x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Hafeez's role 'a blessing' for Pakistan

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq pays tribute to the all-rounder, saying he is 'doing well for us in all formats'.

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq, right, believes Mohammad Hafeez, centre, is 'improving day by day' and is crucial to Pakistan's success.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq, right, believes Mohammad Hafeez, centre, is 'improving day by day' and is crucial to Pakistan's success.

DUBAI // Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, believes Mohammad Hafeez is among the best all-rounders in world cricket, after another match-changing hand gave Pakistan a one-day international (ODI) series lead against Sri Lanka on Friday night in Dubai.

The two sides play the fourth game in Sharjah on Sunday and another central turn from Hafeez is entirely possible.

Until his return to the side during last summer's fractious series with England, Hafeez's role over a stop-start seven-year career had never been clear. But since his return, when he has batted as opener and been used regularly as an off-spin option, he has been among Pakistan's most invaluable players across all formats.

On Friday, at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, an elegant 83 and a crucial late wicket ensured a win and a sixth man-of-the-match award since his return: in 37 ODIs since then, he has scored 1,350 runs (with eight 50s and three 100s) at just under 40 and taken 31 wickets.

"You can say he's one of the best all-rounders in the world because of the way he has performed in the last one and a half years," said Misbah. "He's really doing well for us in all formats, Tests, T20, ODIs, he's bowling well, batting well, fielding well and improving day by day.

"He's won a lot of match awards and it's really a blessing to have a person like him in the team."

Hafeez has long been acknowledged as among the more intelligent players to have emerged from Pakistan in recent years; they call him "Professor" in the dressing room because of how much he loves talking about the game. And there is such a polish to his batting that it makes the earlier half of his career - and his continuing inability to fully cash in on starts - as puzzling as it is frustrating. But the last year has also been successful.

"I've really worked hard on my [batting] technique and that's really given me more confidence," Hafeez said. "Once you work on that it helps you and I'm very thankful to my supporting staff, guys like my batting coach Shahid Aslam. He's really worked hard with me and I'm just very happy with the way I am performing."

Arguably, his role with the ball has been as significant, if not more so and is perhaps even more revealing of his intelligence. The trajectory is generally flat, the lines tight but he can get turn and the straighter one against left-handers has been a particular source of success. He has opened the bowling, bowled through the middle overs and, as on Friday, near the death.

"Bowling is something that is natural for me," he said. "I don't really work hard on it because, basically I'm a batsman, I understand their psyche and try to do different things with that. The confidence from the management, especially the captains - first [Shahid] Afridi used me well, now Misbah. We've played together so he really trusts me on every situation."

Hafeez is precisely the kind of player Sri Lanka seem to be missing from their line-up, though it is by no means an absence fatal to their chances.

They bowled particularly well to restrict Pakistan to 257 given the 151-run start the openers had given. And they were in it for large parts of the chase, never less than when Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara were at the crease.

There were good signs, said the captain Dilshan, coming in to Sharjah. "We can carry positives to the next game," he said. "We did really well in many areas, not 100 per cent, but a few areas we did really well and we can take that forward. We'll take it one game at a time, first Sharjah and try to win that, then Abu Dhabi and take that on.

"I think this performance, we can take to the next match and move forward with it."