Thursday, February 9, 2012

Top Order Analysis – Pak vs. Eng Test Series 2012 – Pakistan Perspective

Mohammad Hafeez 6/10 – Mohammad Hafeez scored 1 half century in 5 innings, held on to important catches and had 5 wickets at just an average of 16 including dismissing either Cook or Strauss 3 times early in their innings to break the opening partnership with a relatively new ball each time. 4 times he was trapped LBW in 5 times he was dismissed and the vast majority came against the spinners. Monty got him 3 of the times in the 5 dismissals whereas Swann and Anderson got him LBW one time each.

Taufeeq Umar 5/10 – Taufeeq had a noteworthy test match at Dubai in the 1st test with a half century followed by an unbeaten stay to get the hosts over the line untroubled to take a thumping 10 wicket win. However, Taufeeq was dismissed cheaply in the next 4 innings with Swann getting him in Abu Dhabi bowled both time on the off stump line and Anderson removed him in his first or 2nd over with the new ball both times in the 3rd test with one delivery swinging back and the other shaping across as Taufeeq edged behind. Taufeeq also spilled a regulation catch in the slip cordon of Alastair Cook which could have proved to be costly. Taufeeq did put on 50 or above with Hafeez twice in the series for the opening stand. Taufeeq has now featured in 15 consecutive tests or 7 full series opening the batting with Hafeez, which is the most by any Pakistani opening pair.

Azhar Ali 9/10 – Forget the low scores and trouble caused by Broad as we witnessed 2 vital innings in pressure situations during the course of the series. Azhar piled on an invaluable stand of 88 for the 5th wicket with Shafiq in Abu Dhabi to provide the bowlers with something to bowl at and prevent England from running through the line up on the evening session of the 2nd test day 3 when they had Pakistan 55/4 with the best part of 2 hours left in the day and only the youngsters and tail left, but they managed to survive to stumps without further loss and take the score to 125/4 to keep Pakistan’s hopes alive at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.

It was encouraging to see 2 young technically and temperamentally well equipped batters in their mid 20s digging their side out of trouble and demonstrating utmost character and responsibility with their resistant, disciplined, spirited approach. Azhar top scored in the 2nd innings of the 2nd test. In Dubai for the 3rd test Azhar complied a marathon effort for his 158 which he spent approximately 9 hours at the crease. The match was in the balance and if anything England had their noses in front when he walked out to the middle as the Greens looked to cut off the 42 run deficit they had conceded and then going on to lose both their openers whilst they were still trailing behind. Azhar managed to survive and looked solid in defence as he was 1* from 29 as tea closed in. Then, batted 2 full sessions without losing a wicket alongside Younis Khan who was having a stinker of a series up to this point as the Greens concluded day 2 at 222/2 for stumps after England had been shot out for 141 and Pakistan had been bundled out for 99 having won the toss on the opening day. This was a remarkable recovery.

Their stand which was the highest of the series grinded England down mentally and physically and even if the rest of the order collapsed in a heap which they did in the middle session of the 4th day it was always going to be a mountain to climb from their perspective. What stood out about Azhar was how he eliminated DRS out of the equation, fluently tackled the spinners and showed endless persistence and perseverance early in his innings to get set for a long composed determined vigil as the test drifted away from England’s hands the longer he was out there.

The KRL batsmen churned, wore, worked over, pro longed the innings duration, earned England’s respect, provided a firm platform for further easier accumulation/consolidation and frustrated the bowling into dust over a longer period in order to reach his career best test score as he negotiated with Swann and Monty securely in the 442 deliveries he spent at the middle which is the longest he has batted as a firm defensive founder, stodgy accumulator, workhorse, traditional blocker and innings holder. The true test virtues of discipline, mental toughness, determination, temperament unflappability, resistance, stamina and technical solidity were on display.

Azhar was the leading run scorer in this tour and the only batsmen from either party to score over 200 runs as he ended on 251 in 5 innings at an average of 50+. This was the highest average of the series in what has been a bowler dominant low scoring series. Azhar made the highest individual score in the series, just like he did for Pakistan on Pakistan’s tour of England in 2010 where we saw that unbeaten 92 in a match winning cause at the Oval.

The classical old school crease occupier also faced the most deliveries in the series with 727. In all 3 series which have been contested in the UAE against the South Africans, Sri Lankans and now England, Azhar has ended the series as the 1st or 2nd in the most runs, balls faced, 50+ scores registered and highest average. Azhar has only lost 1 in 9 series as a player since debuting at Lords in 2010 against the Aussies. Azhar has now entered the top 10 on the ICC batsmen test rankings alongside SRT. The future captain has 13 50s and 2 centuries in 39 test innings with both his centuries coming at the DSC.

In all 4 sessions which Pakistan had on this tour where they only lost 1 wicket or less featured Azhar Ali which is a significant period in the context of the match scenario due to wickets falling quickly in the series and Azhar alongside his partner managed to block the passage, interrupt the pattern of wickets falling quickly, pick the bowling to negotiate with what was being sent down at them and ultimately this led to getting some partnerships rolling.

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