In his latest exclusive blog for PakPassion.net, Yasir Arafat writes about Pakistan's dismal failure in the ODI series against New Zealand and their victory in the subsequent T20I series which has put them back as the number one ranked T20I side.
By Yasir Arafat (30th January, 2018)
Pakistan failed to prepare adequately for the tour of New Zealand
The manner of our defeat in the ODI Series in New Zealand has obviously left all of us scratching our heads as to the reasons behind this debacle. To start with, I believe that Pakistan failed to prepare adequately for the tour of New Zealand. Our preparation was nowhere near the level needed for playing top-quality opposition such as New Zealand. In general, one can find many weak points for Pakistan but in this case, we seemed to have failed in all three departments of the game. In the old days when Pakistan teams used to train for tours to Australia or England, they would try and prepare in similar conditions in Abbottabad or in Islamabad. Nothing of that sort happened before the tour of New Zealand.
In terms of actual match practice before the tour, they played a very weak Sri Lanka side who they beat by a 5-0 margin in the UAE which was not a real test of their strength. In addition, they did not play any ODI cricket between 23rd of October when they played the last game of that series against Sri Lanka and the 6th of January when they faced New Zealand for the series opener. To expect our team to do well in New Zealand with such preparation where teams like South Africa and Australia have struggled in the past was unrealistic and so it proved. New Zealand always prepare favourable tracks for their side and even strong sub-continental batting sides such as India also struggle when playing in those conditions. Many people mentioned the fact that we lost the first 2 games due to rain alone but let’s be realistic, even if the matches had gone to the full length, we did not have the ability to win those games. The fact of the matter is that after the victory in the Champions Trophy, the morale of the team was so high, and they genuinely felt that they could take on any side in the world with ease. All it needed was better preparation and Pakistan could have easily given a better account of themselves on this tour.
Our bowlers did not perform as expected
It would be unfair to say that the current batting side is too weak to hold its own in New Zealand. Even in the past, our best players of the day would struggle there but what we had working in our favour was our very strong bowling attack. A combination of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar would make sure that even if our team made a low score, we could defend it with ease. The weakness in our batting was therefore masked by the excellence of our bowlers. This was clearly not the case in this ODI series as our bowlers failed in their job. To New Zealand bowlers’ immense credit, they knew and used their home conditions really well, they knew exactly what lengths to bowl to and what angles to exploit against our batsmen.
Imam-ul-Haq deserved more chances in the ODI Series
There has been some criticism of the selection of Imam-ul-Haq in terms of his suitability for the modern day fast-paced game, but I don’t agree with that. I believe he is an excellent batsman who is still finding his feet at the international game and he should have been given more chances to prove himself on this tour. Just asking him to play one game out of five on this tour, especially under such tough conditions was not fair. It would have been fine if he had played all five games and then based upon his performances, we could have taken a view that he is or isn’t good enough for this level of cricket but as it stands, he cannot be discarded for the future based on the outcome of one ODI game.
Azhar Ali’s below par performance is a source of concern
Despite his excellent contributions during the Champions Trophy, Azhar did not perform as well as was expected. He averaged a very feeble 4 runs during the ODI series which is pretty low by any standards. What the Pakistan selectors need to decide for the future is that if there is a ready replacement for him as an opener, then he should be tried out in place of Azhar, but then a batsmen of his experience cannot be simply discarded. He is not old and has a good many years of cricket left in him as a Pakistan player but if his performance is not good then his position in the team cannot be guaranteed and he will have to be replaced.
Disappointed with failure of our star batsmen
One cannot put the blame of our batting on one or two names as this was simply a collective failure. To start with, Babar Azam who’s form preceding this series was excellent enough to be included in ICC’s ODI Team of the Year (2017) was unable to perform against New Zealand and ended up with a rather embarrassing average of 6.2 based upon 5 games in which he scored just 31 runs. We did have some bright spots with Haris Sohail and Fakhar Zaman but then Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed who has had a good overall record was only able to muster 79 runs in 5 matches which really was a big blow to our chances.
On top of that the senior batsmen should have ‘manned up’ and shown the value of their experience to the team. Instead there performances were below the mark throughout the series. Due to the lacklustre batting displays by our top batsmen, we found ourselves 4-5 wickets down for low scores and with the backbone of the side back in the pavilion, it was left to the likes of Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf to give some semblance of respect to our totals. I will add that amongst the seniors, Mohammad Hafeez’s average was around the 35 mark whilst Shoaib Malik’s below par showing where he could only score 49 runs in 4 ODIs really affected the outcome of the games. You cannot expect to battle the top teams of the world with such stats. Even New Zealand sometimes lost early wickets, but then other batsmen stepped up and played with responsibility to take their team to victory or to good scores. If such seniors cannot show up in big games, then there will be very little chance of Pakistan’s success.
