Cover Point: Pakistan need Wahab Riaz spark

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Inspiring: Pakistan quick Wahab Riaz has shown great competitive spirit.

Hitting rock bottom is never a pleasant experience. Those who reach the lowest point are generally told that they at least have one positive to hold on to – that the only way now is up.

– Pakistan’s Rahat Ali out of Bangladesh Tests
– Bangladesh call up uncapped Shahid for Pakistan Test
– Bangladesh teenager Rahman rips through Pakistan in T20

The Pakistan team must be holding on to that hope with all its might, having crashed to embarrassing defeats in the limited overs series against Bangladesh.

After Pakistan’s exit from the World Cup quarter-finals, changes were made to the ODI side following the retirement of Misbah-ul Haq and Shahid Afridi and below-par performances of some senior names.

Out went Nasir Jamshed, Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad and Younis Khan.

And in came wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan and left-handed opening batsman Sami Aslam, with spots awarded to veterans Mohammad Hafeez, spinner Saeed Ajmal – back with a ‘remodelled’ action – and spinning all-rounder Fawad Alam.

Even so, there were experienced players in the ODI side, led by opener Azhar Ali, in the form of wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, middle order batsman Asad Shafiq and left-arm quick Wahab Riaz.

With Pakistan making a fresh start, a tough fight in Bangladesh was to be expected as the Tigers had performed admirably in the World Cup, making it to the quarter-finals. 

But what we saw was a thorough thrashing with Pakistan outplayed in every department of the game in the three ODIs and lone T20 game, crashing to one of the lowest points in their international cricket history – according to former captain Ramiz Raja.

The margins of defeat were 79 runs, seven wickets and eight wickets in the ODIs and seven wickets again in the T20. That is a pasting by any definition.

And even though new skipper Ali did well with the bat, scoring 72, 36 and 101 in the 50-over format, the distinct lack of aggression in the Pakistan unit was there for all to see. 

Sure, Bangladesh are a much improved limited overs side but you don’t expect sub-continent sides to be outplayed in such a manner when playing against each other in familiar conditions.

While teething troubles are a given when teams make a fresh start, the Pakistan management probably should have given former captain turned commentator Raja’s recommendation of appointing pacer Riaz as captain a bit more thought.

Raja, and the rest of the cricketing world, were left mesmerised by the left-arm quick’s out-of-this-world spell to Australia’s Shane Watson in the World Cup quarter-final.

Peppering the Aussie with 150kmph thunderbolts aimed right at the helmet, Riaz gave one of the most memorable performances on a cricket field in recent memory.

No wonder Raja felt that a similarly aggressive approach while leading a young side is just what Pakistan needs.

There is another reason why making Riaz captain is an idea worth considering.

He is a world-class fast bowler. And world-class fast bowlers have done a great job while leading Pakistan. Pace bowling is part of the very fabric of Pakistan cricket.

Those who hurl the leather ball at more than 90mph and make it ‘talk’ are a revered lot there, especially after the rise of Imran Khan who not only led them to a World Cup triumph in 1992 but also personally oversaw the rise of Inzamam ul-Haq and Wasim Akram, two of the finest cricketers the world has seen.

After Imran, Pakistan were led admirably by Akram and Waqar Younis, who continued to wreak havoc with the ball while being captain of the side.

It’s a phenomenon unique to Pakistan where fast bowlers have proved their mettle time and again as leaders.

Obviously, there have been one-off instances in other parts of the world where Bob Willis led England, Kapil Dev became a star leader for India and Courtney Walsh marshalled the West Indies troops.

But in Pakistan, there is a greater tendency to tilt towards a fast bowling skipper.

It’s that unique love affair with pacers that makes Riaz a perfect candidate for the job, much more than Ali who, despite his consistent efforts with the bat, does not fall in the same category as Riaz in the list of awe-inspiring cricketers.

It’s something that has worked for Pakistan.

And right now, they need to infuse some life into a team that lacks spark.

They only need to look at how India have transformed into a combat-ready outfit since the promotion of Virat Kohli to leadership level.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the most successful Indian captain, has made way for the young Delhi batsman in Tests and is expected to hand over the reins in limited overs format soon.

The results, in all formats, do not reflect that change in mindset but most believe India is moving in the right direction with Kohli’s aggressive and never-say-die attitude.

For Pakistan, the Bangladesh humiliation, combined with a shrinking roster with few ‘big’ tours in it, mean that morale will be low for some time.

Which is why a maverick like Riaz should be given a chance as he can make things happen. It’s a tried and tested formula in Pakistan and there is no reason why it can’t work again.

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Reaction from West Indies' Kraigg Braithwaite and England's Joe Root following the fourth day's play in the second Test match at Grenada.


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Anderson haul fires England to Test win over West Indies

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Match-winner: James Anderson.

England wrapped up a nine-wicket victory over the West Indies after a magical morning from James Anderson and a ruthless chase from Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance secured the second Test last night.

– Bangladesh teenager Mustafizur Rahman rips through Pakistan
– Sarkar’s century helps Bangladesh rout Pakistan in Dhaka
– Mohammad Hafeez gets green light from ICC to bowl

Anderson, who became England’s leading Test wicket-taker in the Antigua Test last week, was in effervescent form as he played a decisive role in six consecutive wickets to inspire his side on a flat pitch in Grenada.

England were left to chase 143, with Cook (59 not out) and Ballance (81 not out) both scoring their second half-centuries of the match to hand the tourists a 1-0 series lead for the loss of one wicket.

Ballance’s knock took him past 1,000 Test runs in his 17th innings, a remarkable achievement as just eight men have done better in the history of the game. Only two of those are Englishmen, with Ballance bettered only by Herbert Sutcliffe and Sir Len Hutton.

Yet things might have looked very different at stumps had it not been for Anderson’s magnetic display in the first session.

He triggered a collapse which saw the home side lose eight wickets for 83 runs after they resumed in the comfortable position of 202 for two with opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite on 101 and first innings century-maker Marlon Samuels at the crease.

Anderson made full use of the second new ball in the morning session, removing Brathwaite for 116 with a sharp lifter that was fended to gully.

He then added the other key wickets of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, via an excellent reflex-action taken by Cook at first slip on the rebound from second slip fielder Ian Bell, and Marlon Samuels to finish with the excellent figures of four for 43 off 22 overs.

He also held two catches at mid-off and ran out Jason Holder, the man whose maiden first-class century denied England victory in the first Test in Antigua a week earlier, with a direct hit at the non-striker’s end.

That dismissal effectively ended any realistic chance the West Indies had of saving the match and it was left to off-spinning all-rounder Moeen Ali to finish off the innings by taking the last three wickets.

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