The curious case of insecure players

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The fourth season of Pakistan Super League has kicked off with a thrilling encounter between defending champions Islamabad United and never-champions Lahore Qalandars. The match was an equally poised affair until two international players – from Pakistan – snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with their heroic batting.

These two cricketers – Asif Ali and Faheem Ashraf – were the most trolled cricketers during Pakistan’s tour of South Africa because of their underwhelming performances, but when in Pakistan Super League, they seemed like players from another planet. What made them switch from under confident players to super confident ones is a mystery that should be revealed for the benefit of both Pakistan Cricket team and the Super League!

The most important reason for these players’ changed approach is the fact that unlike the Pakistan International side, they are virtually guaranteed of a place in the final XI. When you know that you can try anything to win a match, the fear of missing out in the next encounter is what keeps you back. Had Faheem Ashraf, who was sent in to bat at the right time by Islamabad Captain Mohammad Sami, been sent a little earlier when wickets were tumbling and better bowlers were bowling, would he have been able to score freely? Would Asif Ali have been able to click had he been unsure of his batting position and place in the side while going out to replace the outgoing batsman? No. That’s the reason why they scored runs freely and that’s what contributed to the team’s win, a win that seemed too far away in the first half of their innings.

Let’s talk about the other players who featured in the match but ended in the losing team – why did Mohammad Hafeez who has become Captain for the first time in Pakistan Super League demote himself after an excellent start, considering he usually bats at number three or four for Pakistan and doesn’t like being sent down the order. Well, the 38-year-old knew that had he gone before Brendan Taylor and not performed, people would have blamed him for the debacle and that’s exactly what happened even when he came lower down the order. He claims to be one of the best batsmen in the world but while playing in local Super League, he did exactly the same thing as Sarfaraz Ahmed and batted down the order to hide his insecurity.

Then there was Rahat Ali who managed to take four wickets in the match because of his familiarity with the conditions and some luck that deserts him when he is playing for Pakistan. He isn’t a better bowler than Shaheen Shah Afridi but in the first match he was and who knows, discards like him and Wahab Riaz might do well and knock on the selectors’ door with good performances. But it would be better if more dedicated left-armers like Shaheen Shah Afridi, Rumman Raees, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Amir, and Usman Khan Shinwari are shortlisted for the World Cup instead of these tried and tested bowlers as they fail when the going gets tough, and that’s exactly what we don’t need at the moment.

At the moment, the only person guaranteed of a place in the Pakistan team is Imam ul Haq and that’s more to do with his relationship with the Chief Selector than his talent. Yes, he won the Man of the Series award in the ODI series but to select him for Test Cricket on the basis of that performance will do him more harm than good. Players who don’t perform while representing Pakistan know that the ax will fall on them if they don’t do well and that keeps them from not doing much.

What we are doing with Imam ul Haq is exactly what happened to Rameez Raja who after scoring two centuries in the early part of his career had a ‘century-less’ Test career. Although he got selected every time he scored an ODI century (scored 9 in all), he was sacked after what became his final series in 1997 to revert back to tried-and-tested Cricketers who at least were secure when it came to a place in the national side, purely on the basis of their talent.