When England last hosted the men’s cricket World Cup in 1999, the hosts weren’t exactly one of the favourites. They were brusquely dumped out of the event a day before the official World Cup song (Life Is a Carnival) was even released.
The Australian side of the time was one that had dominated the 1990s. They reached the final with the odd hiccup along the way, the most prominent being defeat to eventual fellow finalists Pakistan who in turn lost to Bangladesh while also slipping up against South Africa and India in the Super Six round.
In the 1990s Pakistan had a plethora of fast bowling talent that included Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and the new boy with the upturned collars Shoaib Akhtar, bowling close to 100 mph. There was a conveyer belt of fast bowling talent – the one constant Pakistan could always rely on.
They were humiliated in the final though. Bowled out for 132, they then saw Australia knock off the runs in 20 overs.
This time, Pakistan definitely enter the tournament with a few chinks in their armour. They come into this World Cup on the back of 11 successive losses.
First comprehensively beaten in the UAE by Australia, they then succumbed to England in batting-friendly conditions. Pakistan are not known for their batting prowess, but continuously scored over 300 in the bilateral series. However, they still lost every game, except the one at the Oval which was rained off.
Why couldn’t they defend scores in excess of 300? Where are the Waqars or Wasims of this generation? And above all, why the sudden inability to take wickets?
Since the Champions Trophy, the squad have been on a downward spiral and currently rank 6th in the world. The batting is not exactly consistent, but provides the stronger arm of the team; the bowling seems rather lacklustre, without character or bite. Many are calling for the head of the bowling coach Azhar Mahmood, albeit unfairly.
The coach can only draw up a plan; he can’t go out into the middle and execute them. He is given the players by the selectors, and he has to work with them to the best of his and their abilities. One would think the bowling coach would have some input when selecting players, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Wahab Riaz is back in the squad. He wasn’t in the initial 23, but on the insistence of some, has rightfully been drafted back in, and was straight into the wickets in the warm-up against Afghanistan, albeit in a losing cause.
One could question the selection of some of the other bowlers. Mohammed Hasnain and Shaheen Afridi, both with very little first-class cricket under their belts, have been fast-tracked into the national team, predominantly off their form in T20 tournaments. These are two most definitely for the future, but to thrust them straight into the world’s most prestigious cricket tournament defies logic.
Muhammad Abbas and Usman Shinwari on the other hand, both have knowledge of English conditions. Their exclusion from the squad is perplexing.
Former Pakistan skipper Rashid Latif points to several factors for Pakistan’s bowling shortcomings.
“For me what’s most criminal is they aren’t pitching the ball up. In England it is essential.
“If you look at some of the past and present bowlers, they all have a short last stride at the crease. Wasim was 6’3”, yet had a small last stride. Steyn, Pollock, Asif, McGrath and Marshall, their last strides were less than their respective height. Due to this they were able to consistently bowl full-length deliveries with ease.
Latif suggests the current Pakistani seamers are missing a trick in that regard and also has a few words of advice for Mohammad Amir.
“Our bowlers have a last stride which is too big, hence bowling the shorter lengths. Amir also seems to be falling away slightly when delivering the ball, maybe he should bowl from slightly closer to the stumps. A minor adjustment should aid him in taking wickets again.
When asked if Abbas would have been more of a suitable selection, Rashid responded, “Abbas for me doesn’t have the necessary pace to trouble the batsmen, though Shinwari and Junaid would have been better selection choices. “
Hassan Ali, arguably the bowler of the Champions Trophy, has also been struggling with his length at times. He has the skill and is normally quite a decent exponent of reverse swing, but has mysteriously lost his ability to bring variation. It’s not that they don’t know how – we’ve all seen them bowl magnificently – it’s just a matter of application.
Shadab Khan also makes a welcome return after serious illness and will add an extra dimension to the bowling, along with Imad Wasim. Yasir Shah is having a horrendous time in ODIs, and is not really a bowler for this format – again, quite an extraordinary selection.
Pakistan are a good side but a run of bad form and injuries haven’t helped their cause. It could take just one big win for their confidence to return.
Mickey Arthur, Grant Flower and Azhar Mahmood have a tough job but their side do possess the ability to spring a surprise at the World Cup.