April 28, 2021

Sarfaraz Ahmed: Scapegoat or good luck omen?


By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Pakistan cricket authorities have devised a unique strategy to tackle Sarfaraz Ahmed. The former all-format captain and a wicketkeeper-batsman, is allowed to play only when the series or the prestige is at stake and they’re being subjected to extreme criticism by media and experts over selection follies. 

This has happened for three series now. In England last summer, there was great uproar when Pakistan had lost the first couple of games and he was played in the third and final outing which Pakistan went on to win. 

The series against South Africa was hanging in balance when Sarfraz was blooded in the decisive third encounter which Pakistan managed to win and the most recently the T20 series against Zimbabwe was also locked at one-all when he was finally chosen for the do-or-die third fixture which was won by Pakistan again. 

Interestingly Sarfaraz has been drafted in the playing eleven only upon the hue and cry in media and public in general. 

Obviously the cricket-loving Pakistanis get upset when the team starts losing and the selectors and the tour management committee were left with no option to play Sarfaraz to silence their critics.

It’s an open secret that the present set-up is not fond of Sarfaraz. Head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and bowling coach Waqar Younis have had history of victimizing him even when he was at the peak of his career. How can they be expected to support him at a time when he needed care and understanding to overcome a lean patch? 
Let me remind both these gentlemen, still holding key positions despite their controversial tenure that Sarfaraz, even today, deserves to be in the playing eleven in all three formats if merit is the sole criterion for selection. He has better strike-rate than every Pakistani batsman other than Babar Azam. 

There’s absolutely no problem in picking him automatically for the white-ball outfits. Many of the international teams are fielding more than one wicketkeeper-batsman in their playing eleven these days. Australia, England, India and Sri Lanka in particular are doing it most frequently. 

Therefore hell will not break loose if Pakistan also engages two wicketkeeper-batsmen in their line-up since they are good enough to make the cut. 

Muhammad Rizwan, who has been supported generously and extravagantly by the powers that be in an effort to displace Sarfaraz by hook or by crook, has become the darling of the Pakistani commentators and former Test cricketers. These same guys were playing similar tune when Sarfaraz was at the peak of his career not very long ago. 

Coming to selection matters, it’s really mind boggling to find Asif Ali and Haider Ali such an extended run at the international stage after so many failures. If the policy is not corrected and the current Pakistan team is not altered then I don’t see them going anywhere in the World T20 Championship due to be held later this year. Changes are needed and time is fast running out. The concerned authorities will be advised to take remedial actions rather than using their energies in counterproductive pursuits.

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April 10, 2021

India make amends for toss losses by winning series across formats


By Naeem-ul-Haq in USA

(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Everyone knows and understands the importance of winning tosses in sub-continental conditions where pitches in Tests tend to get slower as the match progresses while it’s much easier to set targets rather than set one in limited overs games where dew makes it difficult for bowlers and fielders. 

It’s really incredible that India, under the leadership of Virat Kohli, managed to win the series in all three formats recently at home against England despite lost 10 of the 12 tosses. The hosts pocketed the Test series 3-1 while they emerged triumphant 2-1 in both ODI as well as T20I series. 

By doing so, the Indians proved themselves as the top team not only in Tests but also in white ball segments. India’s rotten luck with the coin allowed England to win the first Test at Chennai against all odds. 

Skipper Joe Root extended his brilliant form of Sri Lankan series with yet another double hundred as England piled up the runs and agony for the home side who eventually succumbed to the scoreboard pressure to suffer an unexpected defeat after a memorable tour of Australia where they had come from behind to clinch the Test series despite losing key players to injury. 

The Indians were frustrated by injuries in the home series against England too. Ace all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was unable to take part in any game while his replacement Axar Patel was also sidelined from the first Test. 

I have a strong feeling that India would have whitewashed their opponents in the Tests if Jadeja or Patel were available in the series opener. 

England’s poor selection strategy cost them dearly and the outrageous decision to send back Moeen Ali after just one Test was bewildering to say the least. 

Picking up three fast bowlers for the pink ball Test, dominated by spinners from the outset, was as strange as their so-called rotation policy which didn’t let them field a settled eleven. Batting or bowling on turning track is an art. 
As we witnessed in the first Test, left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem, due to lack of expertise and experience, was hit all over the place by the England batsmen. He clearly didn't have an idea where  to bowl on a pitch offering purchase. 

Ravinchandra Ashwin was brilliant but India badly missed Jadeja and Patel in the first Test because they have the desired skills set for such strips. Patel, as we saw in the next three Tests, was spot on as he was proficient in exploiting the conditions. 

Jadeja is an even better exponent of that art and England would have been clueless facing him on these pitches while the ball turned square. As a matter of fact England’s batsmen panicked with the amount of turn which was on offer and it played on their minds leading to their downfall. 

Among the Indian batsman, their wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant was outstanding. He has shown incredible promise and if he continues batting like this for a few more years, I fancy him toppling the records held by his illustrious predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni. 

India’s batting, jolted occasionally, continued to have embarrassment of riches. It’s really hard to believe that world class batters like Shikar Dhawan and K L Rahul could not be slotted in the Test line-ups and the selectors cannot be faulted for this. 

If you have the quintet of champion batsmen like Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane in your folds it’s not possible to fit someone else there. India’s batting has the potential to come good in all conditions and they continued delivering in the toughest of circumstances during the last season. 

The Indian fast bowlers were not tested in the home series against England but they had done enough in Australia to remain trump cards. The emergence of Mohammad Siraj has boosted them further with the tried and tested quartet of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav all of whom are expected to fire in the coming summer where India, besides tackling New Zealand in the final of World Test Championship, will also be taking on England in five-Test series.

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