Raheel Hanif

LAHORE - With the ODI series having already slipped away, Pakistan will look to play for pride when they take on Australia in a “dead rubber” Sunday. Australia won the second one-dayer on Friday by five wickets to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match series.

VBut the prospects of winning the match are very low considering the reports of grouping and ever-lasting tussle to get hold of the captaincy in the team. The situation for Pakistan took a new twist on Saturday night when contrary reports emerged that Pakistan skipper Misbahul Haq, who was booed in the second ODI by the crowd, will not be available in the last match. Some reports suggested that Misbah himself has voluntarily vacated his place in the team in the dead-rubber while according to others the management has decided to ‘rest’ the skipper for the match.

Whatever the reason it is quite ironic as Misbah had vowed to fightback in the third ODI in his post-match press conference and had also come hard on the batsmen. Both Misbah and coach Waqar Younis were not satisfied and happy the way Pakistan team prepared for the series as Pakistan Cricket Board executives again showed their short sightedness and lack of vision when they held a domestic T20 event just before the big series ahead of the World Cup. Instead of giving ample time to newly-installed coaching staff to gel in with the team, the board took it centuries to announce the squad. The unfortunate injuries to main players also did not help the cause of Pakistan.

These untimely injuries also raise a question mark on the over-enthusiastic Muhammad Akram’s role who was influential in introducing the controversial fitness-based reward system. Incidentally, it appears that this system has not helped the team very well and punishing the players just before the crucial series also seems not bode well with the mood of the players. The PCB has devised this system to encourage the players to keep themselves fit but it is still to be heard from the board that how its coaches and trainers are helping and grooming the players to achieve and maintain that fitness level. Pakistan have been clearly mauled at their “home” and under these circumstances it will be difficult for them to regroup ahead of the third ODI at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium and would pave way for Australians to regain the top spot in the ODI rankings with a whitewash. .

Misbah is under a lot of pressure to relinquish his captaincy but he remained unfazed till the end of the second ODI. “I will fight on, such times come on players but I have not thought about([leaving) on captaincy,” he said. “(They are) really worrying signs and you need to put the things (in the right perspective). Batting has let us down and we need to put things right before the World Cup. If we don’t, then its trouble.”

And now a sudden change of heart either by the team management or by Misbah himself may pave way for Shahid Afridi to have a go at the ODI captaincy too though his on-field performance so far is quite disappointing and even his place in the playing eleven is also questionable but the off-field as well as dressing room support for the Boom Boom seems enough to earn him a right to lead Pakistan in 2015 World Cup.

The presence of chief selector Moin Khan as manager of the team is also putting extra pressure on players and has also curtailed the coaches influence on the players. Moin should try to work on identifying the new talent in the domestic circuit and recommend them to the PCB to groom them for the national team before being considered to play for the country rather than be with the team all the time and raising doubts about his influence and role in the new divided fractions within the team.  The team management also seems to be at loss and it seems that they did not know what to do. It was disappointing to learn that the Pakistan team management had decided to stay back in Dubai and train instead of going to Abu Dhabi early to getting a feel of the venue. The green shirts will only arrive at the venue on the day of the match like their counterparts Australia, who can afford to do having won the series fair and square.

Pakistan can also expect very little support from their fans in the stands as the ticket sales have been low and the series is already done and dusted. With the Test series lined up, it is important for Pakistan to get their act together and get some momentum behind with win.

Their only plus so far in the series has been the promising start provided by the Pakistan’s top order Ahmed Shahzad (61) and Sarfraz Ahmad (65) in the last match. The duo put on a 126-runs partnership for the first wicket. However, the middle and lower order batsmen failed to capitalise on the start and was simply blown away by the Australian attack. Pakistan will be hoping that Shahzad and Ahmad would build on their form and the rest of the batsmen would recover from their batting woes.