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Sunday, April 05, 2020

ICC World Cup 2019: Leagues apart

IPL exclusion has hampered Pakistan batsmen’s evolutionary leap, as they play catch up with the rest of the world.

Written by Sriram Veera | Nottingham | Updated: June 3, 2019 9:04:13 am
world cup, world cup 2019, pakistan world cup, pakistan vs england, world cup 2019, cricket world cup, world cup match today, world cup results, cricket results, cricket news For Pakistan to nurse knockout ambitions, they need under-firing batsmen like Imam-ul-Haq (in pic) to come up with the goods. (Reuters)

The sun finally went down on a long summer’s day in Nottingham when Wahab Riaz and Imad Wasim stood out of their hotel peering at the crowds spilling out for Saturday night revelries.

A car stopped, windows slid down, a head peeped out and invectives flew out, followed by “what are you guys playing, we have to put our heads down and walk here in shame.” A Pakistani journalist restrained the players from reacting and shooed away the irate fan with a few choice words of his own.

In Pakistan’s perspective, the world has not changed at all in more ways than one. Not just the fans, but more importantly, their batting, almost frozen in its soul through the decades gone by. Barring the quirky Fakhar Zaman, a very street-smart attacker, Pakistan’s tempo runs on a steady even note, a lullaby in the world of punk rock and heavy metal, staid and unadventurous in a world of headbangers.

So, the question pops up: Is it in some way connected to the IPL? England’s aggressive approach has clearly emerged from India’s T20 tournament. It’s not even a conjecture as England skipper Eoin Morgan confirmed it when one put it across to him.

“The group of players we have at the moment have played in the IPL in the past couple of years – it has given them great exposure, great experience against the best teams in the world under a huge spotlight, and in the last two to three years, those guys have gone from learning a huge amount at the IPL to actually going there and being MVP (Most Valuable Player) or dominating in certain stages,” he said.

He admitted it was a huge step in their evolution, emblazoned by their maverick approach. “That for us is a huge step because we had a very few people going to the IPL, say six years ago, and probably looked down upon. That’s (IPL experience) breeding confidence in the changing room.”

Pakistan do have their T20 – PSL – but there is no doubt that IPL offers much better, stronger competition. Its raved about by foreign cricketers who want to be in. Morgan, in fact, fought with his board who had wanted him to rejoin for national duty in 2016, saying that he would rather stay back as he is “learning a lot” in the IPL.

Essence intact

Let’s come to Pakistan now. It’s amazing how their batting soul has remained almost the same in essence for decades now. The style, even. The same soul but in a diluted version – not retaining the best of the 80’s but resembling it somewhat. Those of us a bit older can easily identify who is Pakistani and who is an Indian batsman – even if they are unknown commodities. Place two unknown random batsmen from the two countries and in a minute, you can suss out their nationality.

Such are the fascinating moulds set in the past— and keep throwing up impressions in the future.

Unlike India and Sri Lanka, Pakistanis tend to use a lot more arms than wrists. The way they pick up the bat, the way arms get into the shots, how their feet shuffle a bit (they rarely stride) – one can go on. That isn’t the issue, as it’s a fascinating feature with all nations; how even the kids who come up, more often than not, mirror the same technique.

There were two main Pakistani batsman with contrasting styles – Zaheer Abbas, who was wristy, magical, stylish, and Javed Miandad, who was innovative, imaginative, arms and wrists working in tandem. The subsequent Pakistani batsmen have gone the Miandad way – without his imagination and skill, of course.

This is where the IPL too has perhaps played its part in the non-modernisation of Pakistani batsmen. The bowlers are still doing well, as the pace battery keeps throwing up names like Mohammad Hasnain, but the batsmen haven’t evolved. They have been anachronistic to an extent.

The IPL-bred batsmen have been, as Morgan says, more attacking, dominating – they have learnt how to do it in pressure situations and also improved their skills.

In 2009, when Morgan blitzed a 34-ball 67 to eject hosts South Africa from the Champions Trophy, his attacking style used to stand out in stark contrast to his team-mates. For the next few years, it remained so. As IPL and modern-day batsmanship left its impact, Morgan no longer was the odd one out. He has almost paled into the background as the likes of Jos Buttler, Jason Roy, Alex Hales (who isn’t at this World Cup), and recently, Jonny Bairstow have all upgraded their game.

Pakistan have remained the same. Almost. It comes through the most in middle overs, especially if Fakhar Zaman doesn’t fire away at the start. Even that is a bit old-fashioned. Just one attacker at the top. But if he gets out without a substantial contribution, Pakistan can seem as if they are dawdling along.

The push-and-prod template

Shoaib Malik, in some ways, is a template originator of that pushing and prodding around. He was the original sponge in the middle overs, nurdling the ball around here and there. Former skipper Misbah-ul-Haq too could eat up the overs, plodding away, but both of them could, if they wished, break free later with big hits without making it look risky. That is missing in the current set of batsmen.

Their inexperience doesn’t help. Perhaps, a couple of IPL seasons could have helped a few youngsters, one never knows. At times, they bat like outdated versions of an android; the phone is pushing out notifications for updates but they haven’t gone for them, stuck without wi-fi (read IPL) and worried about data charges. And so they have stuck on with the old style that they know best.

For that to click, they need two things: their bowlers firing and Zaman exploding at the start. When that happens, the classy Babar Azam can shepherd the rest. Else, at times, it feels they are always sweating hard to catch up with the run-rate – and modernity.

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