It’s commonly noted that a man don’t truly value something till it is gone. Fortunately for Pakistan, their once-enviable arsenal of seam-bowling allrounders is very much intact, only for a bemusing lack of attention from the selectors.
So far on this tour Sri Lanka’s own pace-bowling allrounder, Thisara Perera, hit Pakistan where they once regularly hit ambushed opponents. A collection of savage wallops at the end of an innings, some lively spells of seam and swing—one of which, with 6 for 44 to cap off a crushing rout at Pallekele, marked the best figures ever by a bowler against Pakistan.
This is the sort of role that Pakistan’s selectors and management in particular have taken for granted over recent years. The cupboard, at least in the current squad, is nearly empty; the closest is the strapping left-hander Sohail Tanveer, who has rediscovered his zip and swing of old but has yet to really make consistently significant impacts with those muscular leg-side pick-ups that highlighted his debuts in 2007. Is Tanveer worth his spot as a bowler alone? On form, perhaps, for he has bustled in with energy and moved his wrong-footed allsorts disconcertingly about in Sri Lanka so far; but unless Tanveer—or for that matter his Twenty20 new-ball partner Yasir Arafat, a first-class veteran who has never quite nailed down a national spot—performs with the bat, he lengthens a tail whose best batsman, quite alarmingly, is the bombastic but unreliable Shahid Afridi.
One could argue that Pakistan fields too many allrounders at any rate, but none of them can really be relied on to deliver with the bat. Both Afridi and his off-spinning counterpart, Mohammad Hafeez, deserve their spots with the ball, less so with the bat. At his position, Afridi’s inconsistency is no major concern. However sporadically, he can turn around games in a whirl of hounding leg-breaks and muscular biffs, and that—especially considering that he has done so more frequently in the past couple of years—is worth something.
Meanwhile Hafeez, if greatly improved from his uncertain flounders onto the international circuit, is not entirely convincing as an opener, though he has four centuries, one of them in Tests, over the past year and has certainly shown up some specialist rivals. This is a commendable improvement, but suspicion remains on Hafeez’s ability to tackle quality attacks, as well as the workload that consigns him regularly to throttling the trickiest stages of an innings with the ball. Would Pakistan be better off blooding a young opener, and shifting Hafeez down to steer the long tail? It may be an overreaction at this stage, but it is an option.
The simpler option, without sacrificing a batsman or bowler, is to shift in a batsman who can bowl. An obvious candidate would be Hammad Azam, a clean striker whose composure as a finisher stood out in Pakistan’s 2010 U-19 campaign; if he hasn’t set any other stage alight, he has done little wrong in his international career to date. And little respect that his wicket-to-wicket seamers seem to command to Pakistan’s management, he probably offers far more upshot potential—both with ball, and, in one-day games, bat—than Younus Khan, the latest candidate for a third seamer role.
Which brings Pakistan to what would perhaps be the most useful, at least in a conventional sense, addition. For years the third seamer has been filling in as a late-order hitter, a usually thankless role quite smartly filled in over the years by Abdul Razzaq, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan and Azhar Mahmood. Each plies his trade in overseas leagues nowadays, but, despite their ages, the wrong side of 30, each is exactly the sort of allrounder Pakistan are missing.
Though none is entirely free of blame, they can claim to have been hard-done by. Mahmood, for instance, a sniping swing bowler and forthright hitter, was prematurely dropped and, according to a recent statement from selector Saleem Jaffar, his decade of experience at county level is worth nothing without an entirely academic, arbitrary stint in Pakistan’s own circuit.
Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, as incisive with ball as he could be expensive, and usually pugnacious whenever an opportunity with the bat came his way, has yet to receive the exoneration for the nightmarish 2010 tour of Australia that has been granted his fellow teammates.
The most revealing case, arguably, is that of Abdul Razzaq, who for a decade bolstered Pakistan with canny, thrifty and usually underrated seamers, as well as the late order with a versatile approach that could stonewall when needed and swipe, on a more regular basis than nearly any contemporary, a lethal barrage of long-handled thrashes at the tail end of an innings. If a somewhat lackadaisical attitude contributed to his omission, so did a remarkably careless sidelining at the 2011 World Cup, after which he was conveniently tossed aside.
At a time when sides around the world are stocking up the gunpowder with such players, it seems a criminal waste for Pakistan, one of the pioneers in the field, to lag so far behind.