Pakistan cricket has for long been searching for a reliable number 6 batsman in one day international cricket. The search continues with more players added to the pool.
Pakistan went to the World Cup with Asif Ali as the power hitting option at number 6. But he was played at number 7 and Shoaib Malik played at number 6. Both batsmen failed. Asif Ali, one has to be fair, did not get enough opportunity in the World Cup to impress. After both failed, Sarfaraz Ahmed returned to that position. Sarfaraz is not a natural number 6 as is evident from his style of batting. So Pakistan have turned the search button on yet again.
Three players in the probables announced for the Sri Lankan series are in the race for that number 6 slot. Asif Ali is the frontrunner. Umar Akmal with yet another comeback will be in contention for that slot as well. But the one name that doesn’t get enough mention is that of all rounder Iftikhar Ahmed. If ever a Pakistan fan dreamt of a replacement for Muhammad Hafeez, it would be Iftikhar Ahmed. A clean striker of the ball and a more than handy off spinner. Iftikhar averages more than 50 in list A cricket at a strike rate of more than 90. He has improved his technique a lot and that was evident in his batting in the Pakistan super league. He also picked up useful wickets in the Pakistan super league. So Iftikhar Ahmed could be a really good choice considering his experience at the domestic level.
Asif Ali can still work on his batting and make himself a more reliable option. Asif’s inconsistency has been the main issue with his batting. In recent times he has been in and out of the team regularly. That doesn’t do the confidence any good. Asif will have to be given opportunities up the order so that he can learn the art of scoring runs and adapting to situations.
As far as Umar Akmal is concerned, it is perhaps too late for him. Besides, he isn’t a number 6 player. He has failed to get the boundaries on a consistent basis when the required rate is high. He is someone who can bat in the top 4 but the top 4 are pretty settled in Pakistan’s ODI side. So Pakistan should move on from Umar Akmal.
Iftikhar Ahmed needs to be given a serious opportunity. He is a potential replacement for Muhammad Hafeez and could even be useful in test cricket on pitches which help spin. His experience will be of vital use at number 6. Good number 6 batsmen are good finishers. And good finishers thrive when they are put under pressure. MS Dhoni is an example. Jos Buttler is another example. So a calm and experienced head would be the ideal option for Pakistan at number 6 and no better player than Iftikhar Ahmed to take up that role. The rest of the batting order is well settled. The only other question would be where should Sarfaraz Ahmed bat? The ideal position for him would be number 4 with Babar at 3 and Haris Sohail at 5.