Pakistan cricket history is replete with instances when a captain or a bunch of national team players, acting cocky about their success or trivialising the opposition, tasted shocking defeats or bowed out unceremoniously from a tournament.
The fate of Babar Azam and Company in the ongoing Asia Cup has been no different. Though Pakistan attained the world number one status early this month, the opposition they had conquered on their way to the top slot was not exactly formidable. In their heart of hearts, Babar and his men knew this well.
And yet, Babar made the cardinal sin of making a conceited statement prior to the all-important Super 4 clash with India, saying that Pakistan has an edge over them in the Asia Cup. That set the of alarm bells ringing while the experts of the game quickly pointed out that the brilliant batsman had, perhaps, spoken too soon.
What followed was a thumping 228-run defeat at the hands of Rohit Sharma and Company that brutally exposed the many chinks in Pakistan’s armour. That loss was followed by a shock defeat against Sri Lanka and suddenly, there were question marks galore about the team selection, the ability, skills and strength of the team’s bowling, batting, fielding; and, of course, the leadership skills of Babar Azam.
Babar was taken to the cleaners by former cricketers for asking India to bat on a pitch that was soggy and held no threat for the batsmen. His other decisions also came under the spotlight such as persisting with out-of-form Fakhar Zaman and struggling all-rounder Shadab Khan, over-exposing the team’s three fast bowlers Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, and Haris Rauf, not rotating players enough despite back-ups like as Abdullah Shafiqe, Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Haris, Tayyab Tahir, Usama Mir in the dug out and ignoring talented players like Imad Wasim and Ihsanullah altogether.
These blunders have been attributed to his inflexible approach as skipper and his poor decision-making.
The team’s remotely working coach Mickey Arthur, too, came under fire from both fans and ex-players. The Australian-born coach was not present at the match to witness the catastrophe but was doing head coach duties with the English county Derbyshire.
Arthur was severely criticised by Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, and other former players who insisted the Australian-born coach’s priorities lay elsewhere despite the fact that he is drawing a bumper pay package from the PCB.
As things stand today, the back-to-back defeats have compelled the Pakistan Cricket Board, the selectors, and the team management to go back to the drawing board and rethink the entire squad’s composition for the upcoming World Cup. Fresh planning and strategies need to be made now to counter and address the grey areas in the team.
Former captain Rashid Latif, talking to The Express Tribune, said the horse for courses strategy was not adopted by Babaer and the management which was the main reason for Pakistan’s failure in the tournament.
“The panic in Pakistan camp after the India defeat is for everyone to see. There is no method in the selection, batting order, utilisation of bowlers, etc which has hurt Pakistan,” said Latif.
“We have no solid bowlers to control the run spree in the middle overs while our power-play batting is below par as well.”
“If you notice, Sri Lanka, the home side, made three right changes for the Pakistan match but we inducted Haris and Waseem Junior who were clearly looking rusty,” said Latif.
“Also, I want to know why was both Nawaz and Haris sent to bat above Iftikhar who is a game changer and has also scored a hundred recently. Who is making these absurd decisions? This shows that the tour selection committee is very confused.
He added that Pakistan has been doing well against second-string, amateur team but have not excelled against any of the elite teams which is a matter of grave concern for the PCB and the coaches.”
Another former captain Moin Khan was vocal about Babar’s lack of forceful captaincy and said his team selection was also not up to the mark in the Asia Cup. “Not just his leadership but even his batting has been quite ordinary in this Asia Cup, said Moin. “Sticking with Fakhar and Shadab has backfired badly in this tournament. Why did Babar not try other players on the bench?” he asked.
“It is good that we did not announce the World Cup squad, otherwise it would have been a disaster and we would have been stuck with these 15. The whole country has been demanding that Shaheen and Naseem should be rested and rotated, but to no avail. And look what has happened. Our main strength of fast bowling has been jeopardized due to this kind of senseless decision-making.”
Renowned sports writer and Tv expert Sohaib Alvi, while speaking to The Express Tribune said, “It finally took a strange fielding abyss on the leg side for Sri Lanka to sneak into their 11th Asia Cup final and knock out a tired Pakistani lot that have suddenly lost the sting in their bowling, for long their weapon of mass destruction and defense.
“They had fought well from a position of despondency and lagging shoulders but in the end, the young Lankans held their nerve, especially off that last ball. Sohaib went on to add: “For Pakistan though it was a deja vu match with a different result. Against Afghanistan in 2021 they looked down and were eliminated from the Asia Cup when Naseem Shah hit two straight sixes out of nowhere to push them into the final.
“Four years earlier missed chances from the Sri Lankans had allowed them to reach the semi-final — and subsequently the final — of the Champions Trophy and last year the biggest upset when the Netherlands defeated South Africa had allowed them a foot in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup.
This led to mistakes being overlooked considering they had reached three finals, even though every final they had reached was from a point of near elimination and good fortune even before the semi finals.
