Pakistan's fall has been disgraceful, their "satisfaction" within even worse.
The year started off with a series win in India, but not before a predictable, familiar batting collapse that handed the hosts a narrow win at a freezing Feroz Shah Kotla. Worse followed, namely a Test series whitewash in South Africa, and Pakistan didn’t fare much better in the ODIs. A win, far from comprehensive, followed in Edinburgh before a last-ball tie and a close call was witnessed against Ireland.
Surely Pakistan has had enough of their bad run, and normal service should resume in the Champions Trophy. In three matches, they suffered three losses—the batting dismal, the results outright shambolic. So a tour of the West Indies and Zimbabwe could not have come at a better time for Pakistan, who were looking for some luck, a ray of hope and perhaps some batting practice.
The West Indies did provide all that, but Zimbabwe looked in no mood. The results aptly depicted the mood Zimbabwe were in and the caution that Pakistan had adopted as policy. Pakistan did not rest any seniors, and Zimbabwe lacked the world-class touch. Still, the hosts managed to run close in the Twenty20s, pull off an ODI win and then deliver the biggest shock with the second Test win.
So where did it all go so wrong for Pakistan?
This one dates back to the selection days: What was the logic behind Taufeeq Umar’s omission for the Tests?
The left-hander, who averages almost 39 in Test cricket, missed the South Africa tour due to injury, but surely a recall was warranted given Pakistan’s inability to lay a good foundation. The youngster Khurram Manzoor was chosen—at the expense of Nasir Jamshed—to partner all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez.
Hafeez’s wretched form in whites continued, and he was unable to make any impression at all. Pakistan missed the resolve of Umar, and although Manzoor crafted two half-centuries, Hafeez’s failure meant plenty of work for Pakistan’s middle order early on.
The cautious, feared approach
Worrying signs had started emerging during the Champions Trophy, but alien conditions and Pakistan’s frailty against the moving ball were the reasons given.
But against West Indies and Zimbabwe, the openers refused to get going. Seeing out both new balls was the order of the day. The defensive mindset was meant to give way to a late onslaught, but so stuck on the backfoot were the Pakistanis that despite the crash and bang later in the day, 300 was never crossed in the ODI.
Even in the longer format, refusal to rotate the strike and slow progress meant that as wickets fell, Pakistan lost out on both accounts. There was an air of nothingness about Pakistan’s batting at times, much like the motorway on a Sunday morning or cheap airplane tea.
Caution paved the way for fear. Bad balls were duly deposited into the palms and not over the boundary rope. Extra pressure resulted in wickets. Lack of runs forced the loss. Misbah-ul-Haq tried—as he has for the last six months—and Younus Khan showed glimpses of class. The rest refused to learn and step out of the poor patch.
Missing a fast-bowling all-rounder
Hafeez’s injury restricted Misbah to just four bowlers in the Tests.
The world would’ve, though four, including Saeed Ajmal, would’ve been enough to skittle out Zimbabwe twice. But with the resolve and commitment on show, the plan backfired. Asad Shafiq and Adnan Akmal’s indifferent form with the bat continued, and it was apparent that Pakistan needed an all-rounder. They needed someone who can bat and hold up an end when needed and also chip in with a few useful, penetrative overs.
Younus was tried, but he’s a part-timer at best. Misbah did not have anyone else. The need was felt in the ODIs as well. Wahab Riaz was used as that in the Champions Trophy, but given his generosity with the ball, his less-than-effective batting forced his exit.
A keeper who can bat well
Adnan can arguably be termed the country’s best glovesman. But is his batting up to the mark?
He fails more than he scores, and despite being immaculate (almost) behind the stumps, Pakistan needed confidence and assurance from him, not only in giving Misbah, the lone survivor, plenty of support, but also in making useful runs.
Adnan was not chosen for his batting, but given how Pakistan’s batsmen fold away meekly at will, it won’t harm the team if he were to spend more time in the middle and contribute with the bat as well.
Too much reliance on Ajmal
Pakistan’s bowling coach once said the team needed to look beyond Saeed Ajmal.
There has been huge reliance on the off-spinner—and rightly so given the magic he works on the ball—but plan for the day he is injured, or off-colour or even decides to bid cricket adieu, as Mohammad Akram advised during Champions Trophy.
This was on show when Zimbabwe worked out a plan against Ajmal, first in the ODIs and then in the second Test. He was shown caution, then smashed over cow corner. His bad deliveries—the shorter, faster and wider ones—were duly deposited on the off-side. He tried coming round the wicket to work his doosra to a good effect. But the hosts weren’t giving up yet.
Ajmal was taken out of the attack, and with Pakistan short on a bowler already, much of the same was put into the attack. There was no Plan B.
He did look tired, over-used and less effective as the second Test progressed. Playing almost non-stop, Ajmal needed a break. He should have been rested for the entire tour, especially with South Africa and Sri Lanka lining up next, but Pakistan’s reliance on the ace off-spinner meant they couldn’t imagine forming the team sheet without his name.
The missing case of a right-arm fast bowler
There has been a flurry of left-arm fast bowlers for Pakistan in the last few years—Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, Rahat Ali and Mohammad Irfan.
Most of have been good, some even better. But while every name mentioned above offers something unique, the left-arm denominator remains the same, barring Misbah from offering something different and unique.
Ehsan Adil, Tanvir Ahmed and Asad Ali were tried and cast aside for various reasons. Umar Gul is still on the road to recovery. In his absence, there remains an absence of adequate backup, too.
A change of angle and offerings might have come in handy against Zimbabwe.