Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Main Part of Pakistan’s 2012/13 International Season


The Main Part of Pakistan’s 2012/13 International Season (Written in November)

Setting the Picture

Forget winning, drawing in South Africa is a grand challenge. It is a tour not for the faint hearted and traditionally a place where our lot have struggled in previous visits. South Africa along with Australia & West Indies are places where Pakistan are yet to register a series win.

This is the best Pakistan test unit after 2 decades since Misbah ul Haq over took the reins, statistically &technically speaking they are a strong force in test matches which is hard to beat, exceeding expectations, well aided in both departments, full of expertise in their individual game plans, gelling together & avoiding getting into off field troubles. They are not one to blow hot and cold. Relentless grind in their batting with dogged, disciplined, determined, dependable, defensive play to wear down oppositions, avoid collapses & willingly & safely dig deep showing the value of patience to bat time with risk averse gradual accumulation if the situation requires a rear-guard along with a threatening wicket taking spin attack are the hallmarks of the upwardly mobile side.

They have the attack to take 20 wickets & the solid looking settled batting unit, capable of doing a setting, ably supporting, saving role for them.  This is always the key to winning test matches & series, bowlers who win you tests & batsmen not letting them down or rescuing resolutely if necessary by grafting their way to a draw when they are on the back-foot when the bowlers were ineffective. You are always bound to avoid defeat this way, which is the key to developing a successful side over time. Knowing how you are going to win, knowing how you are going to get out of jail & most importantly not knowing how to lose. There is nothing which hurts as much as test match defeats where you have been defeated over sessions and days with bad fortune not a valid excuse & you can’t even avoid the opposition from winning either when the option is there to put the shutters down & just focus on a few elements of the game than the wider range. Thankfully & admirably, Misbah and co haven’t experienced defeat more than once in over 2 years of travelling.

Not least is there, stable leadership, command & man management in the art of captaincy to guide the side & oversee proceedings effectively. Professionalism, mental toughness & on and off the field disciplines which is best orchestrated by their high achieving statesmen leader makes this side unique watching for a side where such words to be associated with them is alien. Barring, mystery spin, this is a successful side through old school non-Pakistani virtues. For some, including myself, it is refreshing in approach which I am pleased to follow, although you will get critics who want the more Pakistani approach to be maintained, regardless of the success rate. However, that appears to be more of a lack of interest in the test format than anything else & bigger obsession towards the limited over affairs that they are unwilling to accept important attributes such as a principled, persevering ,methodical, consistently performing side due to a lack of aggressiveness,flashiness & eventfulness in a short span of time, which solely is not going to get you far in the long term, particularly in the red ball contests.

Misbah ul Haq has the chance to silence the many detractors he has once more by winning a high profile series, but one should keep realistic expectations given the conditions & strength of the opposition. Even if you put together our all time test XI for this tour against this current RSA side, I have strong doubts about them winning. The current Pakistan test side is a team from a golden age with genuine specialist quality with both ball & bat, a much admired side & a side which has made remarkable progress in challenging circumstances, but South Africa might be a step too far for them. However, given how they annihilated England against the odds, you never know. Maybe we underestimate the extent of their greatness. I don’t use the word lightly, but I believe the current side is a great Pakistan test side, not the greatest, but the 2nd best we have ever had with certain attributes that even the best side of the 80s didn’t have such as stability in selection & limited weak spots in the batting line up.

That side of the 80s had more naturally talented resources at the captain’s disposal, could play at home, did not find itself in a scandalous state they had to overcome & didn’t have to turn around a sequence of going through 10 series without tasting a series win. The fact that they can achieve major heights with all these setbacks gives them a unique sense of admiration that even Imran’s gifted tigers didn’t have. Winning in South Africa does not take much motivation. If they do, then there will be some going far as saying this is the best Pakistan test outfit we have seen that have not only won against England by their highest ever margin in a series who are probably our biggest rival in test matches, won 4 consecutive test series for just the 2nd time in their history, been undefeated for 7 consecutive series for the 2nd time in their history, won 5 tests successively for the first time in a decade &  have the captain that has the most consistent captaincy record after 8 series, have a captain who was challenging Don Bradman for the highest test average as skipper, have the bowler who was the quickest Pakistani to 100 scalps, but have won in difficult territories that creates a first.

It’s a stiff ask for Pakistan to win the series. They should set themselves the aim of winning a test or drawing the series. We should be satisfied with a 2-1 defeat or 1-1 draw. They certainly would have had to play well and adapt well to the conditions to achieve that. If they do somehow win it, there should be some serious celebrating.

