Pakistan’s current One-Day International squad, which is taking part in the ongoing Champions Trophy, may well have a distinct lack of match-winners in its midst, but the name of the 35-year-old Shoaib Malik has been mentioned often as someone who will be crucial for Pakistan’s progress in the tournament.
Playing in a record sixth Champions Trophy, Shoaib Malik’s presence in the team will be of paramount importance as a mentor and advisor for the 15-man squad that is led by the relatively inexperienced skipper Sarfraz Ahmed.
Malik’s experience and knowhow would have come handy in helping the Pakistan team deal with the consequences and the aftermath of the dismal performance against India in their tournament opener last Sunday. Undoubtedly, the Pakistan team, after that 124-run loss against India, would have felt the full force of disappointment and criticism from the media and its ardent fans which the likes of Shoaib Malik must have helped counter.
The senior statesman of Pakistani cricket
“As a senior cricketer, you have an extra load on your shoulders, and passing on any advice I can to the youngsters is a priority for me. It is, therefore, a matter of satisfaction for me when I can pass on some of my experience to the junior players in the squad and I do believe that this is also the responsibility of all senior players,” the veteran 35-year-old told Scroll.in. “Having played all around the world, this teaches you a lot about preparation for big games and how to deal with all sorts of circumstances and situations. All that I have learnt from my experience over the years is something which I always try and pass down to my teammates in the Pakistan team.”
The lack of players who can score runs quickly in ODIs is a deficiency that has frustrated the Pakistan team management for years. But as Malik explained, while it looks good on television screens, modern cricket is not simply about clearing the ropes.
“Honestly speaking, we are ranked eighth in ODIs and there is a lot of improvement needed in many areas of our cricket,” he said. “This is a matter which is being given serious consideration by the PCB and the team management and the players collectively. A lot has been said about the lack of power-hitters in our team. However, I am a firm believer in the fact that if your batsmen have a strike-rate of around 100 or above then you really don’t need power-hitters in your team. So, the presence of batsmen with good strike rates is crucial for any team in today’s cricket and it’s not just power-hitting abilities which a team needs.”
‘Need to play an attacking brand of cricket to succeed’
Malik, like Pakistan’s head coach Mickey Arthur, is convinced that Pakistan need to adopt new methods to improve their standing in limited-overs cricket. An integral part of that strategy involves attacking the opposition and not allowing them breathing room which can prove crucial to the team’s success. As he explained, “In today’s game, especially in ODI cricket, it is important to take wickets regularly and play an attacking brand of cricket if you wish to succeed. A good batsman can take the game away if you don’t get him out early so taking wickets rather than containment is of paramount importance.”
The manner of capitulation by Pakistan in the all-important game against India was painful for all concerned and it appeared that despite protestations to the contrary, the Pakistan team would have been heading for an exit after completion of the group stage. However, all that changed with the fantastic performance by the team in their game against the No 1 ranked ODI team South Africa on Wednesday. The 19-run victory against the Proteas will have given a new lease of life to Pakistan’s campaign and left Malik very impressed by the team’s performance.
“The India game was a huge setback for us but in all fairness, we are ranked eighth in ODIs and India are currently ranked No 2. So, in terms of comparison, there was a big gulf between the two teams to start with and the result was a fair reflection of that difference. But what is most impressive for us and great for our confidence is the improvement and turnaround that we attained in all aspects of our cricket in the very next game against South Africa.”
‘Playing in England feels like playing at home’
Apart from the fame the Pakistan all-rounder has gained, Malik is also known for his marriage to Indian tennis ace Sania Mirza. When asked about her reaction to Pakistan’s loss, Malik replied, “After our loss to India, my wife Sania did not say much apart from ‘tough luck!’”
Pakistan’s inability to host international teams at home has been a source of pain for millions of its fans back home and has also been cited as one of the main reasons for their lack of progress in international cricket.
But, as Malik explained, the pain of playing away from home is assuaged in part by the welcome his team always receives in England which is one of the factors in their success, “It is definitely tough to play away from home all the time as you miss the environment you have grown up in. But I am glad to say that we are competing well even with this situation which is great to see. Of course, playing in England never feels like we are away from home as its always like as if you are playing in front of a home crowd”, he concluded.
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