The one-two punch that knocked India
The highlight of Pakistan’s ODI series win against India was no doubt the ability of its fast bowlers to ruffle the opposition, a pleasant throwback to the golden era. Barring the third ODI, the batting seemed decent and backed up with spirited fielding it looked like an all-round effort capped by the individual performances of Nasir Jamshed and Junaid Khan. Here’s a look at how Misbah-ul-Haq’s men shaped up.
“[Nasir] Jamshed can pull the fast bowlers, he has good wrists, he can play the ball late, he can drive through the off side – the hallmark of a very good cricketer,” said former captain Ramiz Raja of the Pakistan opener as he displayed his full range during one of his fifties against Australia in the 2012 World T20. Jamshed was still making a mark for himself then but his haul in India has meant that he has left a lasting impression on teammates, opponents and experts alike. His three innings in the ODI series fetched him 241 runs, including two back-to-back centuries. His runs were scored at a healthy strike-rate of 75.31 and were characteristic of his new approach to batting, albeit the off-side play still needs to be tightened. Early on in his career he was a strong bottom-handed player who preferred to stand and deliver, whereas against India, Jamshed was willing to work the ball around and accumulate. Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq attested to that fact saying, “What has been pleasing to see is the maturity he is showing. He is trying to bat according to the situation, his temperament is what will make him a very good player in the future.” Jamshed’s push towards midwicket, is a cross between Saeed Anwar and Matthew Hayden’s execution of the shot – a little bit of elegance and a whole lot of punch. The shot seems to encapsulate what Jamshed is all about. His ability to bat deep into the innings at a brisk rate has been the most assuring feature about him for Pakistan fans who punctuate every wonderful performance by their bowlers with a “Don’t forget we have to bat too.”
Junaid Khan’s first notable performance on the big stage came during the first Pakistan-Sri Lanka Test at Abu Dhabi in 2011. In a first innings spell that returned figures of 14.1-38-5, Junaid had even left the great Kumar Sangakkara split wide-open. Coming around the wicket, he accounted for Mahela and Prasanna Jayawardene in one over, the former with one that moved away and the latter with an inswinging yorker that would have left the batsman hopping had he not moved his feet in time. That yorker capped the left-armer’s ability as a strike-bowler even on the most harmless of wickets. Pakistani fans had taken notice but much like Jamshed, Junaid truly captured the imagination during the India series. His performances in the ODIs left one wondering why he was not preferred over Sohail Tanvir in the T20s. Former captain and bowling great Wasim Akram has already likened Junaid to himself and said, “In some ways, the way he sprints in for every ball, he reminds me of myself. I just don’t understand why Pakistan keep dropping him every now and then. Junaid needs to play every format of the game for his country.” He picked up 8-99 at an average of 12.37 in the series and won all his duels with India’s best batsman, Virat Kohli, of which his the last one probably left the Indian star feeling like he had faced Akram.
Hafeez had come under severe criticism for his ability to turn it on with the bat in T20s. But he came down the order and drowned that noise out with his willow. Although he was only able to replicate that effort once in the ODI series, his value as a bowler made him one the most vital cogs in Misbah-ul-Haq’s machine. He scored 97 runs in three matches and returned figures of 30-99-3 in the series. His ability to step on the gas while playing proper cricketing shots put paid to any notion that Kamran Akmal should be opening the innings in ODIs.
When the 7ft 1in Irfan was selected for the Indian tour, many suspected his career would suffer a major setback after having already put in an underwhelming debut performance against England in 2010. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli seemed bigger in stature and Irfan too raw for such a big occasion. His first delivery in the series-opening T20 was clocked in at 145.8 kph and the next five left Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane jumping to cope with the awkward bounce. Irfan continued in the same vein throughout the ODI series, a testament to his improved fitness and hard work. His figures of 26-132-3 may seem ordinary but it is his softening-up act that made the job for the rest of Pakistan’s bowling line easier. Irfan even fielded at short fine-leg and was seen sprinting at the third-man boundary as well. There will be great temptation to play Irfan alongside Junaid when Pakistan fly to South Africa later this month, but will he be able to cope in the five-day game? Junaid, Irfan, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman bowling to Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis would make for great viewing though.