Stats

Pakistan have played 8 series against South Africa, lost 5, drawn 2 and won the 1 at home in 2003. Taufeeq Umar was the joint player of the series in that alongside current South African head coach Gary Kirsten who was a hard working scrapper at the wicket.

Pakistan have lost 8 tests out of 18 against South Africa and only won the 3.

Pakistan have lost 6 out of 9 tests against South Africa in South Africa with the 1 draw.

The last time they toured was 6 years ago & they lost the series 2-1.

Misbah ul Haq made his captaincy debut in test matches against them.

Asad Shafiq made his test debut against them.

Rehman also made his test debut against them and was the leading wicket taker in the previous series against them in the Gulf.

Misbah ul Haq has the highest win/loss ratio in test cricket history for a captain with 9 victories & 1 defeat over 8 series.

Misbah ul Haq has scored 13 50s & 1 century as captain during 20 dismissals with 8 not outs.

Hafeez & Taufeeq have the most 100+ stands for the 1st wicket by a Pakistani opening pair.

All of Pakistan’s top 6 have been awarded man-of-the-match in the 17 tests under Misbah.

Before Misbah was captain Pakistan had lost 10 of their last 17 tests with no series win, since he has taken over they have lost 1 in 17 tests with 5 series wins.

Out of 30 captains that have captained Pakistan, Misbah is at number 6 in most number of test wins, only 5 tests away from equalling Imran’s record.

6 times under Misbah’s captaincy Pakistan have declared the innings.

Pakistan have only been bowled out twice in 3/17 tests under Misbah.

Pakistan have posted 330 or more 15 times under Misbah in 17 tests

Been bowled out under 300 10 times.

Been bowled out under 200 4 times.

5 times successfully chased 4th by 7 wickets or greater.

5 times managed to securely survive for a draw batting 4th by 5 wickets or greater.

17 centuries have been scored in those 17 tests.


YK=4
Azhar=4
Taufeeq=3
Hafeez=3
Shafiq=2
Misbah=1

Concerns

Only playing 1 warm up ahead of an important test series in unfamiliar territory is inadequate preparation. These are many excuses if Pakistan loses the 1st test as a result. Additionally, they last played test matches in July whereas South Africa have played 8 tests since Pakistan last played including 5 in
their home season (3 in a tough tour of Australia). Both of these are major concerns & definitely don’t help Pakistan’s cause in their mission to win a maiden series on Southern African shores, or rather realistically drawing their first one here since the start of the century.

Proportional Verdict

3-0 South Africa = 20%
2-1 South Africa = 40%
1-1 = 30%
2-1 Pakistan = 10%

My Preferred XI

Mohammad Hafeez
Taufeeq Umar
Azhar Ali
Younis Khan
Misbah ul Haq C)
Asad Shafiq
Adnan Akmal (WK)
Abdur Rehman
Umar Gul
Saeed Ajmal
Junaid Khan

Bench:Mohammad Talha, Aizaz Cheema, Khurram Manzoor, Afaq Raheem

No one’s place is under much threat and if anything there is most threat at the opening slot. Hence, I have selected 2 reserve openers who are highly spoken of and have been part of the squads under captain Misbah over the last 2 years, trying to maintain that sense of continuity even with the back-up options.

Head to Head

Smith vs.Taufeeq = Smith 

Alviro vs. Hafeez = Alviro

Amla vs. Azhar Ali = Amla (2 of the best number 3s around)

Kallis vs. Younis = Kallis (a ‘great’ player and a very fine one)

Rudolph vs. Misbah = Misbah

Dumminy vs. Shafiq = Shafiq

ABD vs. Adnan = ABD (maybe Adnan is a touch neater in the keeping department)

Steyn vs. Gul = Steyn

Philander vs. Rehman = Philander (bowling-all rounder comparison. Philanders wins in these conditions)

Morkel vs. Junaid = Morkel (on experience)

Tahir vs. Ajmal = Ajmal

Overall = 8/3 to RSA, they are a superior side


Different Aspects – Who Has the Upper Hand

Captaincy = Equal (Smith on experience)

Top Order = RSA

Middle Order = RSA

Lower Middle Order = Pakistan

Tail = South Africa

Seam Bowling = RSA

Spin = Pakistan

Balance of the side = South Africa, extra batsmen & genuine all-rounder in Kallis

Fielding = RSA

Coaching = South Africa

Conditions = RSA

Preparation = RSA

Key Player = Mr Azhar Ali

He is the sort of player who will put the shutters down, curb his attacking instincts, try to be faultless, relentless, chanceless in his approach, be content of staying in and lasting the duration and above all ensure he maintains his composure once established and settled at the wicket having successfully survived the hardyards up front. In his grafty and gritty ways, he is a prized wicket. The 'glue' is willing to battle for his runs by earning the right to score through solid defensive occupation.

