Pakistan triumphed over West Indies, but should we be celebrating?
Although Pakistan won the series, we had to scamper to a win in matches where we should have won with ease.
“We won, we won! I ca't believe we won!”
This was the reaction by most Pakistanis on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter after Pakistan won 3-1 against the West Indies on their own Caribbean turf.
We deserve to be happy, of course. Why not? After losing 3-2 to South Africa, almost losing to cricket weakling Ireland and a flop performance in the Champions Trophy, we’ve finally won something that matters!
But how well did we actually do?
Let’s stay cheerful for a bit; I don’t wish to dampen my countrymen’s joy so soon. I’ll start reflecting on the recently concluded series by summing up the positives first.
The biggest plus was Umar Akmal’s return. Akmal is a young, extremely talented cricketer who was tipped to be Pakistan’s leading batsman three years ago. But when he went a bit wayward, we feared his career was over. After being snubbed for the tour of South Africa and the Champions Trophy, Akmal has finally redeemed himself. He remained Pakistan’s second highest run getter (175) in this series, with an impressive average of 58.33. With a strike rate of 111.46, the dynamic Akmal scored quick runs when they mattered most. To top it all, his wicket-keeping was of the highest calibre. He took seven catches, including some difficult takes, and stumped one wicket.
However, whether Pakistan should utilise Akmal as a wicket-keeper in the future is a question that still looms over our heads. After all, if he continues as wicket-keeper, it might hamper his batting, which our side values more.
The second plus was our brilliant, much improved fielding. For a while, I was confused – was this really the Pakistani team doing unexpectedly well on the field, or a reputedly good fielding team like South Africa, perhaps? We exceeded our past standards by far! There were almost no dropped catches and easy singles were blocked. For once, every single player looked busy doing a great job on the field.
A particularly good but overlooked performer in this series was Mohammed Irfan. Having made his comeback just this year, Irfan’s rise has been mercurial. He was a valuable addition to the bowling side, taking early wickets and exerting plenty of pressure on West Indies batsmen during middle overs. Accompanying him was Junaid Khan. With only two years of experience under his belt, Junaid was great at leading the Pakistani pace attack.
And then, there was the Man of the Series himself. Our very own Captain, Misbahul Haq was reassuring in his position as Pakistan’s Mr Dependable. He was our highest run-scorer in this series (260) with a solid average of 65. Although his batting style was characteristically on the slow side, he guaranteed Pakistan’s success when we needed stability due to early batting failures.
Things we could have done better
Of course, the Pakistani side did mess up some bits, and there are still plenty of lessons left to learn.
The low point of our performance in this series was our batting. After the retirement of Inzimamul Haq and Mohammed Yousuf, and the axing of Younis Khan, Pakistan really had no batting heroes left except for Misbahul Haq. In the good old days, the number three spot was filled by Inzimamul-Haq, and later, Mohammed Yousuf. Now, it is occupied by Mohammed Hafeez, which is a sad story in itself.
Hafeez let us down in South Africa and the Champions Trophy, and this series was yet another confirmation that he’s not up to the task he has been set. I think it’s time for him to think about his place in the Pakistani side. True, Hafeez is a very useful middle overs bowler but in the space of a batsman, he has under-performed consistently. Perhaps his spot would be better utilised by Umar Amin or Fawad Alam, both said to be in the reckoning for a call to the National side.
Pakistan’s opening pair was a disappointment, to say the least. Both Ahmed Shehzad and Nasir Jamshed remain fan favourites but they didn’t do much to deserve this support via their performances at the Caribbean. Both batsmen usually fell after posting scores of around 20. Each crossed 50 just once respectively, in the series. Although it might be early to raise questions, these openers should polish their skills and try much harder than this.
As for our bowling, although it remained reasonably good, our pace was lower than we would have liked in the death overs. It was evident that we were missing an experienced campaigner like Umar Gul, who is currently off the field due to a knee injury. Although both Junaid and Irfan looked threatening, the third seamer did not live up to expectations. Wahab Riaz was wayward and his poor bowling was a treat for the West Indian batsmen. In four matches, he managed to snatch just two wickets at an average of 75.
It is safe to say that despite some solid performances, the team lacked mental strength - the reason why some players failed to impress and one match turned out to be a tie. Pakistan had to scamper to a win in matches where we should have won with ease. Although we won the series, we could have done it much more gracefully.
To conclude - sure we can savour the win right now. But there are several factors, some of which I highlighted, that the PCB needs to address, and soon. There is still time to fix our shortcomings before we find ourselves in a frustrating situation where it is too late to make changes.