“In this tournament too they have paid the price for bowling into the ground their bowling attack by playing them ceaselessly, even against sides like Nepal and the three games against Afghanistan before the Asia Cup. Compare that to Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli sitting out the white ball series in West Indies,” Sohaib pointed out.
“Pakistan have to rest their main bowlers from the entire series. Or we will see more of the mental and physical tiredness and lack of bite from them as we have seen in this Asia Cup.”
Sabalenka to play in Brisbane
Aryna Sabalenka will launch preparations for the defence of her Australian Open crown by playing at the Brisbane International, organisers said on Tuesday.
Elena Rybakina – beaten by Sabalenka in the final in Melbourne at the start of this year – will also play at the December 31-January 7 Brisbane event.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was already named in the field as she returns to tennis.
“I’m excited about starting my 2024 Australian season in Brisbane,” world number two Sabalenka said in a statement released by organisers.
“Australia holds a special place in my heart after winning my first Grand Slam there.”
Tournament director Cam Pearson said he was looking forward to welcoming the Belarusian Sabalenka and Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina, who is fourth in the world.
“We all remember the exciting Australian Open final the girls played at the start of the year,” he told a news conference.
“That has really kicked off what is a pretty exciting rivalry between the two players.”
On the men’s side, fast-rising world number 17 Ben Shelton of the United States will join a draw that also includes three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray.
Pearson said he would welcome Australian Nick Kyrgios to the tournament if he recovers from injury in time.
“We would love to have him here, he’s a past champion and a fan favourite but he needs to do what’s best for him and his recovery,” he said.
“If that means he’s playing in January, fantastic.”
Kyrgios had knee surgery in January and then aborted comeback plans at Wimbledon after tearing a ligament in his wrist.
Giro fail to reclaim top La Liga spot
Surprise package Girona failed to return to the top of La Liga on Monday after they were held 1-1 at home by Athletic Bilbao.
Winger Viktor Tsygankov put the hosts ahead 10 minutes after half time but Inaki Williams scored 12 minutes later to claim a point for the away side.
Girona trail league leaders Real Madrid on goal difference after dropping points for just the third time this season, while Athletic climbed to fifth spot.
Athletic had the better of the first half and their best chance fell to Gorka Guruzeta but the striker poked his shot straight at Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
Girona had early chances of their own including an Aleix Garcia volley, which he skied over the crossbar, but did not find the rhythm they have found so often this season.
After the break, the hosts broke the deadlock when Tsygankov rifled home.
Williams, who started on the opposite wing from his brother Nico, equalised from a counter-attacking move that started in Athletic’s own box.
The wide man finished smoothly for his sixth league goal of the season as the Basques went looking for their third straight win.
With 10 minutes left, Inaki Williams came close to finding the winner as he cut in from the left but his shot was parried by Gazzaniga.
Inaki Williams was replaced in the final minute of normal time for youngster Adu Ares, but both sides were forced to settle for a point.
On Sunday, Rodrygo sent Real Madrid top with a double in 3-0 win at Cadiz.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid are four points clear of fourth-placed Barcelona, who drew 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
PCB announces Pakistan team management for Australia tour
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have announced the Team Management for the upcoming Test tour to Australia, which is scheduled to take place from December 2023 to January 2024. They will be playing three Test matches in Australia.
Former England cricketer Adam Hollioake has been hired as the batting coach. Hollioake played four Tests and 35 ODIs for England. The 52-year-old transitioned into coaching, contributing his expertise to the England Lions team. His coaching abilities were further recognized when he was enlisted to join England’s coaching staff for the final two Ashes Tests during the 2021-22 series.
Meanwhile, Simon Grant Helmot will serve as the high performance coach on the tour. Helmot is an Australian cricket coach, who was formerly the coach of the Melbourne Renegades in Big Bash League.
Last week, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal were announced as fast-bowling and spin bowling coaches, respectively, for the Pakistan team.
Naveed Akram Cheema (Team manager), Mohammad Hafeez (Director – Pakistan men’s cricket team), Adam Hollioake (batting coach), Simon Grant Helmot (high performance coach), Umar Gul (fast bowling coach), Saeed Ajmal (spin bowling coach), Abdul Majeed (fielding coach), Mansoor Rana (assistant team manager), Shahid Aslam (assistant batting coach), Drikus Saaiman (strength and conditioning coach/Trainer), Cliffe Deacon (physiotherapist), Talha Ejaz (team analyst), Lt Col (Rtd) Akhtar Hussain (security manager), Raza Rashid Kitchlew (media manager), Ammar Ahsan (videographer), Dr Sohail Saleem (team doctor) and Malang Ali (team masseur).
The Pakistan cricket team will play their first Test match against Australia in Perth from 14 to 18 December, followed by a Test match in Melbourne, from 26 to 30 December. Sydney will host the last game of the tour from 3 to 7 January, 2024.
The squad is set to depart from Lahore on 30 November.
Pakistan squad for Australia Tests: Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi.
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