Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hail the Pakistan spin brigade

Time to hail Pakistan cricket team as the year is all set to draw curtains. This year for Pakistan cricket team was odd and special for a variety of reasons. Pakistan is often referred as 'consistently inconstistent' int eh cricekting fraternity and rightly so given its rich history of being world beaters one day and donkeys the very next.

Save for the occasional Afridi retirement blemish, the cricket team largely remained out of controversy. A smooth captaincy transition took place which is a rarity in Pakistan's cricket history. The batting unit stayed solid and showed grit throughout the year - another attribute alien to the Pakistan cricket fans.

What has remained almost constant is Pakistan's bowing strength. Not many countries could have coped so well at the loss of Wasim and Waqar but f Pakistan found Shoaib Akhtar. When he faded, we found the deadly (now jailed) duo of Asif and Amir. Everyone thought that Pakistan would go down once Amir and Asif were banned by the ICC - but there came the likes sof Junaid Khan and Cheema - and all looked good again.

Taking nothing away form the fast bowling unit - Pakistan's success has been largely based on spin bowling in the past year and a half. In Ajmal and Rehman, Pakistan have found  two deadly accurate spinners who have troubled the best across the globe. The resurgence of the 'Professor" Hafeez has made the spin unit look the deadliest in the world. And the numbers are there for everyone to see.

Pakistan slow bowlers have beaten their counterparts across the world since 2008. The spinners' performance in the past two years has been even more exemplary as the difference between the averages of Pakistan spinners and the rest of the world spinners has increased drastically. The Pakistan spinners have averaged a 'Murali-esque 22.5 in 2011 - way over their counterparts across the world. Pakistan's win percentage in 2011 does not come as a surprise therefore.

Even more exemplary was the Pakistan spinners' performance on the economy rate front. The spinners averaged a good whole run an over less than the others around the world in 2011. This is what has led to so many wickets for the spinners as they did all they could to tie  down the opposition and dry the runs - buying a cheap wicket in the end. Bear in mind, this is an era of the power plays and free hits - so an economy rate under 4 an over (all formats combined) is a marvelous achievement.

The charm of Murali and Warne may not be there anymore - but the effectiveness is pretty much there and Pakistan would not mind one bit of the spinners go on their merry way come the next season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Price of a Pakistan wicket? It's considerably higher now!!

The way this Pakistan cricket team has been gathering momentum of late has been fascinating to watch. The critics will argue the victories have not come against tougher oppositions and they do have a strong point. But there is a method and pattern to Pakistan's recent success and that belongs to the batsmen for a change.

Pakistan has ended 2011 season without a series defeat which also includes a comprehensive win over the higher ranked Sri Lankans, which by no means is a small achievement.

The formula for success in 2011 revolved around occupying the crease and putting a higher price on the wicket. That did two things. One, it ensured that there were no major collapses and two it tired the opposition's bowlers as Pakistan's top six batsmen priced their wicket much higher than they ever had in the country's history.

The batting line may not have the illustrious names of yesteryear - like Inzimam, Yousuf, Javed, Saeed or Salim Malik, but they have yet lasted longer than their more illustrious countrymen. The Pakistan top six priced their wicket 80 percent higher (year-on-year) in terms of balls faced per dismissals in 2011. (see graph)

This is where they have made the opposition stay longer in the field, eating valuable time and ensuring that the defeat is the first thing out of the equation - and the records suggest they successfully achieved the target. Tougher challenges lie ahead when England tour in January - but the Pakistan top six has chalked out a formula to build test match innings and the English bowlers face an uphill task to deal with the Misbah brigade. The results will eventually follow if they stick to this plan.