Pakistani Cricket Finds Positive Outlook Despite Dismal 2009

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Pakistani Cricket Finds Positive Outlook Despite Dismal 2009
Hamish Blair/Getty Images

Their 3rd One Day International at Abu Dhabi against New Zealand was Pakistan’s last 50-over match of this format in a dismal 2009.

The match sums up Pakistan’s miserable performances this year in One Day International Cricket. It ended the way it all started. The only problem I have is that they repeated the same mistakes throughout this calendar year, which as a Pakistani fan is very frustrating.

Out of 20 matches in 2009, Pakistan has just managed to win eight, when they could easily have many more had they played with patience. Eight out of 20 doesn’t look good on paper, but I still believe this year is one of the best as compared to the last five, six years in terms of positives and future prospects for Pakistan’s cricket team.

My prediction is that their win percentage will increase in 2010 if they don’t repeat the mistakes of 2009.

The first series for Pakistan this year was three ODIs against Sri Lanka at home.

They started off brilliantly, chasing 221 with eight wickets in hand courtesy Salman Butt’s unbeaten century and Khurram Manzoor’s gutsy 83. They crumbled in the second ODI while chasing 290 plus and were bundled out for well inside 200.

Following was a match which changed the whole scenario of Pakistan Cricket. While chasing 310, Pakistan's batting led miserably, and they were all out for a shameful total of 75. This ended Shoaib Malik’s captaincy tenure of a year and a half. Pakistan ended up losing a series which they should have won after being 1-0 after the first match.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai hosted Pakistan’s home limited over series against Australia in April.

A new captain, Younis Khan, led a side against the World Champions, who had lost their flair after some key retirements, and had the best chance of clinching a bilateral series against them in many years.

It couldn’t have started better for Pakistan after afridi-ajmal heroics in Dubai when they whistled through the Aussie batting lineup to go 1-0 up in five match series. Pakistan went on to lose the next three games including the third one in which they were chasing 198 and comfortably placed at 95 without a wicket at one stage.

Due to a batting collapse, they were restricted to 171, and a chance to win a series against Australia perished. A consolation win in the last match ended up the series at 3-2. For the second consecutive time, Pakistan lost the initiative of winning a series after winning the first match.

Grouping rumors within the team also got the media’s attention during the series, especially after the batting collapse in the 3rd ODI.

The Sri Lankan tour in July-August was another miserable one in which the grouping and bookies scandal came to the limelight. This was the only ODI series in which Pakistan had no initiative to lose as they lost the first three matches after winning the last couple of dead rubbers.

Pakistan had no solution to Kulasekara’s in-dippers and collapsed in two out of first three ODIs.

In the third match, bowlers were not up to the mark to defend 289. The team clearly looked out of sorts, and Younis Khan was under the scanner even though he won the T20 Championship just a couple of months ago. The last two convincing victories came when the series was already over.

Pakistan announced their best possible 15 member squad for the Champions Trophy, perhaps apart from the exclusion of Abdul Razzaq, who wasn’t convincing in the Sri Lankan tour. Pre-tournament statements of various players suggested that they were off to play a one-off encounter against India and nothing else really mattered.

Umar Akmal saved the day against second string West Indies while the team had a hiccup during low scoring chase on a green bouncy Johannesburg track. One of the best partnership worth 206 runs between Yousuf and Malik against India saw Pakistan home to the semifinal.

A remarkable fight back while defending a low score against Australia was regarded more or less as a victory by all.

Batsmen fell irresponsibly to New Zealand attack in the semifinal just like the game against Australia but this time they were not saved by the bowling and fielding.

Then, the storm of match-fixing allegations among others started. I knew it had nothing to do with match-fixing as the team was in a great form of missing out an initiative in the on-going year. Plus, they took New Zealand a bit lightly and of course, luck didn’t go their way.

All Pakistan wanted was to learn from their recent past mistakes while going into the 3-match ODI series against the Kiwi’s in Abu Dhabi, but they simply are unwilling to change themselves.

