For years, Imran Khan whined on TV networks that Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf should bat up the order. Imran would often cite Tendulkar’s example - that he was India’s best batsman, opened the batting where he had his best shot at scoring a century whereas Inzamam and Yousuf were languishing at either five or six. Then politics went up the order for Imran, Inzamam retired after playing 378 ODIs, scoring ten centuries, Yousuf retired after playing 288 ODIs scoring 15 centuries.
Sachin Tendulkar retired after playing 463 ODIs, scoring 49 centuries.
Inzamam turns 45 today, Yousuf is 40 and Pakistan’s current captain, Misbah-ul-Haq is older than him. Misbah has played 158 ODIs, scored 40 half centuries. He is yet to score a One-Day century. Like Inzamam and Yousuf before him, he’s spent most of his career in waiting at five or six.
On February 15, 2015, the entire Pakistani team had 21 one day centuries between them - the same as Virat Kohli. Even before India beat Pakistan, Virat Kohli had beaten Pakistan by scoring his 22nd century - 15 of these were made batting at three, the other seven at number four.
It’s tough to keep track of when a player is dropped and reinstated in Pakistan cricket - and with Younis Khan this becomes doubly difficult, especially when you consider all that cross pollination between formats. Last year, Younis (263 ODIs, seven 100s) had just been dropped from the One Day side so he got all angsty and made a truckload of Test runs against Australia. Based on those Test runs, we have the pleasure of Younis’ company in the World Cup not scoring any One-Day runs. After two failures, one of Pakistan’s senior most batsmen is made to sit out. If this can happen to Younis, how insecure must Ahmed Shehzad and Nasir Jamshed be feeling?
It shows in the binary opening partnerships of zero and one in the last two games. The best so far, 11, was when Younis opened; so based on some quick research, (throw of dice in a casino) don’t be too surprised if Younis reopens against South Africa. Or who knows, if the dice lands on Haris Sohail or Sohaib Maqsood? And after that, just for a lark, Afridi? Hell, with all those voices back home, they may even make Misbah open, hoping to force-feed him that hundred.
But even before the World Cup, first-choice opener Mohammad Hafeez and his nine hundreds were lost to injury or controversy or both. And even before that, Mohammad Hafeez, the second choice spinner was lost to the bent elbow. That very bent elbow that felled their first choice spinner, Saeed Ajmal.
After the defeat to India, Yasir Shah was dropped and Shahid Afridi became the first choice spinner. Imagine not playing your leg spinner against the West Indies. They lost by a round 150 runs. Not to be deterred, they didn’t play him against Zimbabwe either, barely won that. Don’t be surprised if they play him in the next game instead of Afridi – with a leggie for leggie rationale. No, seriously. Waqar Younis is coach and chief selector Moin Khan was packed off to Pakistan after being spotted in a casino. Before selection duties, not too long ago, Moin was coach and team manager. Going by the make-shift arrangements behind the stumps, it’s a wonder he wasn’t called to keep wickets. But for that there’s Umar Akmal. Not quite Kamran, he shamed the family name by catching five in a game – though all five were of the quicks and he’s still suspect keeping to the spinners. But what about Umar Akmal the batsman, Pakistan’s equivalent of our underachieving Rohit Sharma of not too long ago. Again, he’s played most of his 100 plus games batting lower down at five or six, scoring two centuries – how does Pakistan pull this off, how many five and six positions do they have?
But can Umar play. Not always with his head, but when his disparate worlds are aligned, there is no Pakistani batsman who can fly and swoop on the bowling like him. And yet he’s caged with the keeping duties. That’s like telling Rohit you want ten overs from him, possibly worse, considering the millstone around the Akmal name.
There is something magical watching Umar-Afridi partner each other. Nobody quite presses Umar’s buttons like him; Afridi inhabits many roles, father, elder brother, concerned friend, crazy uncle, chatty aunty. There is such love and levity in the middle, you’d think Robin Williams was entertaining a ward full of sick kids.
And that’s what Afridi must do – make Umar forget, set Umar free, plant the seed of hope in Umar, give Pakistan hope.