Pakistan batting lineup recently proves itself as a house of cards, revolving around Misbah. If Misbah scored for Pakistan, the batting looked nearly decent, but if he flopped, everything looked miserable. Now his good time with the bat seems to all but over and things look more than just shaky for the team prior to the World Cup. Pakistan are less than 10 matches away from the World Cup, and are yet to find a batting lineup which is an automatic choice on the paper. There have been too many chops and changes in the batting order and things look more uncertain as they were 4 years back. As cricket’s biggest party is just few months away from beginning in full prime, I as a Pakistan Cricket supporter believes that Shoaib Malik might be the one who can give answers for a lot of questions for the Team Pakistan, come February 2015.
Pakistan have tried number of youngsters over the past 4 years from the last World cup, some of them even played in the last World Cup as the emerging players and sadly, they are still “Emerging” players. Many of them are in their late 20’s, and their failures after failure are yet to give them a spot in the starting lineup. Pakistan after Amir Sohail and Saeed Anwar, always had issues at the top and it was their middle order who gave them the way out in difficult times. First it was Inzamam, Ejaz and Salim Malik, then it was Yousuf, Younis and Inzamam and later on it was Malik and Misbah along with Umer Akmal and Younis Khan who gave Pakistan the needed steel in the middle to take on the giants of International Cricket. That was one of the prime reasons why Pakistan were able to reach 4 consecutive Semi Final of World T20, 2 World T20 Finals, a World T20 Championship & one Semi – Final of the Champions Trophy and World Cup 2011 even after the World Cup debacle of 2007.
If one would look into all of this closely, you would find Malik in the middle of most of those achievements, and when Malik failed, Pakistan somehow failed as well. He was the 2nd highest scorer for Pakistan and 4th highest scorer in World T20 Championship in South Africa, where he led the team as a young Captain to the final against arch rival India. In 2009 World T20 Championship in England, he was involved in 2 crucial partnerships with Shahid Afridi in Semi Final and Final, which led Pakistan becoming the World T20 Champions. Later that year, in Champions trophy, Malik scored amazing century against arch rival India in the group match which made Pakistan qualify for the semi-finals, eventually losing to New Zealand. Pakistan toured South Africa in 2012, where they lost 3-0 in test matches. However, in the One – dayers, Pakistan were able to chase down twice which is not Pakistan’s strength, and both time Malik played a sensible hand in chasing down both targets.
Many would argue that Malik was given enough chances and that he should not include in the team again. However, I would like to argue in a different direction. YES! He was given a lot of chances since his comeback to the National team back in 2011. In fact, his average is mere 20 since his comeback in the national team after 2011 World Cup. But I believe, that was due to the fact that he has not played at the position where he was best played at. His average at the International and Domestic level is best at when he comes 2 down. He has an impressive average of 42.68 batting at No.4 in 22 innings while playing for Pakistan, which is definitely better than his overall average of 32.67. Batting at 4, Malik have 3 hundreds and 3 fifties under his belt in 22 innings which should at least be acceptable for Pakistan Cricket standard. Comparing Malik’s average while playing at no.4, it doesn’t surprise me that he performed a lot better than Younis Khan (average 36 at No.4), Umer Akmal (average 14 at No.4), Fawad Alam (average 19 at no.4), Sohaib Maqsood (average 28 at no.4) and Asad Shafiq (average 26 at No.4). Only Misbah have better average than Malik (average 46 at No.4), but to his credit, Misbah has better average playing at no.5 (average 48) than playing at no.4 (average 46). Yet, under the Captaincy of Misbah, he was mostly played at 6, and sometimes at 7, where his average comes down to 27 and 32. He was never utilized as a part-time bowler, which he is more than just capable of and that he proves over and over again in Domestic cricket and in T20 Tournaments all over the world, which added more pressure on him to deliver from the bat a number on which he is not comfortable on.
Many would argue that he is a Professional and that he should play at the position where the team needs him, but I would ask them the same question in a different way “How would the likes of Mohammad Yousuf, Dravid, Virat Kohli or Damien Martyn, careers be like, if they were ask to play at no. 7 in the Batting Order”? The answer is known to most of the people who are out there and have watched Cricket regularly.
Malik is not the sort of player who you would want at the crease when the team needs 45 in last 4 overs. Instead, Malik is the sort of player who you would want to play the sheet anchors role, and make the team play around him. He is better than Misbah and better than Fawad Alam for sure in doing this. He has 7 centuries in ODI for goodness sake, and still have an average (32.67) even after poor performance in the last 3 years, than the likes of Younis Khan (31.75), Mohammad Hafeez(30.98), Kamran Akmal (26.18) and Shahid Afridi (23.27).
Looking at the replacements of Malik who have used so far, have yet to impress any one really. Umer Amin who plays purely as batsmen have an average of less than 20 in 15 matches, and Asad Shafiq who is nearing his 2nd World Cup and also plays as a batsmen only, has an average of 26 in 49 ODI’s with a strike rate of less than 70. Compare that to a strike rate of Malik and anyone would want to have him in the side.
Looking at Malik’s recent performances in the T20 tournaments in the Caribean and in the Champions League T20, one wonder’s why he was not included in the Pakistan Team? Especially after exclusion of a senior pro like Hafeez. He was the 2nd highest run getter (426) in the Caribean Premier League (CPL) and were the back bone of Barbados Tridents and helped them win the tournament. In the Champions League T20, he along with Blizzard made Hobart Hurricanes the only team outside the sub – continent to have reached the semi – final. He had the highest average in the tournament, with 86 and just got out twice in 5 matches.
In a major tournament like World Cup, teams need senior heads in the dressing room and especially in a team like Pakistan, who haven’t played a single match on the Home Soil since last 6 years, it becomes even more mandatory. With Pakistan loosing Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf in the middle order, it is evitable to have someone like Malik who has the ability to play a sheet anchor role in the team and let Misbah, Umer Akmal and Shahid Afridi to take advantage of in the last few overs. Misbah need to bat lower in the batting order because he has the ability to hit big shots and have cooler mind to make Umer Akmal and Shahid Afridi bat around him. With senior player like Malik in the team, it gives Misbah the luxury to be expressive as well and not feel overly burdened, plus it will give him an extra bowling option too. Pakistan only have few months to get their act straight and make sure we have the right balance on the field when the World Cup will begin in few months’ time. Malik also need to realize that he is a player representing Pakistan and his ex – skipper tag won’t help him stay in the team. He needs to lead by example on the field and make sure that Pakistan will get benefitted by his performance.