Take a look at Danyaal Hasan’s brilliant ‘contribution’ below and you can also check out his Blog @ http://writeofleft.wordpress.com/
Proving we Belong!For the future of one-day international (ODI) cricket, much rests on the success of the 2009 Champions Trophy. The tournament has been billed as an ODI cricketing extravaganza; a showcase of evidence that the ODI format is indeed not the cruel step-mother to T20 Cinderella. In limiting the event to a fortnight of competition between the top 8 cricketing sides, the ICC has at least given itself a chance of fitting the glass slipper on both formats. However, if recent tournaments are anything to go by, it will have its hands full in silencing the T20 bandwagon.
Similarly for Pakistan, the tournament is another date with relevance, an opportunity to further impress itself on world cricket. In the wake of the Lahore attack on the Sri Lankan team, Pakistan’s journey back to respectability was expected to be long and arduous. However, the unanticipated outcome of Lords helped replace the murmurs of “deserved retribution” with generous proposals of neutrality. A couple of months on, Pakistan now has a cricketing calendar which is by no means full but certainly not as bare as the soul of its governing body.
Grouped with two of the top three ODI sides in the world, Pakistan goes into this tournament as “dangerous underdogs”, a tag they live and die by to the point that for them it has now become a cliché. Conventional wisdom suggests that it is too early to expect a still undercooked Pakistan to overcome the battle tested Australia and India. But rarely does Pakistan let conventional wisdom live up to its billing. To further the argument for irrationality, between the T20 World Cup, the tour to Sri Lanka, and the Champions Trophy warm up matches, there have been several sightings of the audacious swagger that was synonymous with Pakistan cricket’s glory years.
A mix of experience and raw talent, spear headed by pace and swing has always been Pakistan’s formula for success. Finding the right ingredients that make up the combination though has been difficult in recent years. Constant question marks of leadership, conspicuous absences of both pace and swing, and a middle order auctioned to Zee TV oblivion have made for some poor results and even poorer headlines. Recent outings however suggest that the team is getting closer to cracking the code to modern day ODIs; explosive openers, run-a-ball stable middle orders, power hitting all-rounders, and a bowling attack with pace, swing, and variety in spin. If the ICC wants ODIs to emerge from the shadow of T20, they would be smart to hope that Pakistan delivers!
Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik have the firepower to deliver a more than 6 an over start against most attacks. Equally plausible though is 10 for 2 but fear of failure should never be allowed to bully reason. Thus Kamran Akmal should be allowed a run to cement his place at the top. Likewise, Shoaib Malik’s record at 3 has always suggested that his strengths of building an innings and rotating strike are wasted lower down the order. Imran Nazir makes for an able back up but I suspect now mostly on paper. Although still relatively young, his shot selection and temperament are more suited to T20s where neither prove too costly.
Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousaf, and Misbah-ul-Haq make for a formidable middle order, albeit Misbah’s inclusion over Fawad Alam has to be marginal even when taking into account the need for experience against the best. That said, these three have the skills to maintain/up the tempo without taking too many risks, or if need be consolidate and build a platform for the power hitters.
Afridi’s conversion to consistency and Umar Akmal’s sensational introduction to international cricket make for a perfect 6 and 7. Responsibility has thus far suited Afridi’s character. One hopes he is able to continue holding his head squarely between his two broad shoulders. Umar Akmal on the other hand needs to be let loose. He is a batting talent gifted with a very rare combination of technique, timing, sheer strength, and temperament. The PCB does not need to look further than Imran Nazir to realise the need for care and sense.
Slots 9, 10, and 11 have to go to Umar Gul, Mohammad Aamer, and Mohammad Asif, irrespective of the number of 5 wicket hauls Rana Naved brings in. Asif’s successful comeback holds the key to this trio’s success as it allows Gul to come first change, which undoubtedly is his strength. Aamer continues to impress and at the risk of tempting fate, looks set to develop into a very quick s’W’ing bowler, given time and physical maturation. All in all, Pakistani supporters should be thrilled to see this combination in action. Hopefully somewhere over the next two weeks, we can finally lay the ghost of Rawalpindi Express to rest.
With the balance that Malik and Akmal bring to the team at the top of the order, the number 8 slot can be at the Captain’s discretion. Saeed Ajmal certainly deserves every opportunity he gets, but certain situations will require playing an extra all-rounder or fast bowler. Fawad, Rana Naved, Rao Iftikhar, and hopefully at some stage a resurgent Razzaq can ably fill this role. Even with Saeed, the team bats strong till 7, with the option of 3 genuine fast bowlers, a 40 for 2 off spinner, and an all purpose maverick in Afridi, with Malik and Younis providing cover. This is by far the most balanced Pakistani team we have seen since the last World Cup and arguably since the tragic death of Bob Woolmer.
Expecting Pakistan to live up to the hype is usually an excruciatingly painful experience. But expectations for this Champions Trophy are less about winning and more about proving that we belong with the best. Just as at the start of the T20 World Cup, a semi final birth is truly a long shot, but the scene is certainly set for Pakistan to once again defy the odds. If history does indeed repeat itself, I doubt whether even the ODI might of South Africa is able to cope with its slightly lighter shade of green!