Monday, February 2, 2015

Junaid's absence adds to Pakistan's bowling woes

Fans of the Pakistani national cricket team often console themselves on the eve of a major tournament on the basis of their bowling attack. The old adage goes that if Pakistan bat first and manage a score between 200 and 250, their bowlers will always give them a chance.

It may not concur with cricketing logic, but when you have had bowlers like Imran Khan, Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar you can see why Pakistan has always had faith in its bowling overcoming any batting deficiencies. In recent times the spin trio of Saeed Ajmal, Mohammed Hafeez and Shahid Afridi have won many matches for Pakistan thanks to their wiles with the ball.

Add in Junaid Khan's potency in swinging the ball and the Pakistani think tank could well have believed that their bowling plans for the 2015 World Cup were in place.

A lot has changed in the last six months. First Saeed Ajmal's action was found to be illegal by the ICC's new testing system. Pakistani's were hoping against hope that the world's premier off-spinner would manage to remodel his action in time for the World Cup. It was a hope forlorn as the PCB decided not to risk Ajmal for the World Cup at the expense of his career.

Only a short while later, Mohammed Hafeez's action was also declared illegal. Hafeez may well consider himself a batsman first but one doesn't require hours of analysis to find out that his bowling has played a substantive role for the team. Hafeez's ability to bowl the right length with the new ball in the power play has flummoxed the best batsmen. An economy rate of less than five over the past two years is a testament to his control.

So you lose the world's number one ranked bowler along with a canny operator who keeps the economy in check. Could it get worse? Enter Junaid Khan. Junaid was first injured before the Australia series at home. Many thought he would be fit in time for the New Zealand series, but in stead, his injury has now ruled him out of the World Cup. Those in the know said this wasn't such a surprise, yet the effect of this news so close to the World Cup can only be detrimental to the squad.

As I write this post New Zealand have thrashed Pakistan to all parts of the ground while amassing 369. The combined overs of Mohammed Irfan and Shahid Afridi cost a reasonable 109 runs. The remaining 30 overs were plundered for 260 at an economy rate of almost 8.7. Then again, its not a huge surprise considering the other bowlers were Ehsan Adil, Haris Sohail, Bilawal Bhatti as well as - this is the real kicker - Younis Khan and Ahmed Shehzad!

Maybe the 2015 Cricket World Cup will provide Pakistani fans with a new consolation. This time around, at least the batting was on par with the bowling.