Hafeez and Taufeeq need to go!

Published: November 9, 2014
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The last time we put in such an impressive performance in a Test series, it took us two and a half years to win another one. Let’s make sure that does not happen again. PHOTO: AFP

While the nation rightly celebrates a long awaited Test series win over Australia, one as dominant as unexpected, it would be unadvisable to start getting complacent. They say the best teams in sport are those that strengthen while at the top and we must not fall into the trap of overlooking areas which need improvement.

The last time we whitewashed a world number one in UAE, we followed it up with a highly uninspiring series loss in Sri Lanka in 2012. Many reputations lived off that series for far too long, and we must make sure that the same mistakes are not repeated this time.

Pakistan’s Abdur Rehman (C) is lifted by his teammates after dismissing England’s Stuart Broad during the second cricket Test match at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi January 28, 2012. Photo: Reuters

To get to my point, first we must rewind a bit. Following the loss of the cornerstone of our bowling attack, Saeed Ajmal, and the disastrous clean sweep suffered at the hands of Australia in the ODI series, a sense of panic emerged amongst the team management ahead of the Test series. It was concluded that experience would be needed to tackle Australia and in came Mohammad Hafeez (despite being dropped twice within a year) and Taufeeq Umar (who hadn’t been featured since July 2012). Youngsters Ahmad Shehzad and Shan Masood, who had been with the Test team previously were left to vie for the remaining spot in the warm-up match against Australia in Sharjah.

Now fast forward to the end of the triumphant series for Pakistan, and it is clear that nearly everybody contributed to the win barring Hafeez – who was brought in, despite his well-documented batting deficiencies, due to concerns over the highly inexperienced spin duo of Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar. It is fair to say both spinners blew those concerns out of the water and Hafeez also failed miserably with the bat.

Zulfiqar Babar celebrates with his teammates in the first Test match, where he claimed a five-wicket haul in the fourth innings. Photo: AFP

At the same time we had a 34-year-old reserve opener/understudy sitting outside in the shape of Taufeeq Umar, and Shan Masood who made up part of the 16 man squad. It is difficult to see the logic in having a 34-year-old reserve opener for a two-Test series but then logic has never been an ally of the PCB selectors.

Taufeeq was recalled into the squad at the behest of Captain Misbahul Haq, who is also his skipper at Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL). Now, if there was such a need to bring Taufeeq back, should he not have been chosen for the warm-up match against Australia to gauge his form? Had Taufeeq become such a sure shot for our team that he did not need to prove himself in the warm-up match? The reasons given for his recall was his impressive record in the UAE and against Australia. Both are equally baffling. His record in the UAE is an average of 29, which include his one innings of 236 while his average against Australia in UAE is an abysmal 1.50.

The decision would have been more understandable had Taufeeq’s recent form merited an automatic berth but an average of 29.50 in his last three first class games hardly suggests sublime form. Yet it seems as if most of the country has had an epiphany when it comes to Taufeeq. Absence makes the heart grow fonder – reputations are enhanced in absentia and nowhere does this hold truer than in Pakistan cricket. This brings us to the point of a win masking any and all deficiencies in our culture.

Taufeeq is fondly associated with the team that whitewashed England 3-0 in 2012, yet a closer look would suggest just how poor he was in that series. For those who need to have their memories refreshed it was in fact our bowlers who rescued us in that series, a point illustrated by Taufeeq’s woeful average of 17.40 in it. In fact, in his last six Tests for Pakistan, Taufeeq Umar averages a miserly 24.60. Yet we see this entire clamour for his return which leaves me nothing short of perplexed.

Taufeeq Umar. Photo: AFP

And having not taken part in the warm-up match against Australia, was the warm-up match against New Zealand not a perfect opportunity for Taufeeq to stake his claim for a Test spot with Hafeez not performing? Yet, although Masood was sent to play and top scored with 67, Taufeeq was held back with the Pakistan team. Is it because the selectors are afraid Taufeeq might get exposed or because they were instead afraid he might perform? Either way, something does not add up.

Now, with Masood having shown his capability with his knock against New Zealand in the side match, are there still such concerns that both Taufeeq and Hafeez have to be retained? Again it seems the team management have made the mystifying decision to retain the 16 man squad. Again, that means four openers. Although originally four openers were chosen because the team management was not sure of the opening combination, surely by now Moin, Misbah and Waqar know who their best openers are?

With Hafeez’s niche clearly nullified by our spinners, is there a need to have him in the squad? And Taufeeq, who has not featured for us since 2012? Will the selectors make the bold call of playing youngster Shan Masood – having already performed in the current series – and put two senior players in the reserves?

It seems highly unlikely.

Mohammad Hafeez. Photo: Reuters

Regardless, by now it is well established the strong relationship enjoyed between not only Misbah and Hafeez but also Misbah and Taufeeq. Misbah is reportedly keen to have both Hafeez and Taufeeq in the team, albeit against all logic. While Misbah’s batting record speaks for itself, unfortunately his record in team selection matters is not encouraging.

The problem lies in our culture of player power which needs to be curbed. Michael Clarke has seen his selection duties taken away from him and that seemed to benefit Australia before this series versus Pakistan. Unfortunately, in our culture, every success of the team sees the power of the captain increase as Misbah’s has in this case.

We face a familiar circumstance this time again to the one we faced after the England series. As the nation rejoices a momentous victory, certain aspects are being disregarded. A series win should not grant Hafeez a stay of execution. It is often said not to change a winning formula but that would only appear to count if Hafeez had contributed anything to that winning formula. It is time for us to be progressive and not rely on 34-year-old reserve openers. South Africa would not have Alviro Petersen as an understudy to youngster Quinton De Kock.

The last time we put in such an impressive performance in a Test series, it took us two and a half years to win another one. Let’s make sure that does not happen again.

Ali M Khan

Ali M Khan

He is a sports enthusiast who tweets as @droomexperts (twitter.com/droomexperts)

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