Pakistan’s Brave New World — neither brave nor new

With much at stake and margins so close, nothing less than a 3-0 whitewash will do against Zimbabwe in ODIs

Taha Anis May 25, 2015

LAHORE: It is a strange world we live in. Shoaib Malik was our best bowler, Bilawal Bhatti our most reliable finisher, Muhammad Rizwan kept wickets better than the infinitely more specialised Sarfraz Ahmed and Pakistan’s home matches were actually played at home.

It is not exactly a brave new world — there is little bravery in selecting your number 10 for his batting skills nor is there anything new about the 33-year-old Malik. But it is a world we were warned of when skipper Shahid Afridi said that experiments will be made in the coming weeks in order to settle on the best side for the World T20 next year.

These experiments have yielded some mixed results. Bhatti was woefully expensive in both matches but then produced a cameo to win the tight contest, Malik has been as poor with the bat as he has been good with the ball, Rizwan failed but was perhaps sent too late down the order, Imad Wasim impressed with some tight bowling but was inexplicably given only two overs, Muhammad Sami looked threatening and took wickets but also leaked runs. However, there was also the definitive success story of Mukhtar Ahmed — man of the match for both the T20s and the player of the series — and fellow Sialkot Stallions opener Nauman Anwar also looked confident in his 10-ball 18.

All these successes and failures helped Pakistan scrape over the line in both matches — winning with three and two balls to spare. The matches were closer than they should have been — it was the world number five playing against the world number 12 — and age-old problems such as sloppy fielding and difficulty in chasing down big totals continued to go unaddressed.

But few people cared. In the end it was about the return of cricket and as the icing on the cake Pakistan won both inconsequential matches. Occasions surrounded by such hype often turn out to be anticlimactic but Pakistan, the greatest of entertainers, ensured that the fans watching in the stands and at home were at the edge of their seats right till the end in both matches. It was money well spent for the spectators and two honest hard day’s work for the players — both could go home understandably satisfied.

But now that the ODIs are here, the honeymoon period must end. A spot in the Champions Trophy is at stake and ninth placed Pakistan need to regain their spot in the top eight of the ODI rankings if they are to feature in the event; currently trailing both West Indies and Bangladesh, in seventh and eighth respectively, by a point.

Points are awarded and deducted depending on the opposition, so a win against Australia will yield more points than one against Zimbabwe but a loss against the latter will see more points deducted as compared to a loss against the current number one side.

With much at stake and margins so close, nothing less than a 3-0 whitewash will do; especially with the daunting prospect of an away series in Sri Lanka to follow. Losing even a single match to a team outside the top 10 will lead to a severe deduction of points — one that Pakistan can ill afford, especially if Bangladesh get a few results under their belt when they host second ranked India and then fourth placed South Africa.

The reality is that there is a lot to lose and very little to gain when it comes to the race for the Champions Trophy. The coach and management know what is at stake and the experimentation seen in the Bangladesh series seems to have come to an end. Instead, the all too familiar faces make their return — for better or for worse.

Ahmed Shehzad, Sami, Malik and Hammad Azam are all included in the ODI squad after varying lengths of exile. Imad and Babar Azam are in line to make their debuts but with nearly 50 List A matches each under their belts, they too come with a certain amount of experience. The team is decidedly based on a safety-first approach and the problems exposed so mercilessly by Bangladesh must be fixed.

In these two matches, where several new heroes were born, the fans showed how loving they can be. The players must be warned; if they don’t perform now that it matters, these fans will show just how unforgiving they can be.


Parvez | 6 years ago | Reply Pakistan International cricket has cancer........diagnosing it as the common flu and treating it, is doing both cricket and the country a disservice.
Humble Pie | 6 years ago | Reply Rizwan was ordinary in keeping. Sarfraz is not good either but I felt that Rizwan was even worst than him in keeping.
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