What does a team do after being bowled out for 81? And that after scoring nearly 400 in the first innings on a wicket that apparently suited them. Pakistan are in that position after being shell-shocked on a Barbados wicket which West Indies coach Stuart Law described as more of a “Pakistani pitch” than a Caribbean one.
Pakistan cricket won’t be the same anymore. It’s all set to lose two of its finest ever batsmen once Misbah-ul Haq and Younis Khan hang their bats at the end of the three-Test series in the Caribbean. Losing two stalwarts at one go is never easy for any cricketing nation and for a country like Pakistan, where quality Test batsmen are tougher to find than a few other sides, the challenge is that much more imposing.
Pakistan, who were briefly the No1 Test team, have to ask some tough questions now. If they can be bowled out for less than 100 with Misbah and Younis in the side, chasing 188, one can only imagine the situation they will be in against stronger bowling attacks in tougher conditions.
But such scenarios offer a unique opportunity. You only need to go back to 2009 when another promising Test team was stunned in the Caribbean. The first Test between the hosts and England in Jamaica saw the West Indies take a 74-run lead. What came next was straight out of a horror movie. England were blown away for 51 with fast bowler Jerome Taylor brushing aside heavyweights like Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen. That was a wake-up call for English cricket and they heard it loud and clear. Under the no-nonsense stewardship of coach Andy Flower, England doubled down and transformed the way they play cricket.
There was no room for any compromise anymore. Flower ran a tight ship, with mental toughness and camaraderie as important as runs and wickets. The Jamaican jolt was just what England needed to become more than just that 2005 Ashes winning team.
England won the Ashes back later that year and delivered one of their finest performances while retaining the urn in the 2010-11 series Down Under. Their Test journey reached the coveted milestone when they became the No1 team in the world after whitewashing India 4-0 at home in 2011. That after being bowled out for 51 in 2009.
What to blame:— Hassan Cheema (@mediagag) May 4, 2017
1. Misbah & bowlers on day 4, batting on day 5. (not mutually exclusive)
2. Batting on day 2 that led to 1st inns lead
That positivity rubbed off on England’s limited overs cricket as well, with the Englishmen returning to Caribbean and lifting the 2010 World T20 trophy.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Pakistan. They won the T20 and the ODI series against the West Indies and were clinical during their triumph in the first Test in Jamaica. But what happened in Barbados must have shaken the confidence of many members in the team and management.
They have two options now. Either play defensively and try to get back on their feet, or take the embarrassing defeat as a signal to change the way they play their game. Safe cricket can only take you so far in the modern age. Even Test cricket is all about aggression now with high scoring rates and matches finishing inside four days.
Pakistan’s batsmen must accept they can’t hide behind the silhouette of Misbah and Younis anymore. If defensive tactics are not working, try to attack more and see where that takes the team. They might lose a game or two, but eventually should put up enough runs on board to support their excellent bowling attack.
After India lost the services of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag almost at one go, there was a genuine lack of batting leadership. Once Virat Kohli took over from MS Dhoni as India’s captain, he put a premium on aggression in the field with the bat and ball, urging his players to make things happen even if the opposition was on top. That is the main reason behind India’s rise to the top of the rankings and also why they look good to stay there for some time.
Obviously, you need quality players to pull that off. Whether Babar Azam and Asad Shafiq can take the bull by the horns and ease the load on Azhar Ali the batsman is completely up to them. There won’t be a Misbah or Younis anymore to guide the youngsters or clean up afterwards once this series ends. It’s either sink or swim.
An experiment called Narine
I have never been a fan of sending pinch-hitters at the top of the order in T20s. Batting in the shortest format isn’t that complicated and there are many power hitters in most IPL teams to bully the bowlers. But Kolkata Knight Riders went with Sunil Narine at the top once Chris Lynn got injured after the second match.
And Narine has gone from strength to strength. His 196 runs 11 outings have come at a strike rate of 184, with the joint-fastest fifty in IPL. Narine opened the innings three times for the Melbourne Renegades in the last season of Big Bash and Kolkata have put their stamp on that move.