Pakistan junior players showed the way but still need to improve
Hasan Ali was recently named ICC’s Emerging Player of the Year and that was for a good reason as he is an outstanding player which he has shown many times. He has wicket-taking ability but in this ODI Series, whilst he took 6 wickets, he did prove to be a little too expensive for my liking, ending up with an economy rate of over 6 runs an over. When your better bowlers give away so many runs then it does not augur well for the side and that is the reason I was a little disappointed with Hasan in this series. Even Rumman Raees, who was Pakistan’s highest wicket-taker with 8 wickets, could not really stop the flow of runs and also ended up with an economy rate of over 6. If we compare our bowling effort to that of New Zealand, you will see that Trent Boult had 9 wickets in just 4 games including a 5fer. Unless bowlers take such amounts of wickets, you cannot realistically hope to defend totals or bowl out quality opposition. Faheem Ashraf, bowled well to pick 5 wickets as did Shadab Khan but I really expected both of these promising bowlers to have conceded less runs. Once again, let me stress that you cannot dream of beating top-tier teams without a few batsmen who can average above 50 and some bowlers taking above 10 wickets in the series.
Mohammad Amir failed to repeat the heroics of the Champions Trophy in the ODI series
For someone who amazed us all with his bowling performance in the Champions Trophy final, it is sad and disappointing that Mohammad Amir could only take 2 wickets in 4 games in the ODI series. This is not the Amir we were expecting to see as it was expected that he would be able to make breakthroughs early in the innings, similar to how Tim Southee and Trent Boult would get rid of Pakistan’s top-order many times during the series.
Pakistan's amazing transformation in the T20I series solely due to the success of the batsmen
Pakistan's tour of New Zealand seemed to take a turn for the better with the first win in 7 matches when they finally defeated New Zealand in the 2nd T20I. The team played very well but the most important reason for this success was the fact that our batsmen finally came to the party. We scored with good strike rates and Fakhar Zaman lead the way in that department and it was also pleasing to see Babar Azam back in the runs after a torrid time in the ODIs.
We had some good contributions from others like Umar Amin and Haris Sohail in the last 2 games but the key factor in the victories was that the batting was able to provide scores that our bowlers could defend. And this is not a new phenomenon. Even in the past, whenever the batsmen have set a good target for the opposition, our bowlers have responded and taken us to victories. This is exactly what we did not see in the 1st T20I but once we had our batting sorted, our bowlers helped us out in the 2nd and 3rd T20Is. Of course, the bowlers did a great job but the same bowling attack would have been helpless when defending low totals.
Ahmed Shehzad's experience was an important factor but apart from the 2nd T20I game, his strike rate was not that brisk and I would say that there was a real danger of Pakistan losing their way in the final match had it not been for some excellent work by captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, Haris Sohail and Umar Amir and not to mention Aamer Yamin.
The Player of the Series award in T20Is for Mohammad Amir should not have surprised anyone
Whilst Amir did not perform that well in the ODIs, he was absolutely crucial to Pakistan's victorious run in the T20Is on this tour. I really feel that Amir's performance in ODIs versus his outstanding effort in T20Is is simply a case of having good or bad days on the field. Also, Amir was used a little more cleverly and with good planning as in the 3rd T20I he came in the 3rd over instead of opening the bowling as he usually does. I do not believe Amir has any fitness or any other issue. What he needs to be is consistent in his performances, and I am confident that Azhar Mahmood will continue to work with him like he has with other bowlers and the results of that will be visible in Amir's improved performances in the future. I think Mohammad Amir will improve as a bowler in the coming years.
Pakistan have the resources to maintain their Number 1 Ranking in T20I
The recent ODI results may not show it but in my view, ever since the Champions Trophy victory, this team has developed an excellent combination and a desire to fight for every run. One can tell by looking at this team and its body language that they expect to win whenever they step on the field of play. Yes, the ODI series result was far from what they expected, yet the side has shown great resilience to fight and win the T20I series. With the upcoming PSL, I expect Pakistan to find more good T20 players and that should help them stay at the number one slot for the foreseeable future.
PCB needs to implement its plans to limit league participation by centrally contracted players
I understand that a proposal is under study to limit participation by centrally contracted players in foreign leagues and I am completely in favour of this idea. If a player is not playing for the national side, then I have no problems with them playing leagues or county cricket. But, for centrally contracted players and those who wish to play for Pakistan, it is important that they look after themselves and reduce their participation in foreign leagues. This holds especially true for those wishing to play in the four day format in County cricket.
Looking ahead to the series against England
After the conclusion of the PSL and the Twenty20 series against the West Indies in March, Pakistan’s next major assignment will be on the very important tour of Ireland and England in May and June of this year where they will play an inaugural Test against Ireland followed by 2 Tests in England. Hopefully, as in the past, Pakistan will prepare well for this important tour with fitness camps etc in Pakistan. However, the most important aspect of the preparation should be the arrival in England about 3-4 weeks ahead of the first Test in Ireland to acclimatise. I would suggest that Pakistan use Hampshire County Cricket ground as their base and train there as that has some excellent facilities and also the ground is very nice. Training in such conditions will be ideal for our batsmen and bowlers and maybe we could play some practice games other than the ones which have been announced against Kent, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.