A 138 run victory in the first match before giving the series away 2-1 is not a new thing for Pakistani fans, especially this year. Another batting collapse in the third ODI from 49 without loss to 101 for 9 on a batting friendly track sums up the haunting year for Pakistan.

It seems that whenever a wicket or two is down quickly, a batting collapse is always on the cards.

I am not disappointed that Pakistan didn’t win the series, but I am frustrated of the fact that they are just not learning from their mistakes. I mean, why do you have to play pull shots when you have just arrived at the crease with few wickets gone down in quick succession and a lot of overs are yet to be played? Why can’t you play with a cool head and negotiate a few overs without anything silly? I would have been the last person to raise a finger on this issue if it happened just once or twice in a year, but losing matches regularly with the same brainless cricket is very annoying.

Despite all this, I believe this was a very eventful year for Pakistan Cricket. There are some very bright prospects for Pakistan, which have come on to the scene this year and will play a vital role in their 2011 World Cup campaign.

I am a true supporter of Younis Khan as a leader. Shifting of captaincy from Shoaib Malik to Younis Khan was a first major step towards betterment. I have no grudges against Mr. Malik; he was just not the right man for the job at the moment. He’s one for the future though, maybe after Shahid Afridi, in a good three, four years time if he keeps his place intact on the team.

Umar Akmal and Muhammad Aamir are the finds of year. What a player Junior Akmal is. I haven’t seen a technically pure batsman like him for quite a while in Pakistan. His real test though will be the tour in Australia. He adds another dimension to our middle order, and the way he shifts his gears from defense to attack according to the situation is just fantastic for a 19-year-old. This guy is out here to serve Pakistan Cricket for good part of the next decade.

Muhammad Aamir is another one. Who would have thought that this 17-year-old will beat the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Muhammad Asif, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir and Rana Naveed ul Hassan to start the new ball proceedings in all three formats within just a few matches into his career? This left-arm bowler, who is already a threat for the opposition with his angle, pace and nippy seam movement, is a true future prospect for Pakistan. He is a holder of highest individual innings by a number 10 batsman in the world, which shows his mental toughness and determination in such a young age.

Saeed Ajmal, although only played four matches in 2008, was rediscovered in 2009 when he spun the Australian batsmen in Dubai with his deceptive "doosra." Since then, he has never looked back and plays a key role in middle part of an inning when he stop runs and take useful wickets. He reminds me of Saqlain Mushtaq, who played a vital role in Pakistan’s success when he was playing at his peak.

Pakistan has struggled to find that kind of match-winning, genuine spinner in ODIs since Saqlain’s departure and used to lose the grip of a match in middle stages of an innings due to lack of such kind of bowler. The gap is well filled by Saeed Ajmal this year, and he’ll play a huge role in Pakistan’s future success.

Afridi-Ajmal combination is the most lethal one in limited overs cricket at the moment. Even Murali-Mendis from Sri Lanka are not playing in tandem in ODIs due to their team combination. This is a good sign for Pakistan.

Re-birth of ICL players like Yousuf, Razzaq, Rana, Nazir, and Farhat has strengthened the team’s bench.

Yousuf is a world class batsman. He boosts up the nervy middle order.

Muhammad Asif is back after a one-year ban, so the fast bowling department is not a weak one anymore as it happened for a while. He’ll be great with young Aamir to share the new ball with Umar Gul coming at first change.

Khalid latif and Ahmed Shehzad have been impressive as openers although they are not tried as much. The way Pakistan fought back into the match against Australia in the Champions Trophy with a small target to defend and stretched it to the last ball was a missing fighting spirit reignited after so long. All these prospects are very bright ones from Pakistan’s perspective if utilized properly.

Younis Khan needs to find a way to get back his batting form in ODIs.

The Australian tour will be a litmus test for his future as a batsman, and ultimately, captain. He has an advantage of playing six tests on the trot against New Zealand and Australia before playing ODIs again, which will be good for him to gain his confidence back by spending much time in the middle.

If he gets back to form and learns from the mistakes he and his team have committed during this year, he has possibly the strongest line up to lead after perhaps Waqar Younis’s team of the 2003 World Cup to glorify himself and his country.

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