Pakistan have lost the first two ODIs against New Zealand, who don’t have a habit of giving up easily at home (who does?). Tour of New Zealand was once considered a walk in the park for Green Shirts, but those were the days when Pakistan had specialists with them.
Back in the 90s and early 2000s, New Zealand were a threat, but Pakistan were well prepared and there used to be a strong contest between the two sides. Scoring runs was never easy on grounds of irregular size and shape, but the visitors somehow managed that well. Saeed Anwar’s innings of 169 on the tour of 1994, followed by hundreds from Saleem Malik and Inzamam-ul-Haq in the same innings is just one of the examples of bold batting display by the Pakistanis.
Although the recent disciplined bowling attack of the Kiwis has brought the ghosts out of the cupboard of the ICC Champions Trophy winners, Pakistan can still bounce back if little adjustments are made – in time.
Former captain Azhar Ali has just returned from an injury. Although with Fakhar Zaman he had a couple of valuable partnerships in England, it would be wise to drop him to No. 3 until he fully recovers. With Fakhar (pray he recovers in time) and Imam-ul-Haq opening in the third match, Babar Azam can be rested. He was unlucky in the first match when his dismissal could have been averted, yet in the next match he was found wanting.
It’s about time that former captain Shoaib Malik takes the role of the key batsman and stops playing to secure his place. He has been around for nearly two decades and there is no country in this world where he hasn’t played, and played well. He must follow the example of Javed Miandad, Saleem Malik, Inzamam-ul-Haq, and even Misbah-ul-Haq who used to make an innings from a dead situation.
Hafeez, without his ‘bowling option’ can be a good replacement for Shoaib Malik, but it would be a crime to have both players in the team. Haris Sohail should be given a chance in the third match, as he can bat and bowl, and can stay longer at the crease.
Since Babar Azam, Hafeez and Shoaib Malik failed in the opening match of the tour, it would be better to induct Haris and Azhar in the middle order for any of the two. With Haris in, Sarfraz will have an additional bowling option and Haris is definitely a better fielder than Hafeez.
Sarfraz Ahmed has been an inspirational captain for the young team, but his constant reminders to the players to focus appears to have taken a toll on his wicket keeping as he dropped a crucial catch in the first match.
He still has a lot to learn regarding the pitch, conditions, rules and toss, as he seems to keep weather forecast out of his book. His own batting form has been in decline since last 12 months. He must accept the challenge in desperate situations, unlike the Champions Trophy final, where he sent Imad Wasim in his place to bat the final overs.
After a good thrashing in game one, it was strange Pakistan didn’t change the bowling attack. Pacer Aamir Yamin is with the touring side, he has the ability to hit the ball hard and he could be ‘the missing chip’ in the middle order. Pakistan’s tail is vulnerable against pace, yet Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali have shown with their gritty fifties in the second ODI that they can rescue the side when the regular batsmen fail. If Aamir Yamin is inducted in the side in place of ‘so far quite expensive Rumman Raees’, the depth in the batting would make things easier for the captain.
Pakistan need to correct the mistakes they have made in the last two matches, if they want to stage a comeback. In the first two matches, there seemed to be more of batsmen’s will in getting out than bowlers’ planning. The way Sarfraz came down the pitch lacked maturity. This was not the first time he tried to be brave but ended up being foolish. It might be better to shout from behind the stumps to pump up your players, but raising your own performance can also lift the team’s morale. It is better to save your breath for where it’s needed and right now it’s in the third ODI.