FROM starting off as the tournament favourites to narrowly escaping a defeat against a spirited Afghanistan side, Pakistan seem to be grappling with some issues in the Asia Cup which they must address if they are to progress further in the tournament and make a shot for the title.
According to skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, it was the first time in 18 months that Pakistan had a terrible fielding day. While this is not in any way an attempt to undermine the improvement in Pakistan’s fielding standards, it is also a fact that ever since Steve Rixon, the Australia-born fielding coach, has quit post it appears as if our fielders have gone back to their old ways.
They dropped as many as five catches against Afghanistan and were very lucky to have come out unscathed in the end. The only consolation for the Pakistani fielders is that if they were poor in the field, the Afghans were poorer. Who knows what would have happened had Mohammad Shahzad not dropped Shoaib Malik off Rashid Khan. And, had it not been for Malik’s experience and sheer brilliance with the bat, Afghanistan might have recorded a famous win over Pakistan.
Apart from a brilliant 154-run stand between Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam and a gutsy half-century by Shoaib Malik, nothing really stood out for Pakistan. From team selection to fielding, everything appeared to be in a chaos. Most welcome
Fakhar Zaman, the exciting opening batsman, is yet to score a run in the Asia Cup and it will be interesting to see whether he gets another crack at India or will he be replaced by Shan Masood who has had a prolific domestic season. Coach Mickey Arthur and Captain Sarfraz will have to make a tough call in any case.
Haris Sohail, who got a nod ahead of Faheem Ashraf because of his slow-left arm bowling on Friday, was quite ineffective with both bat and ball. And on top of that, he dropped a sitter from Asghar Afghan, the rival captain who was looking good at the crease.
Faheem, on the other hand, is a terrific fielder and brings lot of quality to the line-up with his all-round abilities. The coach as well as the skipper will be well advised to bring talented, young Faheem back in the squad for Sunday’s game.
Sarfraz’s own form with the bat has been a subject of debate for quite some time now. His constant nagging at his bowlers and fielders doesn’t help his cause either. He got out against India while playing a rash shot when the team had lost two settled batsmen and needed someone to stay at the crease with Shoaib Malik. The wicket-keeper/batsman did exactly the same thing at a crucial juncture against Afghanistan on Friday and got bowled out on a full-toss by Gulbadin Naib after exposing his stumps while looking to cut the ball towards the backward point.
What Sarfraz, can do at this stage is to bat up the order at No.4 should the team management decide to go with Faheem instead of Haris. It will allow him to spend more time at the crease instead of going after the ball from the word go.
On the other hand, Shadab Khan, if fully fit, must be inducted for the India match. Pakistan will have to make a brave call of dropping one seam bowling option for a spin-bowler. In this case, Usman Khan Shinwari should make way for Shadab.
Going into the game with two regular spinners and three seam-bowling options including Shadab, Mohammad Nawaz, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Faheem will strengthen the Pakistani bowling attack. The bowling attack may look inexperienced on paper, but it is the only viable option for Team Pakistan at the moment.