x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pakistan's efforts warrant a review

Credit must be given the Pakistan side at the World Cup for its semi-final appearance, and it will be interesting to see what direction the team goes now.

Shahid Afridi, centre, and the national team displayed a togetherness not seen before.
Shahid Afridi, centre, and the national team displayed a togetherness not seen before.

As a tired Pakistani side arrive in the West Indies to start a month-long tour, thoughts at home remain focused on their World Cup semi-final loss.

Defeat to India may have been a bitter pill to swallow, particularly after such convincing victories against Australia and the West Indies, but cynics who suggest it was just another example of a Pakistan side capitulating under pressure fail to see the bigger picture.

The tournament began with victories over Sri Lanka, Kenya, Canada and Zimbabwe.

While they stumbled against recent nemeses New Zealand, the intense disappointment at their demise against eventual champions India just illustrates how greatly this team have defied expectations, no small feat in a year dogged by endless controversy and unfavourable media speculation.

Pakistan team management deserves praise for instilling a new found sense of honour and integrity.

There was no better sight in recent times than players forming huddles on field, in a public show of pride and unity.

Waqar Younis and Intikhab Alam have pulled together a once disparate bunch of individuals and fashioned them into a strong and cohesive unit. Any long-suffering fan of Pakistan cricket will appreciate the magnitude of such an achievement.

There were many exceptional performances on the field, too. The guile and consistency of Umar Gul and the emergence of Shahid Afridi as a genuine bowling threat were especially heartening.

Gul, in particular, has been a revelation with the new ball and the responsibility it brings.

The wizardry of Saeed Ajmal was a delight for spin bowling purists and conjured up images of Saqlain Mushtaq at his very best, hopefully putting to rest any further debate about Ajmal's place in the team.

Abdur Rehman played beyond his limitations, again proving that heart and passion can take you a long way in the game of cricket.

On the batting front, Asad Shafiq showed a determined and increasingly mature approach to his batting, emphasising why many deem him a natural successor to Mohammad Yousuf.

Despite his older brother's continuing woes, Umar Akmal regained his touch and, more importantly, seems to have developed a little toughness to his armoury which is a welcome departure from his usual reckless and audacious stroke play.

Inspired by the live wire Umar Akmal, there was also a notable invigoration in Pakistan's approach to fielding.

Pakistan sides have always adopted a laissez-faire approach to this aspect of the game, but now that the coaching staff have instilled a sense of professionalism there has been a marked improvement.

Missed catches against India proved that old habits die hard, but a serious intent to improve is there and should be commended.

There were some notable failures that will need addressing in the coming months, though.

Ahmed Shehzad, the young opener, seems over-awed and out of his depth.

There is no question about Shehzad's potential but now the onus will be on management and senior players to help harness that natural flair without suppressing his attacking instincts.

Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq were probably targets for most of the anger and vitriol from fans after Pakistan's exit from the World Cup, and this is understandable, especially given the team's reliance on both to provide solidity and steadiness, at which both failed during the World Cup.

Younus appeared tired and listless while Misbah was unable to capture his terrific form of the previous six months.

Afridi's defensive captaincy seemed at odds with his aggressive qualities as a player, as was his inability to score runs at crucial junctures down the order.

Sceptics will be at pains to point out that Pakistan were, again, victims of their own inability to handle pressure when it counts most.

There is some validity to this view, but it would be extremely unfair - and even a little churlish - to play down recent achievements entirely.

Victory against Sri Lanka, one of the favourites to win the cup, and ending Australia's 12-year unbeaten run are worthy of celebration

The attention duly shifts to the tour of the West Indies.

As usual, Pakistani team selection for the one-day international and Twenty20 formats has left many heads spinning.

Whereas many experts, such as Asif Iqbal, the former Pakistan captain, are satisfied with the Pakistan Cricket Board's decision to do away with Kamran Akmal and Younus based on the former's lack of basic technical skills and the latter's inability to play in the shortened format, there is bemusement at the continued selection of Misbah.

The fact that Misbah, no spring chicken at 36 and derided by experts and fans alike on his non-performance in the World Cup semi-final, has found favour with the selectors, defies all logic.

But then, many would argue, logic was never the basis on which Pakistan operates and his selection can supposedly be justified as a well cliched "injection of wisdom" in a side blessed with flair and moments of madness.

Whichever way his inclusion is viewed, one cannot escape the fact that Misbah's selection means that another young hopeful has lost an opportunity to make a mark.

Selection games apart, given the state of West Indian cricket, this tour does represent a significant opportunity for Pakistan to improve their overseas record and climb up the ratings ladder.

Exactly how Pakistan will achieve this with a few new faces will possibly require the usual mixture of good luck and some breathtaking individual performances.

In Pakistan's case, it would seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same.