In the aftermath of Pakistan’s disastrous tour to Australia earlier this year the PCB’s Chief Selector invited many of the domestic/regional coaches to the NCA and gave them a piece of his mind. The reasons for this get-together was obvious to all present – Inzamam-ul-Haq wanted to complain to the assembled men and wonder aloud why they weren’t producing any “modern batsmen”. A few months later, after Pakistan won the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy, the Chief Selector called many of the same men over to the same location. And congratulated them on producing the team that had won the tournament, including the “modern batting” that had led to Pakistan’s success in the tournament final. It left many in his audience with anything more than a short-term memory just scratching their heads.
Those two meetings illustrate the problem with many of the issues discussed in relation to Pakistan cricket. The conclusions are based entirely on small sample sizes gained from the results of the national team, without any attention given to what is going on below. The case for “modern batting” is perhaps the most obvious example of this. Pakistan’s complete reliance on Misbah-ul-Haq, and his old-fashioned batting style, during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup led to soul searching within the cricket fraternity. There were calls – from the national team’s dressing room to working class dhabas throughout the country – for Pakistan to join the rest of the world in the 21st century. But the problem there was obvious too: like in many other issues that plague the country, Pakistanis were looking for a revolutionary solution to a problem that requires evolutionary change.
Thankfully it seems that even as the fans get frustrated about the glacial rate of change, there is at least a transformation going on right now.
This was most obviously laid bare during the recent national T20 Cup. The run rate during the tournament was almost half a run more than it has been in any domestic T20 tournament this decade. And it passed the eye test too – big scores were chased down, record partnerships were made, and three centuries were scored on the same day. The tournament was played with the sort of liberty that is a rarity in the Pakistani domestic game.
|Tournament||Location||Avg 1st Inns||Chase Success|
|2011 ICC Cricket World Cup|
|2011 Faysal Bank T20 Cup||Karachi||154||45%|
|2012 Faysal Bank T20 Cup||Lahore||143||49%|
|2013 Super8 T20||Lahore||145||38%|
|2014 Faysal Bank T20 Cup||Rawalpindi||143||38%|
|2014 Haier T20 Cup||Karachi||147||60%|
|2015 ICC Cricket World Cup|
|2015 Super8 T20||Faisalabad||162||50%|
|2015 Haier T20 Cup||Rawalpindi/Islamabad||160||57%|
|2016 National T20 Cup||Rawalpindi/Multan||152||48%|
|2017 National T20 Cup||Rawalpindi||170||52%|
|*excluding Rain affected matches|
As the table shows there has been obvious upturn in batting numbers since the soul searching in the aftermath of the 2015 World Cup. From several tournaments where the average first innings run rate was around 7.25, to 8.00 becoming the norm, there has obviously been a concerted effort to evolve from the comfort zone that Pakistan batsmen resided in.
The 2017 edition, though, was a revelation even in that context. There was a significant uptick in the scoring rates, to the point that perhaps for the first time a Pakistani domestic T20 tournament had higher first innings average score (170) than the same year’s IPL (the average first innings score in the 2017 IPL was 166). And not just that, the success rate of chasing teams still hovered around 50%, showing that teams still haven’t figured out what a safe score in a T20 game is; and that the chasing teams, through each of these tournaments, figure out that no score, yet, has been out of reach. As the requirements go higher and the chasing teams are forced to adapt to it their success rates do not drop. Forced to play out of their comfort zones Pakistani batsmen are realizing that modern rules and technology favour them so much that they can play the way the rest of the world plays.
There are a variety of reasons for this upturn, especially the tournament last month. First and foremost, are the pitches themselves. The Rawalpindi wicket is famous in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy for being the kraken in a sea of monsters that constitute the surfaces used for the domestic four-day games: 75% of the first innings scores at Rawalpindi in the 2016/17 Quaid-e-Azam Trophy finished under 250. But in the shorter formats the nature of the pitch is flipped on its head.
Until the 2015 edition in Rawalpindi the nature of pitches in domestic T20 cricket had followed the same path – the tournament would begin on surfaces that could be described as batting paradises, and after a week or two of being overused they would end up being dustbowls for the knockout stages of the tournament. That, thankfully, has not been the case in the Rawalpindi based tournaments since the 2015 World Cup. Better scheduling (from as many as four matches a day in 2012 to a max of two a day in 2017) has played its part, but so have the curating and the weather gods.
Beyond the pitch there have been other factors. The trickling down of knowledge from the PSL is beginning to take root in the domestic game. International standards of practice are like internet memes – once they have been seen, they cannot be unseen.
Then there was the extra motivation for many of the players with the opening up of a slot for a 21st player for the six franchises in PSL 3. This too helped many of the players go above and beyond their comfort zones. The result was that four of the top eight scorers in the tournament turned out to be players not picked up in the PSL 3 Draft. Perhaps nothing illustrates these changes like the table below. None of these players would be considered ideal for T20 cricket in isolation, or on their prior records, but each of them played this tournament in a way that would make all franchises sit up and take notice.
|Player||Career T20 Record
Before 2017 Cup
|2017 National T20 Cup|
|Imam ul Haq||40||110||41||128|
Thus, a variety of factors played a role in what could turn out to be the turning point. And chief among them – more than the pitches, the conditions or the extra motivation from the 21st slot – appears to be a change in mindsets.
And long may it continue.