The art of risk averse, patient, long, repetitive, old fashioned batsmanship has gone out of the window in this day and age, making such players unique. Azhar reminds us of what batting used to be about and how useful it can be to have such players in your side. However, he is no Chris Tavare, Trevor Bailey, Javed Omar, Jimmy Adams or Aakash Chopra in the sense that he can 'up it' every now and again, although defence is his forte.

The one down grinding run machine was Pakistan's leading run getter in 2012 with 3 centuries. He also faced the most deliveries by a member of the side in the year, possessed the highest average & got 3 figures the most number of times.


Embarrassing PCB

To formally complain and request for a 3 match test series to be shortened for a launch of a Twenty20 domestic league was thoroughly embarrassing on PCBs part. There is no substitute for test match cricket which has to be a priority & given Pakistan are getting an opportunity to play against a top ranked side, this was simply not on. If it was against Zimbabwe or Bangladesh it may have been understandable, but certainly not South Africa. CSA rightly turned down the request & the series remains at 3 matches. Ideally, I would have liked to see a 5 match test series & feel Pakistan don’t play enough of them, if at all.

How the Series Will be Determined

I have doubts over our seam bowling being potent enough in these conditions against such a line up & our over reliance on spin could backfire. Therefore, ensuring we can hold on for draws & apply ourselves at the wicket, get stuck in at the middle, dig in for the long haul, make them work for our wickets & overcome bursts of play when they are coming hard at us & maintain our focus when we are ‘in’ and looking secure will be influential in denying South Africa just like we did in the Emirates, but that was more of a game of individual temperament, mental toughness, spirited character with the situation of the game as opposed to more in depth technical attention to detail which will be necessary here given the conditions along with the presence of those useful attributes. Can this line up maintain the solidity, steadiness, unflappability & obduracy they have shown? I wouldn’t put the task past them. There is much uniqueness about this workmanlike enduring Pakistan top 6 & they proved Ramiz Raja wrong that they are capable of adopting the same approach & succeeding against better sides when they took on England last January because tests promote & allow such virtues to galore. Quite ironic to see a sedate top order player himself in his time making such comments. This is quite easily the strongest enduring, mentally tough, disciplined, consistently performing Pakistan batting unit there has been.

Once we dismiss the top order, I believe the South Africa middle and lower order could fold quickly against the mystery of Saeed Ajmal with Rehman ensuring the pressure is not released easily at the other end so all hope is not lost in the bowling either, however the Pakistan batting against a very accomplished attack in traditionally challenging conditions for them is where the series will have the most importance in at least ensuring we avoid downright humiliation.

Final Word

On the whole, there is not much for Pakistan to lose. They should back themselves & stick with what’s been working so far in achieving phenomenal consistency & not panic if they go 1 or 2 down, instead considering the wider perspectives.

South Africa defeated us 2-0 in 2002/03 and 2-1 in 2007 here with a weaker side than they have now. We are a better side now than we were then in terms of togetherness, on-field discipline, leadership, professionalism, batting solidity, spin threat, however we are weaker in areas such as fast bowling which is usually the way to go here.

Misbah should look to bowl first & give his seamers maximum chance of using the friendly early morning conditions on a fresh pitch. The Plan A has to be to bowl out the hosts reasonably cheaply, however if they are unable to do that they can still stay in the game because Misbah and the other 5 batters have great confidence & self-belief in their defensive abilities in keeping the opposition in the field, reining themselves in, frustrating the opposition through denial of wickets by gritting their way to safety. They feel more than
comfortable of digging in, absorbing pressure, and batting time, respecting their wicket, holding down their ends & being content on fighting to the end or as nearly as possible to it. This is because all of the top 6, barring Hafeez to some extent, are old school batters who value survival, defence, restraint which is a central part of their methods.

After 205 days since last walking out in the whites, Misbah’s Green Ship will be keen to get on with it.

Verdict

South Africa will go 1 up

Pakistan will bounce back

South Africa will snatch the decider

1-1 in the T20s and 3-2 to SA in the ODIs


1 comment:

  1. The RSS feed seems to be failing, missing your posts! :-(

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