Should Pakistan gamble with Akmal at the top?
Mohammad Irfan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s bustling debut, Mohammad Hafeez breaking the strike-rate barrier and Yuvraj Singh returning to old ways – this and so much more in between. The T20 series between India and Pakistan offered so much drama, it is hard to imagine the two teams have only played 80 overs so far.
Two of the tightest encounters saw both teams level the T20 series, and there is no doubt that they head to Chennai for the start of the ODI series with their tendons well-stretched. The transition to the 50-over format may not be as explosive, though, as rain continues to pour over the venue.
The buildup, however, must go on.
While Pakistan’s squad that turned up in the T20s wore a balanced look about it, there will be quite a few changes coming about for the 50-over format. Some may seem enforced and some necessary.
Here are the names captain Misbah-ul-Haq will pick from: Nasir Jamshed, Mohammad Hafeez, Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Kamran Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan, Umar Gul, Imran Farhat, Umar Akmal, Anwar Ali, Zulfiqar Babar.
Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Chairman Zaka Ashraf had stated that some of the members of the T20 squad who performed well maybe retained for the ODIs. Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Irfan are the two beneficiaries from that decision. So that gives Pakistan another bowling option and a much-need all-rounder.
From this big list of names, Misbah has three openers to chose from, five fast bowlers, two spinners, four batsmen, an all-rounder and the sole keeper, Kamran Akmal.
It is Akmal’s place in the side which can give the captain a little bit more to think about at the team meeting. The gloveman has scored four out of his five hundreds while opening the innings (the fifth came while batting at number 4), and six out his nine fifties have come while batting in the top three.
It is clear that if the older Akmal’s utility as a batsman has to be made full use of, he must bat up the order.
The Chidambaram Stadium, with its true bounce, will make it easier for Akmal to fill that role but will Misbah be willing to gamble on it?
Hafeez seems to have taken to coming down the order quite well and is possibly ready for the adjustment in ODIs as well. Pakistan’s T20 captain scored 116 runs against India in the two T20 matches at a strike rate of 165.71, and has moved up a place to 19th in ICC’s latest batting table with best-ever ratings of 594. Second-placed Hafeez also achieved his career-best ratings of 377 as an all-rounder in the series against India.
A balanced Pakistan side may look like this: Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shoaib Malik, Zulfiqar Babar, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan
But should Irfan be risked with the 50-over format so soon? Though the temptation to play the 7ft speedster maybe great, the Pakistan management must ensure the bowler only makes a gradual shift to the longer versions.
The above-mentioned side has five batsmen, an all-rounder, and five regular bowlers. Obviously, Hafeez will play a vital role in the bowling department as well.
Azhar Ali, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz and Anwar Ali provide good back up support but may seem too similar to the men and for positions they should fill.
It has been raining in Chennai since Friday and the showers persist. The team combination can and should obviously change according to the conditions that greet the two teams.
For the opposition, the most notable inclusion will be that of Virender Sehwag, who more often then not seems to dent Pakistan early on.
MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Chennai:
-Pakistan have won the only game they have played on this track, the Saeed Anwar classic which saw the left-handed opener break Sir Vivian Richard’s record for most runs in an ODI match
-The top five best bowling performances on this ground have all been by fast bowlers. That bit should provide Misbah with something to work with when selecting his final eleven. The prevailing overcast conditions may also tilt the balance in the favour of the faster men.
-Yuvraj Singh, who rattled Pakistan in the final T20, has the most runs at this ground, his 255 runs from 6 matches coming at a strike-rate of 92.39. He also has the highest strike-rate at this ground, his innings against Africa XI in 2007 coming at 230.76
“Overall, Pakistan is a very good team. Its combination is such that they have specialist bowlers and have five bowlers for a match. In a way I feel they have complete bowling attack and they have experienced batsmen who can bat well in any conditions. Specialist spinners are also performing well. When it is compared to Indian team it is a very balanced side with talented players. Overall, which ever the team bats and bowls well for a long period of time will turn out to be well,” Indian captain MS Dhoni said.
“One thing we stressed on before coming here is that we have to play good, positive cricket. It was apparent during the T20s that for the first time, the Pakistan team was playing without pressure. That was our goal, to play this type of cricket. Hopefully, we will play the same way in the ODIs, be it in batting or bowling, play with the same kind of aggression and enjoy the game,” Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said.