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Writing in his latest blog for PakPassion.net, Mohammad Zahid examines the factors behind the failure of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz in the ongoing series against England, explains why a fast-bowling specialist is a necessity for the Pakistan Test squad and wonders why reverse-swing has deserted Pakistan fast-bowlers.

 

By Mohammad Zahid (9th August, 2016)
 
 
Missing in action : The Pakistan pace attack

The Pakistan tour of England seems to have taken a turn for the worst and it seems the tourists have quite a fight ahead to stave off a series defeat. I like many others was hoping for a better performance than what we saw in the third Test. As someone who has a keen interest in fast-bowling, my wish was to see the Pakistan bowling attack outdo their rivals in this series. To be honest, from what I have seen so far, there is a big question mark on the actual quality of our bowling attack.

Apart from the obvious failure of our fast-bowlers especially Mohammad Amir who has yet to bowl very fast and seems to have forgotten how to reverse-swing, I am also dismayed by the ineffectiveness of Yasir Shah in the last two Tests, who I also hold in high regard as a bowler. The failure of our bowlers to deliver cannot be better illustrated than in the third Test where we took a hefty lead and then let England off the hook due to the inability of our bowling attack to take wickets. And if we are looking for excuses for our bowlers then also remember that England also bowled on the same pitch with devastating effect. It has been said throughout the build-up of the series that it is our batting which would be our weakest link but it appears that the bowlers are not too far behind in this regard.

Coming back to Mohammad Amir, I am afraid the use of extenuating circumstances as an excuse for his below par performance is long gone. We now need to look deeper into his issues. Amir has been back in competitive cricket for the better part of one year. He played well in the Bangladesh Premier League as well as the New Zealand tour, followed by the Asia Cup and the World Twenty20. So he has been around and rusty skills cannot be a logical reason. He also took part in the Army camp and has been an integral part of the squad for the past few months. Could it be that his fitness is not up to the mark which won’t be too far away from the truth as I don’t really know of too many fast-bowlers who don’t carry a niggle or two into every game. 

So, why has his form deserted him? I could see he was trying to do the right thing by bowling in the right areas but there was something lacking in his bowling. Of course, it may just have been luck such as dropped catches or maybe it’s a mental thing whereby ghosts of the past are bothering him which could explain why the aggression of a typical fast-bowler, at least a Pakistani one, was missing from Amir’s bowling. 

Whatever the reason, he needs to get his act together straightaway as he is the leader of the Pakistan bowling attack and there is a fine tradition of bowlers like Imran Khan and Wasim Akram who have performed that duty with amazing success. We may have had Yasir Shah as a good option but let’s face it, we were all expecting big things from Amir which is yet to materialize.

Another bowler who has not lived up to my expectations is Wahab Riaz. This is a bowler who I have always backed to play every game but I am afraid, even with the gift of pace, he has still not learnt to bowl and make use of that speed. He has no variation in his deliveries and I am afraid the time to learn more is coming to an end for Wahab. You can only be given so much time and there are limits to being taught basics. Personally speaking, the focus we have had on Wahab can now be diverted towards Sohail Khan. If we can spend so much time and energy on Wahab, then we should also put that effort towards Sohail who in my view is capable of bigger things. 


No Specialist Fast-Bowling Coach for Pakistan?

This brings me to another aspect of our problems and that is the absence of a fast-bowling specialist who can work with our bowlers. Mushtaq Ahmed for all his international experience has not been a fast-bowler. I have watched him working with Sohail Khan on his run-up; how sad is that? I am sorry but that is a joke. As a fast-bowler, I can assure you all that you cannot coach a fast-bowler. This is simply not possible but, a pace bowler can be trained. For that, you need someone who knows fast-bowling inside out and the sight of Mushtaq working with our fast-bowlers does not seem right.


Reverse-Swing goes missing for Pakistan

The Edgbaston Test also brought to light the gulf between the bowling skills of both sides. For example, look at the length both sets of bowlers were bowling and James Anderson and Chris Woakes could be seen to be swinging the ball and the movement was appreciable. In contrast, the same lengths used by Pakistan bowlers were having no effect. The absence of reverse-swing from Pakistan bowlers was shocking. What is happening here? How is it that bowlers from a nation that pretty much made this type of bowling a household name were unable to use this to their advantage?

It appears to me that the skills that the bowlers from yesteryear who mastered this style of bowling and used it to good effect are simply not being passed on to the younger generation at the domestic level. The ability to reverse-swing was like our national treasure and I cannot think of any other way of describing it. There are some key factors or points that are drummed in the heads of the bowlers to learn reverse-swing but someone with experience needs to teach that and I am afraid, that is simply not happening in our domestic cricket. Of course a major part of the whole reverse-swing theory is how the teams look after the ball. Unlike England, there is a possibility that Pakistan simply don’t have anyone to teach our boys this very basic thing and thus there is no specialist for this skill in the Pakistan team. 

That does beg the question that Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s previous Head Coach from not too long ago was himself a great proponent of reverse-swing, surely he must have imparted this knowledge to the bowlers? Could it be simply that our bowlers are weak in implementing this knowledge? Put that aside, on a dry pitch like we have encountered in the current tour of England, the ball should be in prime condition for reverse-swing and if the ball is looked after well, the results will be even better. 

Let me tell you that in my day, we would keep on using the same ball for way past the point of changing it; sometimes to 160 overs in the hope of getting more out of the ball. I do exaggerate a bit but it is to make the point that the reason was simply that we wanted the ability to reverse-swing it. I fear that Misbah-ul-Haq is not forceful enough to make the bowlers use the old ball to extract movement but then that may be because he understands that his bowlers simply do not have the skills to use the old ball to their advantage. I am convinced that the only explanation for no reverse-swing is the lack of expertise in this area because if the skills were there, then someone like Wahab bowling at 90mph would have been able to do this with ease.


Do-or-Die at The Oval

And so we head to The Oval for a do-or-die encounter to save this series. But we have a problem. Our bowling is not delivering the results that we would wish to see. There are some suggestions for a five-man bowling attack but for me the time for that choice was when we were selecting the team before the start of the tour. A fifth bowler in the team for The Oval will result in weakening an already fragile batting line-up. Regardless of our line-up, from an England point of view, they will expect a batting pitch in the final Test match and life could get even more interesting for Pakistan’s bowlers. Whether Pakistan bowlers are able to extract movement out of this pitch will probably drive the outcome of the match and the series.