It is safe to say that the Pakistani pace bowling attack is nowhere near as good as it once used to be. Sure, we still have talented fast bowlers in the form of Mohammed Amir, Wahab Riaz, Sohail khan and Rahat Ali but none of these fast bowlers quite possess the ability to run through an opposition batting line up. Ever since the spot-fixing scandal took place, the fortunes of the Pakistani fast bowling line up have been declining. Pakistan lost Mohammed Asif and Amir due to the incident and during the 2011 fifty overs world cup, the retirement of Shoaib Akhtar marked the end of a line of generation of amazingly gifted fast bowlers. Umar Gul, Mohammed Irfan, and Junaid Khan were all touted to lead the next generation of Pakistani fast bowling line up however, Irfan and Gul have been plagued by injuries and Junaid Khan has been a victim of selection inconsistencies. All of this simply means that the current Pakistani fast bowling attack hasn’t been able to reach the heights that fans expected it to. But as we say “When God closes one door, He opens another.”
In the absence of the fast bowlers, Pakistan developed a potent spin bowling attack comprising of Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, and Mohammed Hafeez and after Saeed Ajmal was asked to remodel his action, his spot was claimed by Yasir Shah. In 21 test matches since his debut, Yasir has claimed an amazing 119 wickets, instantly rising up the ranks, becoming a match winner for the men in green in the process. Despite Yasir’s amazing performance, though, a question immediately pops into the mind of every fan; is Pakistani test squad too reliant on Yasir Shah.
At a first glance, it is easy to see the reason for Pakistan’s meteoric rise in test cricket. Yasir Shah has single-handedly, helped Pakistan won series against Sri Lanka, England and draw a series against England in England. Moreover, he also contributed significantly to other series victories against Australia and West Indies. If we analyze the test wins that the team has achieved in the last two years, in all the matches Yasir Shah has managed to pick up wickets the team has managed to win comfortably. On the other hand, in matches where Yasir Shah has struggled, the team hasn’t been able to topple the opposition sides.
Perhaps, the most important stat that people need to keep in mind is the fact that in the series against England and West Indies, Yasir has bowled an astonishing 238 and 192 overs. In contrast, fast bowler Mohammed Amir has bowled 162.3 and 79.5 overs and Wahab Riaz has bowled 88.5 and 79.1 overs. The reason for this disparity in overs is clearly due to the fact that Yasir has been far more successful than any other bowler in the lineup. In the last few years, except Sohail Khan no fast bowler has managed to claim five wickets in an innings. Thus, the captain has no option other than to rely on spin to get twenty wickets.
Unfortunately, there is a downside of using spinners as the attacking options. Aside from Yasir, Pakistan hasn’t been able to fit another spinner in the lineup and if Yasir continues to bowl so many overs it is bound to take years of his career. Yasir’s excessive workload has been already reflected in his performance where he has failed to deliver against Australia and New Zealand and as a result, the team has suffered. The Pakistani test team is so reliant on the leg spinner that the moment he is unable to deliver the entire team’s performance goes down. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Brisbane test and the second innings of the Boxing Day test match where the fast bowlers just couldn’t manage to contain the Australian batsmen when Yasir Shah was counter-attacked.
Indeed, not only the Pakistani test squad is too reliant on the leg spinner but also this over-reliance is proving to be dangerous. In case, Yasir Shah gets injured or in circumstances when the conditions don’t support his bowling style, the team, and the captain come under immense pressure. Furthermore, the weight of expectations and the pressure created by media also negatively affects Yasir’s performance and puts him in an unnecessary negative spotlight. A lot of analysts, including Shane Warne, were critical of his performance in the first test match instead of questioning the performance of the fast bowling attack. Cricket is a team sport and the Pakistani team management and the test squad should focus on developing a bowling attack that compliments each other instead of over-relying on one particular member of the team. It is important, that Pakistan develops another spinner along with Yasir and develop a stronger fast bowling attack to ensure that the team becomes stronger and is able to contain the opposition in any conditions.