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There is a bad mood rising in the Pakistan camp

After loss to New Zealand, Pakistan coach Waqar Younis calls a spade a spade during post mortem.

Written by Daksh Panwar | Mohali |
Updated: March 24, 2016 12:21:54 pm
Pakistan, Pakistan New Zealand, New Zealand Pakistan, Pakistan cricket team, Pak vs NZ, Pakistan cricket, Waqar Younis, Waqar Younis Pakistan, Pakistan Pakistan coach Waqar Younis during a training session in Mohali on Wednesday. (Source: Express Photo by Kamleshwar Singh)

It’s a mood story: A bad mood story.

Waqar Younis’s tone at the press conference after the 22-run loss to New Zealand at the PCA Stadium late on Monday, wasn’t as much sarcastic as it was bilious. To a more detached mind, it might have felt a bit of an over-reaction given that the loss, Pakistan’s second in the tournament, hasn’t completely shut the door on them. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)

The 2009 champions still have a chance. They need to beat Australia on Thursday, and hope a couple of other results go their way. But the mere mention of “ummeed” – or hope – further rubbed it in.

“Dekhiye umeed toh…” he began, searching for a platitudinous reply – starting wide outside off, if you please – to the assertion that all wasn’t lost yet and that Pakistan have come back from similar situations in the past. In the middle of that sentence, however, he dropped all pretense – reverse swinging it sharply back in.

“…(chaliye) rakh lete hain (ummed) agar aap kehte hain toh,” he added as laughter rang out in the press room at the sarcasm. “Lekin jis tareeke ki cricket khel rahe hain, wo afsosnaak hai. Deserve nahi karte (to be in the semifinal).”

Waqar’s ire was primarily directed at the way his team had batted while chasing 181-run target set by the Blackcaps’. After an unexpectedly brilliant start by Sharjeel Khan had taken them to 65 off 5.3 overs, Ahmed Shehzad, Khalid Latif and Umar Akmal contrived to drag Pakistan back with just 31 runs in the next 7 overs, in which time Shehzad and Latif lost their wickets as well as they tried to hit their way out of the hole they had dug for themselves.

“The situation was tailor-made for our middle order. We just couldn’t really capitalise on it. Two of our so-called youngsters, up-and-coming cricketers (read: Shehzad and Umar Akmal), they both batted for a good chunk of time in the middle where we thought you would take the game away. We were always in the hope. But couldn’t really finish it,” Waqar said.

Waqar’s has to be bottled up frustration that just couldn’t be kept under the lid anymore. Most teams are better – in varying degree – in one particular aspect of the game than the other two.

India’s strength traditionally has been their batting; in Pakistan, the balance of power has always been in the favour of bowling. And yet the gulf of class between their batting and bowling was never significant. From Hanif Mohammad to Younis Khan, they have produced some of the best batsmen the game has ever seen.
Poor numbers

With the return of Mohammad Amir, their bowling has become potent once again, but their batting – as has been asserted in this space before, in as many words – has got to be the worst of all time. The numbers confirm it. None of their top six on Monday has a T20I average of 30 or above. Only the wicket-keeper Sarfraz Ahmed averages 32.11 — but he often doesn’t get to bat.

Let’s begin with Sharjeel. It may seem unfair to criticise him after his 25-ball 47 that nicely set-up Pakistan at one stage. However, not only is he a batsman with a limited range of shots, he is very inconsistent as well. Monday was the first time in the last seven T20Is that he actually came good. His partner, Shehzad, was tipped to be Pakistan’s next batting hope since his under-19 days. However, he has flourished only sporadically. There was one stat Star Sports flashed on the screen ahead of the New Zealand-Pakistan match: Pakistan always win when Shehzad scores more than 40. Since April 1, 2014, he has done it only three times in 18 outings.

A former batting prodigy, Latif was sent at the critical No.3 spot after Sharjeel got out. The 30-year-old’s batting average makes for a remarkable read: It’s 4.62 – four point six two, just in case you think it’s a typo. And he has played eight matches. And it’s not that he has scored those 37 career runs at a remarkable pace. His strike rate is 63.79.

Recently a video of Umar Akmal talking to Imran Khan went viral on social media. In that, he could be heard complaining to Khan about his batting order. He felt he was coming too low down to make an impact. He came at four against New Zealand, with Pakistan needing 102 in 11.4 overs. Plenty of time to guide the chase, then. By the time he scooped a full toss straight to long-on nine overs later, having made a scratchy 24 off 26, Pakistan needed 41 off 2.2.

“Jo log shor macha rahe the ki number nahi mila, is-se achhi opportunity nahi thi. Ek-ek do do runs se jeetne ke surat-e-haal mein aa gaye the. Hum jitna bhi rona ro le. I think logo ko apne girebaan mein jhankna hoga ke is this about batting numbers or is this about Pakistan,” Waqar said.

The frustration of having to see his team perform not up to the benchmarks set by Pakistani teams of yore, a journalist posed this question to Waqar: “Hamare jo batsman hain, inko kaunsa injection lagwayein, kaunsi dawa dein?”

“Kaunsa injection dein, ye to mujhe nahi maloom,” the coach replied. “I think the cricket board and selectors need to think that what kind of cricketers we have for this brand of cricket. It’s not that this is the first time I am saying it. If I start answering in detail, a lot of things will be said.”

What he left unsaid, his one-time bowling partner Wasim Akram explained on air. He basically suggested that Pakistan, at long last, were beginning to feel the consequences of their prolonged cricketing isolation. Unlike most other successful T20 teams, a majority of their batsmen, before this year’s inaugural Pakistan Super League, had little experience of playing in competitive events, and therefore little understanding of how to go about such chases.

The PSL did impact this year’s selection. Sharjeel came back into the team solely because of the century he scored against Peshawar Zalmi on February 21 in Dubai. Later that week, he was playing in the Asia Cup in Bangladesh.
Maybe, it will take a few seasons to undo all the pain that has been accumulating since 2009.

Till then, as Waqar said, there is no injection. No instant relief.

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