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To new heroes and new zeroes

by Gaurav Sethi

Take a look at the Pakistan squad for the Champions Trophy: apart from Mohammad Aamir, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, it’s largely a bunch of unknowns for India.
Sarfraz Ahmed is the captain and wicketkeeper, whatever happened to Kamran Akmal?
Sarfraz last played India in an ODI in Karachi; yeah, that long back when they played ODIs in Karachi – in July, 2008. Sarfraz did not bat in that match. Before that, he played India a week back, also in Karachi, there too he did not bat. His only other ODI against India was his first, in November, 2007, in Jaipur,there again he did not bat.
Virat Kohli will be taking on an adversary that has never batted against India in an ODI. Don’t be surprised if he does not bat again on June 4. In ten years since his debut, Sarfraz has played only 70 ODIs with just three against India.
Pakistan’s opening batsman, Ahmed Shehzad, has played against India twice, scoring forties on both occasions. The last was a World Cup match in Adelaide, more than two years back.
From that Pakistani team, four of the most familiar players are missing – there’s no Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi or Umar Akmal. Umar was there, but was sent back, fitness issues it appears. Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq said so.
For a while, Umar Akmal was seen by many as Pakistan’s answer to Virat Kohli. Well, if he’s not fit to play, we’re not going to find out, are we?
Umar has played 116 ODIs since 2009, scoring 3044 runs at an average of 34.59 with two centuries. Virat Kohli, since 2008 has played 179 ODIs, scoring 7755 runs at an average of 53.11 with 27 centuries. Being one of many mischievous Akmal brothers hasn’t gone down easy on Umar.
Umar scored a duck in his first match against India, and another duck in his last match against India. In his five other innings, his highest score has been 29. Umar’s exclusion is bound to hit India hard.
India will also miss the services of Umar’s elder brother, Kamran Akmal. He failed to score against India in his last two matches against them. A career average of 26 drops to 13 against India with a highest of 41. Batting aside, India will miss Kamran’s services behind the stumps. The move to drop Kamran will not augur well for India.
India last played Shahid Afridi in that same World Cup match in Adelaide. Since then there has been rumour of the player’s retirement which may only be confirmed if he fails to turn up for the match.
In 18 years since his debut, Afridi has played India, it seems even more times than Pakistan has played India – in as many as 67 ODIs. Afridi scored two of his six tons against India, the last one off just 46 deliveries.
More than what he may or may not accomplish with either bat or ball, both teams will miss the collective menace of Afridi. India will miss the mindless first-ball heaves, Pakistan will miss the mindless first-ball heaves. Whether they go to a hand in the field or a hand in the crowd is anybody’s guess.
In 15 years, Younis Khan played India in 37 ODIs, whereas Misbah-ul-Haq played India in 17 ODIs in close to eight years. Their runs or records against India, far from define their cricket. Their absence along with that of Afridi’s, will be an uncommon opportunity for a new bunch of players to define these future encounters.
Will it be Azhar Ali who’s only played India twice? Or will it be Haris Sohail who has played India just once? Or will it be Babar Azam, with a Kohliesque batting average of 55 with five tons under his belt, but yet to play India?
Or will it be Pakistan’s quicks again. Mohammad Aamir on top of his run. The first time he played India in an ODI was in 2009, the first Indian batsman he dismissed was Sachin Tendulkar.
He has played just twice against India (in ODIs), with two wickets. After his second ODI against India on June 19, 2009, he did not play another one-dayer till January 25, 2016. From hero to zero to a possible hero again?
Much like Aamir’s quest, Pakistan cricket too is on the lookout for new heroes. As for new zeroes, they are never too far in a match between the two, each generation has its Chetan Sharmas, just as each generation has its Hrishikesh Kanitkars. It’s just not as damning or celebrated as it used to be.
We’re headed to another twist in India-Pakistan cricket on June 4. There are new jokes to be made. New foes on the field to make, at least for those off the field. Bring it on, Birmingham.
To be continued…

First published here

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