Lords and masters of Pakistan
Australia’s opponents at Lords tomorrow night, Pakistan, will be looking to redeem themselves after their ‘banana peel’ skid-row performance down under. Do they have the steel in their backbone to fight for a win, or will they be capricious and play for themselves?
With the hindsight of Karma, sport is not cruel. It is the fairest arbiter of human endeavour known to man. It cares not for statistics. Injuries may curtail or end a promising career. On the flip side is the opportunity for someone else. It is not for nothing that thespians say “I hope you break a leg”.
In the bigger scheme of things life is never a disaster. Only opportunity. Steven Smith will make his debut courtesy of an injury to Nathan Haurtitz. Peter George may also be the ‘lucky loser’ of Ryan Harris’s over-exertions. Tim Paine is already a beneficiary of Haddin’s misfortune.
Cricket is littered with the broken china of misfortune. It is also fired by the life force of new beginnings.
The individual brilliance of Umar Akmal is not in doubt. He is the only Pakistan player with a Test average in the 40’s. But the rest of their batting looks green with the absence of the Y factors: Younis and Yousuf.
Pakistan cricket was a force for the decade from 1985-1995. It had until then been ruled by The House of Mohammed and the House of Khan. Now it resembles the House of Shuttered windows where cobwebs fight with dust for ascendancy
Salman Butt will have a new opening partner and may be under pressure to shield him. This will make him vulnerable and leave him exposed to Johnson and company.
Shahid Afridi will not be allowed the latitude of the shorter format and he has not played Test cricket for a long time. I also suspect his mindset is not geared to the longer format and this will tell on days two and three. Australia must not be sucked in to playing one day cricket.
Watson and Katich at the top of the order need to convert their starts and score big. Pakistan has decided not to include Shoaib Akhtar in their Test plans and may regret this. If they could have fielded their Triple-A fastmen, Asif, Akhtar and Aamer, they may have bested the Australian batting.
But in the absence of the Rawalpindi Express they have a workmanlike attack, at best.
Kaneria and Ajmal will not have much impact on a Lords wicket that will play true but without much turn. Pakistan may only play Ajmal and rely on Afridi to bowl some legspin. For Afridi to be effective he will have to slow down his delivery. He was never a Test match bowler and will struggle.
Mohammad Asif is the man that can help Pakistan. Unfortunately his off-field line and length has not matched his control with ball in hand. He has had more scandal in his three years of cricket than Peyton Place.
There is always intrigue surrounding Pakistan and the Pakistan cricket team.
Shahrayar Khan, (former head of Pakistan Cricket) writes in “Shadows across the Playing Field” more in hope than in conviction:
“Cricket can be the glue that holds Pakistan together.”
In the end the Pakistan people have been failed by their leaders, both civilian and military. Dr. Ashraf (Butt’s predecessor) is comfortably ensconced in the USA and his benefactor Pervez Musharaff (ex-President of Pakistan) was recently on a lucrative world speaking tour.
The politicians and generals have systematically propagated politics of hate and, one suspects, brazenly increased their Swiss Bank balances.
Can Afridi unite a team where the politicians cannot unite a country? Can Afridi feel comfortable with the people around him? He has also not played Test cricket for some years and Pakistan’s form against Australia is dismal.
The last time Pakistan beat Australia in a Test was in 1995 at the SCG. Since 1998 Pakistan have played Australia fifteen times for two draws and thirteen losses, twelve of these losses in succession. One would think the bets are off and this is a one horse race.
Australia’s form on paper is good but they have looked far from the champion side that dominated world cricket from 1995 to 2007.
Pakistan has the bowlers to worry Australia. In Umar Gul they have a practioner of the toe-crusher that would land him a walkup start in Underbelly. Pakistan has in Mohammed Aamer the next best thing since Wasim Akram. “I was even skinnier than him when I was 18”. Wasim has high hopes for this young man.
Steven Smith is the most exciting youngster I have seen since Doug Walters. He is effervescent and fields like Jonty Rhodes and Colin Bland combined.
He must play.
Whether he bats at 6 or 8 will depend on what the selectors do with North. The conservative approach would be to retain him. The attacking approach would be to drop him. If your top five cannot do the job then you are in trouble anyway.
Dropping North may also take the Australian batsmen out of their comfort zone. We may finally see them converting their starts into big scores. This was their Achilles heel last summer.
Pakistan’s likely XI will be Butt, Hameed, Azhar Ali, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Aamer, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Asif. Perhaps Imran Farhat will get the nod over Hameed.
Australia will go with Katich, Watson, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, North/Khawaja, Paine, Smith, Johnson, Hilfenhaus and Bollinger.
Khawaja and Peter George may have to wait till one of the incumbents breaks a leg.
This Test series will tell us more about Pakistan than it will about Australia.© AAP 2013