Axe Mohammed Hafeez from the Pakistan cricket ODI team
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The Pakistan cricket ODI team has been in a constant state of transition since the retirement of captain Misbah-ul-Haq from the ODI format. Since then, Pakistan have only won 6 of the 11 bilateral series that they have played, 5 of which have come against Ireland, Zimbabwe and an extremely weak West Indies side. Perhaps the most salient reason for this decline has been the batting order's inability to adapt to the recent rule changes in ODI cricket, which have led to an inflation in team totals, and batsmen scoring faster and faster. Teams that have adopted such an aggressive style of play have generally been successful ever since the aforementioned rule changes, and this contention manifests itself in the fact that currently the bottom five of the top ten ranked ODI teams also comprise the bottom five of the 'highest average run rate' list since March 2015. So clearly, it seems that Pakistani batsmen have to be swifter with their run-scoring if the team hopes to be counted amongst the top-ranked ODI sides in the near future.
There is no immediate way to remedy this problem, however, there are steps that can be taken in this direction. One of these is to axe aged, misfiring batsmen and replace them with younger batsmen, more capable of adapting to the needs and demands of modern ODI cricket. Of these batsmen, perhaps the most striking example is that of Mohammed Hafeez. Hafeez is vastly experienced at 36 years of age, however, he does not inspire the sort of confidence that such experience should bring with it when he arrives at the crease. I can go on and on about his continual failings in bowler-friendly oversees conditions to underscore his weakness against seam bowling, but to remain pertinent, I shall only highlight his shortcomings in the ODI format since 2015. Ever since his last ODI century against England in the UAE in November 2015 (102* at a strike rate of 78), he has managed 632 runs in 17 innings at an average of 37 and a strike rate of 79. If you disregard the ODI series against a very weakened West Indies, these number become 431 runs in 14 innings at an average of 30 and a strike rate of 75. Perhaps these numbers could be condoned if Hafeez were a youngster still finding his feet in world cricket; however, they are absolutely inexcusable for a veteran of 188 matches who should be compensating for the failings of newcomers in the team, not the other way around. In the ongoing Champions Trophy, Hafeez's lacklustre strike rate (especially prior to the 40th over) puts pressure on his partners to score faster and thus lose their wickets in the process. What makes the case for axing Hafeez even stronger is the presence of able youngsters in the Pakistani squad who could replace him, with the most obvious contender being Haris Sohail. Prior to being sidelined by his knee injury, Haris was very solid in Pakistan's middle order, scoring 774 runs at an average of 43 and a strike rate of 83. Moreover, he can also bowl part-time spin, so the absence of Hafeez's bowling skills should not hurt Pakistan too much.
In light of all this, I implore the head coach Mickey Arthur and captain Sarfraz Ahmed to bench Hafeez for the semi-final against England and play Haris Sohail in his stead. Even if Hafeez comes out and scores a blistering hundred if he plays against England, or Haris makes a laboured 20 runs and then gets out if given a chance, this decision will pay dividends in the long run, even if it doesn't do so immediately. It would give Haris a chance to play in English conditions, if even for a match, so that he would be better prepared for future series in the country. Moreover, it is essential to let new batsmen come in and settle in the side in preparation for the ODI world cup in 2 years time. I am certain that both captain and coach have valid reasons for not already taking these steps, but these reasons are lost on ardent fans like myself. If not to axe Hafeez, I would at least like to request, on behalf of many other Pakistani supporters, for you to make public your reasons for persisting with Hafeez in the ODI squad.
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