The recently declared no.1 all-rounder in ODIs, Mohammad Hafeez, is under a cloud yet again for his suspect bowling action. During the course of the third ODI against Sri Lanka, the off-spinner was reported for bending his arm more than the permissible limit, this being the third time in three years that he has been reported.
“The match officials’ report, which was handed over to the Pakistan team management, cited concerns about the legality of the 37-year-old’s bowling action,” the ICC had said in a statement.
Hafeez was initially suspended from bowling his off-spinners way back in December 2014, when he was reported during a Test against New Zealand in late 2014. He underwent remedial work and cleared the subsequent tests in April 2015 only to find himself back in the limelight when he was reported again two months later.
That being his second suspension in two years, Hafeez wasn’t cleared to bowl in international cricket for 12 months from July 2015.
The off-spinner did not bowl again in cricket until earlier this year. During this time, he underwent reassessment of his action at Brisbane and cleared the test in November 2016. By January this year, he was back to bowling his part-time off-spin and has bowled in all but one ODI since then.
But, is the 37-year old Professor indispensable as a bowling option in the Pakistan bowling attack?
Since the start of the year, Hafeez has played 17 ODIs and has picked up just seven wickets at an average of 74.14.
Not very impressive, right?
Dig deeper and you see the economy rate of 4.27, outstanding among contemporaries in modern day limited-overs cricket. Take a glance at his figures in the ongoing series against Sri Lanka and you get a better picture.
In two of these four games, he came in as the first change bowler and out a screw on the scoring rate, bowling stringent lines and never letting the opposition off the hook. If Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan and Junaid Khan have stolen all the limelight for Pakistan’s outstanding bowling performance in 2017, Hafeez has been a silent performer all through.
He may not even have a single five-wicket haul in his ODI career, but the pressure he exerts at one end has helped bowlers from the other end reap rewards in terms of wickets.
Even with the bat, Hafeez has had a more than average year. He has averaged 39.64 with the willow including seven half-centuries as against a career average of 32.92.
As an all-rounder, Hafeez has been outstanding for Pakistan and has surged to the top of the all-rounders chart in ODIs. But now with his action being reported a third time, Pakistan are in a mess and need to find alternatives for his economical bowling.
So, is Hafeez really irreplaceable?
Probably not. While his bowling economy is one gigantic factor behind his continued presence in the side, the wickets haven’t quite come and his batting alone suffices to secure him a place in the side at least for the near foreseeable future.
Imad Wasim, the left-arm quickish spinner, is one pretty good option with the ball and showcased his abilities pretty well during the Champions Trophy, where his spell against the Proteas proved decisive in Pakistan’s surge to the semi-finals. Even with the bat, Wasim is a handy lower order player and has played quite a few cameos in his short International career thus far.
While Hafeez the batsman has given a good account of himself in 2017, his strike rate and dot ball percentage is something that goes against him. A bowling suspension means that Hafeez has to survive in the setup as a batsman alone and this may not be quite feasible given his shortcomings with the willow and the age factor. At 37, Hafeez is into his twilight years and if he can still contribute as well two years later when the 2019 World Cup gets underway is a question mark.
Imad Wasim is one among the several options Pakistan have at their disposal while the 19-year old Shadab Khan also proved his mettle with the bat during this series. Fahim Ashraf is another pace bowling all-rounder who can chip in with both bat and ball while the veteran Shoaib Malik still bats, bowls and fields as well as a newbie.
With a plethora of such replacements available, Pakistan relying on Hafeez for his bowling time and again belies logic. Guaranteed he saves a few runs, but once the others are given a consistent run, they could do as well or better. If anything, the latest suspension could serve as a reminder for Pakistan that the Professor is no longer an indispensable force despite his no.1 ranking in the all-rounders list.