The pounding taken by the Pakistan team in last night’s ODI against England didn’t come as a surprise for me. I mean it was a team currently ranked 9 playing against a side that is no. 5 in the world. The difference was there to be seen on the field. England outclassed Pakistan like they have been doing throughout the ODI series so far in every department. They’ve been good in the field, exceptional with the bat and much better than us whenever they’ve come on to bowl. Apart from all the records that tumbled yesterday, truth be told, Pakistan has been playing ODI cricket in a pretty similar fashion over the last 2 years. In the last 24 months, Pakistan has played 41 ODIs winning only 15 out of them (a winning percentage of 36.5) out of which 8 victories came against sides like Ireland, UAE and Zimbabwe. These stats tell a sad but true story of how the men in green have gone about their business in the 50 over format of the game in recent times. Pakistan will probably end up playing the qualifying round for the 2019 world cup this time and by the look of things, they may have to pull up their socks there as well.
Having said that, I am not very pleased with the negative comments that the social media is being flooded with regarding the team. People have started questioning Mickey Arthur’s coaching and the PCB management for their decision making. This is the same PCB that manages the no. 1 test team in the world and the same Mickey Arthur is given charge of Misbah XI as their coach. What we need to understand here is the nature of both (or even 3) formats of the game. There’s been a lot of talk doing the rounds of asking Misbah to come back to the ODIs and turn around the team’s fortune. I disagree with this notion based on the difference in the nature of Test & ODI cricket. Even under Mishab’s leadership in ODIs over the last 2 years, Pakistan had won on 5 out of 13 ODIs (38% matches won). Compare that with Azhar’s captaincy and you’ll find that he has led Pakistan to victory in 8 out of the 23 ODIs in which he has captained the side (35% watches won). Not a lot of difference there, is it?
The difference however can very clearly be seen when it comes to comparing individual performances of Misbah and Azhar in matches where they’ve captained the side and in those where they’ve played under other captains. Misbah has excelled with respect to his individual performances when leading the side while Azhar’s batting average has taken a dip since he’s taken over the captaincy. This is not a good sign for any international player and indicates (in a way) that the added responsibility of leadership is hampering the athlete’s individual performance. Even greats like Sachin Tendulkar have had performance issues when they also had to think about leading the whole pack on the field. Misbah is definitely as exception. However, it all comes down to match results and that is where he has been not too different from Azhar. Going back to Misbah would also mean repeating the history of sports in Pakistan where legends like Miandad, Jansher Khan and Shahbaz Ahmad (Sr.) have been recalled to rejuvenate their respective sports in the country ending up in only making a mockery out of these greats instead. I’d rather keep Misbah where he is and salute him for what he’s doing for Pakistan in the toughest and most original format of the game.
Let’s talk about Sarfaraz now. Sarfaraz has only led Pakistan once in ODI matches and that too was against Zimbabwe back in October last year. A low scoring match which Pakistan won by 7 wickets. Other than that, we have only seen him captain the Quetta Gladiators in the inaugural edition of the PSL early this year where he did pretty well as a captain but with a team that was loaded with talented superstars like Kevin Pietersen, Luke Wright & the great Kumar Sangakkara. For me, Sarfaraz may be the right choice to captain Pakistan in the ODIs but that is more out of my admiration for his talent and passion than any of his proven leadership skills.
Wherever the on-going series against England (which is already lost) goes from here, one thing is for sure, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) will have to take serious steps and start working towards lifting this side up again. The inversely proportional performances and ratings of the Test and ODI sides do not reflect well on the overall condition of the game that is being played and managed in the country today. Experimenting with fresh blood is always something that sides do in order to build bench strength. However that need to be done in a controlled manner and not in a way such as where Nawaz and Hassan Ali are brought into the side and are straight away thrown to the dogs. This will only hamper their confidence and ruin their game for the rest of their careers.
Small but concrete steps need to be taken to lift up the side. The nation needs to stand behind the team when the side is sailing through rough waters. These are difficult times but with the talent and potential this country has, we will inshaALLAH emerge as champions again just like we’ve come to the top as the best test team in the world.
Here’s a little trivia for you all as I conclude this piece: On the same social media, ‘King Misbah’ was once ‘Tuk Tuk’ and the most ridiculed sportsman of the country.
Hammad A. Mateen