Friday, September 25, 2009

Pondering The Three Selection Dilemmas Pakistan Faces On Saturday

From the team that beat the West Indies, there are eight guaranteed starters: Kamran Akmal (he's the keeper and opener), Malik (played ok but not spectacular), Yousuf (after Umar Akmal, looked the most assured of our batsmen before getting an atrocious decision), Umar Akmal (the most transcendent batting talent to come out of Pakistan since Inzi in 91), Afridi (the ultimate x-factor and now senior statesman), Aamer (whisper it, but he's our best quick bowler now), Gullee (the guy we'll need at the death to bowl yorkers) and Ajmal (a guy we'll need to strangle the middle overs on the pancake Centurion track). That leaves three slots: two batsmen and a bowler or bowling all-rounder.

The first issue is who goes out for the now-fit Younis Khan. Most sane and reasonable people -- such as myself -- would argue that it has to be Imran Nazir, a man who averages less than 20 outside the subcontinent when playing non-Bangladesh/Zimbabwe teams. He looked ridiculously shoddy in his brief stay against the Windies. He has no brain, no technique, no sense of shot-selection, no foot movement, and no idea, really, of how to bat at the international level. So I would drop him, promote Malik to opening, and put Younis at three.

There are a couple of objections to this change. The first is that Malik hasn't been particularly successful as an opener himself, so we're really not solving the opener problem and, furthermore, that Imran Nazir is more likely to come off on a batting-friendly wicket against a subcontinental team. To that I say: we can't keep waiting around for Imran Nazir to come good, and that there is no way Shoaib Malik will do worse than Imran, probabilistically speaking.

The second objection is more serious. The argument is that there are actually two completely useless batsmen in Pakistan's top six -- Imran Nazir and Misbah-ul-Haq -- but only one of them wastes a lot of time at the wicket being a bad batsman. In other words, Imran Nazir is crap, but at least he's quickly crap. To be honest, I am broadly sympathetic to this argument. Misbah looked really out of sorts against the Windies, as well as in Sri Lanka recently, as well as in the T20 World Cup. He doesn't look like scoring, and he can't even rotate the strike to let others do the scoring. So this then is the second dilemma: irrespective of Younis' fitness, what to do about Misbah?

I would bring in Fawad Alam. I don't understand why he's not an automatic starter for Pakistan in all formats of the game in the first place. He has a good head on his shoulders, can run quickly between wickets, is an outstanding fielder, and can even turn his arm over (as long as he's not given one over in a crucial time in a T20 World Cup semi final). Okay, he's not a massive hitter. No big deal. He can play the quiet accumulator role, and he can certainly do so better than Misbah. And we have plenty of guys who can hit boundaries, either with nice strokeplay (Younis, Yousuf) or crash, bang, wallop (Kamran, Afridi) or a bit of both (Umar Akmal). He should play at number five.

The third and final dilemma is probably the hardest: do we bring back Mohammad Asif? I have gone over this decision and changed my mind at least twenty times. In fact, I am confident I will change my mind as soon as I post this. Here are the facts: he hasn't played international cricket in 18 months, there's no indication he's in brilliant form or anything, the Indian batting -- even without Sehwag and Yuvraj -- is brutal to bowl against on batting pitches, and the guy he will ostensibly replace (Rana) has done nothing wrong. Again, no one can dispute these facts.

And yet...

I must admit, even as the most rational of rational observers, my heart flutters a little bit when I think about the new ball in Asif's hand. His record against India -- in both test cricket and tamasha cricket -- is excellent. More important than statistics and figures is the match-winning potential Asif holds. Bless his heart, but Rana is never going to turn a game. Asif has turned games for fun, in all formats.

