will bring huge pressure with it.
It is, therefore, very important that the team do their homework well before embarking upon the next difficult phase of this tournament.
The writer is a former Pakistan captain
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2011.
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