Misbah’s captaincy remained stable, nothing too imaginative, though. He was guilty of not finishing off the Indian line at 29/5 in the first ODI and Junaid Khan finishing with only nine overs meant that he was wary of a late flurry even after finding himself in a dominating position. Saeed Ajmal and Junaid also finished with one over each in the bank in the third ODI, another indicator of Misbah’s cautious approach. His batting prevented Pakistan from folding on two occasions but did not add impetus to the innings. He would do best to revisit his mode of operation in 2007 and also to do away with all of the following: the reverse sweep, the paddle sweep and the nudge towards midwicket which finds him trapped in front all too often. Pakistan won the series under him and as such Misbah has extended his ODI shelf-life.
The all-rounder’s thumping six sealed a thriller for Pakistan in the first T20 in Bangalore with two balls to spare. He was retained for ODIs after his composed fifty under pressure in that game. He scored 34, 24 and 5 in the three games but his utility with the ball and his brilliance in the field should make him a regular in the ODI side which looks an all-rounder short currently. He is a finisher with the ability to do it calmly and should make the cut for the South Africa ODIs.
Akmal was reliable behind the stumps and that’s saying a lot. He has clearly worked on a few things with Julien Fountain and seems more in the game now. It was argued that he was being wasted as a batsman down the order but his one outing as opener did not go well either. He is a better batsman than what we have seen in the recent past but for now Pakistan would be satisfied if he keeps steady behind the stumps.
It was an ODI comeback for Younis Khan after being dropped for the series against Australia in the UAE late last year. He scored 58 in the first ODI and alongside Jamshed put Pakistan on course for victory. The next two knocks were hardly impressive but with Azhar Ali failing to take off in the shorter format and Umar Akmal not doing himself any favours either, Younis should return to his preferred number 3 spot until Asad Shafiq returns.
There are two sides to Gul. When he is on, he is just on. Sometimes within the same game, within the space of a few dozen deliveries Gul can go from looking like a clueless operator playing his first game to a ruthless exhibitionist who takes joy in hitting stumps. That being said, Gul is by no means overconfident in his ability. Perhaps, just confused. Gul’s figures of 23-107-3 in the series are testament to that fact Pakistan fans must accept him for his striking ability, even if he looks overwhelmed at times and gives away runs.
There is no doubt that at this stage Azhar Ali seems ideally suited for Tests alone. He has demonstrated an ability to anchor-down and score runs in ODIs but at number three, Pakistan have to have a batsman who can at least find some singles. With Asad Shafiq in the ranks and Haris Sohail in the hunt, Ali should make the most of his Test outings for the time being.
Ajmal was impressive in the first T20 but went for some runs in the next one. He flew under the radar in the first two ODIs as well before ending with a five-wicket haul in the last game. He clearly put in a man of the match performance but was edged by MS Dhoni’s steely determination in marshalling his flagging troops in New Delhi. Ajmal was great in the series against Australia late last year but a little overcooked in the 2012 World T20 that followed it. But there is no doubt after the third ODI that the King is back. In the shadows of Junaid and Irfan in India, Ajmal will once again be the focus of the South African batsmen when Pakistan travel.
We heard Indian great Sunil Gavaskar saying repeatedly how the young Pakistan batsman had loads of talent but no temperament to go along with it. It is a view shared by all but as Rashid Latif pointed out in a TV show after the 3rd ODI, with Akmal the problem is more in the head then with the technique. “He has been heard boasting about an average of 35 in the media recently and that what the main problem is. If he is happy with 35 then he can never become great.” Akmal looked set to repay Misbah’s faith in picking him over uncapped left-handed batsman Haris Sohail before throwing it away once again. With a fit Asad Shafiq, Akmal should, ideally, be made to sit the next few series.