I completely understand the objection that the past doesn't matter, simply because the past -- in Asif's case -- is so long ago. But understand this: there is something special about Asif. He is a rare talent. People like him come once a generation. Imran Khan called him the biggest quick-bowling talent in Pakistan since the Ws. He moves it both ways, swing and seam, his line and length is immaculate, and he's outrageously intelligent with the ball. Against a team we've never beaten at an ICC event, we'll need something special, something to put us over the top. My feeling is that Asif is that man. Will our tail be ridiculously long? Yes. We will have two number elevens (Asif, Ajmal) and two number tens (Gullee, Aamir) in our batting lineup. But be honest now: if our batting doesn't do the job on that pitch, then we deserve to lose. And how many runs would Rana score anyway?

My team to take on India on Saturday, which, incidentally, I will be live-blogging:

1. Kamran Akmal
2. Shoaib Malik
3. Younis Khan
4. Mohammad Yousuf
5. Fawad Alam
6. Umar Akmal
7. Shahid Afridi
8. Umar Gul
9. Mohammad Aamir
10. Saeed Ajmal
11. Mohammad Asif

Bring. Them. On.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: In comments, reader Zubair Sheikh points out that we have, indeed, beaten India in an ICC event before -- the 2004 Champions Trophy. My apologies for the error.


Anonymous said...

May the best team win.

Zubair Sheikh said...

Hey, Pakistan has Beaten India in an ICC event. It was the champions trophy of 2004 in England which Pakistan ended up in semi-final after another unexplainable batting collapse.

Correct your fact!

Anonymous said...

it might be ajmal who makes way for asif. like u said, with gul at no 8, our tail is ridiculously long...and if we bat 2nd chasing over 300, id like to have the security (wrong choice of word perhaps) of a number 8 who can bat a bit

Sandy said...

I am not sure about Afridi's role. Its ok that he was brilliant during the T20 Cup, but he has rarely played responsibly off late. He is much more of an asset with his bowling n fielding. My bet wud b get Afridi n Malik in the middle overs and get a regular batsman in place of Ajmal

snikometer said...

You're underrating Rana. Until the Windies game (where he deliberately seemed to be holding back), he was our quickest bowler. He also comes up with wicket taking deliveries more often than not.

I'm big a fan of Asif, but his last few big league outings were mediocre, and we simply don't know what form he's in right now. Also, he may not get movement at Centurion anyway.

Fawad should bat at 4, Yousaf at 5. Four's more of an accumulator position.

Sana said...

snikometer: asif shines under pressure. rana crumbles.

snikometer said...

...and when did this happen?

Danish said...

I think your team is dead on. However, I think they will play Misbah and not play Fawad Alam and may play Asif for Ajmal instead of for Rana. Ajmal, Gul, Aamer, Asif is a long tail although Gul and Aamer have impressed of late.

Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said...

Whats the cheapest website to watch this game online? What time does the game start anyway?

Ahsan said...

Zubair: A couple of people have pointed that out to me. Thanks for the correction, I will update the post.

Anon719: A number of people have said the same. I think if it's a subcontinental type wicket, we'll need the frontline spinner, but then again, I suppose Afridi, Malik (who will get canned against India, I promise you) and Fawad (if he plays) can bowl 15-16 overs between them.

Sandy: See above comment. If Ajmal goes, it has to be for Asif. We need bowlers against a strong batting team like India, especially on a friendly pitch.

Sniko: I too would like to see Fawad at four, but then that'll be a waste of Yousuf. I think he'll be fine at 5.

Rana is good. Asif is great. Big difference.

Danish: Yeah, maybe. If that happens, I won't be that upset. I think we'll be ok, though obviously I prefer the team I laid out.

Pagal: You can't really watch them on websites per se, you have to get a stream from somewhere. And the game starts at 8:30 Eastern time (if you're in the US) and 12:30 GMT.

best vanguard funds said...

Games are always unpredictable. You never know when your trials come out as winner and some times even standard practices fails down badly.

IndiaFan said...

At the risk of directing many more users to the free live stream and slowing it up for myself (or am I giving too much credit to 5 Rs?): has been working pretty well for me for the last couple of series. You'll need flash player, but I suspect that with the increased traffic tomorrow, it won't be quite as smooth.

Asfandyar said... will also have a couple of links to streams.