Pakistan’s unfortunate demise in ODI Cricket, which was our ‘forte’ once, is quite intriguing when scrutinized. As an individual, who is in his mid-twenties and has seen Pakistan’s ODI dominance from the early 90s till the late 2000s, it is very hard to swallow this dismal performance of Pakistan team in ODIs in the last 2 years specially. I am of the generation of Cricket followers who had this believe that Pakistan always had an issue with playing in the ‘Whites’ but were awesome in the ‘Colors’. However, things change and I saw Pakistan going from one of the Top 3 in the World in ODI cricket to one of the Worst 3 in the World. I find only one reason for the downfall and that is the ‘lack of balance’ in this current Pakistani outfit.
Since I started watching cricket back in 92, when my elder brothers forced me to watch the World Cup live in the early morning, I always saw Pakistan had the formula to win matches. It was not a traditional formula of playing 5 bowlers, 5 batsmen and a wicket keeper. It was a formula that Pakistan created themselves, such as 3 bowlers, 3 all-rounders, 4 batsmen and a wicket keeper. I looked back at Pakistan’s top cricketing moment since 92 in colors that include the success of 92, final in 99, winning series against Australia in Australia in 2002, 2007 T20 Final, 2009 Champions Trophy semi-final, 2009 T20 Triumph, 2010 T20 semifinal, 2011 world cup semifinal, 2012 T20 semifinal and 1st ever ODI series victory on the South African soil by an Asian team.
There was one thing that stood out and that was the importance of all-rounders in Pakistan’s own method of success. Be it 92, when we only had Aqib Javed and Mushtaq playing as genuine bowlers, with Wasim, Imran, Amir Sohail, Salim Malik and Aijaz playing as all-rounders, or be it 1999 where we had Shoaib and Saqlain who played as a genuine bowler, supported by Wasim, Razzaq, Azhar and Afridi who played as all-rounders. It was always that mix and match that won us matches, which made us one of the best teams in the ODI cricket at least for over a decade. Pakistan never had more than 3 genuine bowlers who were supported by 3 or more all-rounders. That was the formula that served well for such a long time, but somehow, our team management who themselves have played on teams that have had all-rounders, completely lost it when they had the chance to pick the best 15 for the World Cup.
Over the last 2 years or so, they went for so called ‘specialist’, which is taking its toll on Pakistan’s fragile batting line up to produce any results really. Since when did our batting become so amazing that we can only have 6 batting options? (Considering Afridi is as reliable as nothing), we are actually playing with just an inch over 6 batsmen (let’s call it 6.25 batsmen) that is putting further pressure on our bowling which in not as great, neither as talented as it was used to be. The argument for all of this logic is that we don’t have an all-rounder like the quality of Razzaq, Azher and so on. For an argument, Razzaq was mere average, or should I say below average till 1999 World cup, where the team management had realized that he was more of a batting all-rounder than a bowling all-rounder. He had a batting average of less than 11 in 14 matches and had a bowling average of 33. Wasim Akram and team management back then, found a solution to use Razzaq more as a batsman in the top order and then he flourished at the top, while Azhar Mehmood was more of a bowling all-rounder and did really well lower in the order. Excuses like Pakistan does not produce quality all-rounders like Razzaq or Mehmood might have some legitimacy, but isn’t this a problem for the rest of the world as well? How many teams have an all-rounder who you can compare with Razzaq, Kallis or Azhar? I believe none. Watson and Ryan McLaren come closest, but aren’t of the same level.
We have to move on with what we have and make full use of it. Firstly, we need to understand that not every all-rounder will give us 10 overs and 2-3 or 4 wickets and not everyone who is called an all-rounder will give us 70+ runs in every 2nd innings. We need to understand the thin line between batting and bowling all-rounders just like every other team does. Like Australia, where they have Maxwell and Watson playing as batting all-rounders and would just be used for 3-4 overs in the middle of the innings, whereas Faulkner is being played as a genuine bowling all-rounder and has produced results with the ball as well. If we start giving roles to people on what they are capable of, and find a mix like we had before, there is no point why we will not become a powerhouse in ODIs again. That’s what happened back in the 2013 series with South Africa, where it was only Junaid Khan and Saeed Ajmal, who were playing as specialist bowlers, but then we had Afridi and Bilawal Bhatti playing as a bowling all-rounders and Hafeez and Anwer Ali playing as a batting all-roundes and guess what? We became the first Team from this continent to win an ODI series in South Africa. We need to back players who will achieve heights like other countries do. We have batting all-rounders like Hammad Azam, Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik, Hafeez, Umer Amin, who can score runs and get you a few wickets at the same time, and bowling all-rounders like Bilawal Bhatti, Sohail Tanveer, Yasir Shah and Wahab Riaz who will give us wickets with some useful runs down the order. This lot is enough to provide Pakistan team with the much needed balance that they lack right now and can lift this team up, producing results that we can still achieve, but for now, it seems a little too far away.