Afridi’s brilliance must not mask Pakistan’s batting failure

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Pakistan was rescued yesterday by one man’s dazzling performance. The mercurial Shahid Afridi scored 76 and claimed seven wickets to pummel the West Indies in a comeback performance of epic proportions. He walked in the middle when the Pakistan’s score was a sorry 47-5, and combined with captain Misbah-ul-Haq for a record-breaking sixth wicket partnership of 120 runs.

Starting his innings in typically aggressive fashion, he took the fight to the West Indian bowlers, who never looked to threaten the flamboyant all-rounder, before repeating the act with the ball. At the end of the day, Pakistan completed a stunning come-from-behind 126-run win.**

Afridi’s brilliance in Guyana, however, should not mask what was once again a pitiful effort with the bat by Pakistan. Out of the six batsmen before Afridi, only two made it to double figures. The first being the skipper, who by now, is used to facing the brand new ball and the other Umar Akmal.

Ahmed Shehzad, also making a comeback, played a gentle out swinging delivery from a bowler playing only his fourth ODI onto his off stump, unsure whether to play or leave. The heavily experienced Mohammad Hafeez was bowled while offering no shot, perhaps out of fear of getting out in the slips. Asad Shafiq too played a poor shot to edge one to makeshift wicketkeeper Johnson Charles who pulled off a stunner whereas, Nasir Jamshed was unlucky to be on the receiving end of a harsh umpiring decision.

The Pakistan batting lineup, brittle as ever, has suffered from similar lapses for quite a while now. Maybe taking a leaf out of the captain’s book, they have failingly tried to play slower than their natural abilities would allow. It could be the constant fear of failure or the lack of faith shown by selectors in the young squad that has encouraged otherwise flamboyant batsmen to play in a much more reserved manner than they would prefer. Take Shehzad for example. Naturally a very aggressive batsman, in Pakistan colors he seems unsure of his range. He seems overawed by the circumstances facing him and prefers to simply survive the initial spell from any bowler, however inexperienced he may be. His dismissal proved just that point – his instincts pushed him to offer a shot, his caution advised him to sway his bat away and the confusion cost him his off stump. A batsman must never play anything but his natural game.

In the last 42 completed innings by Pakistan within the past two years, the overall strike rate has touched 100 merely two times. The batting has not fared well even with a lower benchmark, going over 80 only fourteen times. Compare this with India, whose success in the past two years has been phenomenal. India’s strike rate has crossed 100 nine times in their past 49 innings, with 34 innings being scored at a strike rate of above 80. The comparison goes to show the method both teams have adopted and the results are there for all to see.