At the age of thirty-three, it doesn’t sound right to call myself a digital native but at the same time, I am someone whose professional career has been very much built around the internet. I can’t code or even understand what that is, so my work on the internet has been using it as a medium.
One of the great things about the internet is that it has radically shrunk marketing costs, and social media platforms have become superb alternatives to traditional methods for getting yourself out there. But when it comes to marketing, not every platform is equal.
The two most popular in Pakistan are Twitter and Facebook. But while you regularly see Tweets posted on Facebook by meme pages, you almost never see witty Facebook statuses being tweeted. This tells us something about how the two platforms are different.
It is very difficult to use Twitter for marketing, especially for a for-profit organisation. Corporations around the world run terribly boring Twitter accounts, but more damningly, the platform is generally quite useless in generating returns for a business. People on Twitter are more likely to get offended or troll than engage in consumer enthusiasm. I know that every brand in Pakistan fools themselves into thinking that hiring bloggers to trend their hashtags is a great investment, but Twitter regulars are more likely to develop strong negative feelings to such promotional activities.
Facebook on the other hand, is a much different place. Things are far more literal, there is little place for irony or sarcasm, and audience is far more likely to interact positively (from the brand’s perspective). It is far easier to get a lot of positive reaction on Facebook than it ever is on Twitter. A brand that can master Twitter is clearly marketing in an extremely intelligent manner, but anyone can master Facebook, using a combination of money and going for the lowest hanging fruits. This is not to say that there is no intelligent marketing on Facebook, but rather that you don’t need intelligence there as much as you would on Twitter.
What’s more important is that in Pakistan, and the rest of the world, there is also no point in mastering marketing on Twitter. You can do it, but it wouldn’t mean anything unless you are mastering Facebook. The way the game is these days, every brand needs to master Facebook, which hosts the vast majority of Pakistan’s digital population.
So why am I talking about all of this?
It has to do, believe it or not, with Pakistan’s ODI situation. If reports are to be believed, we are about to witness the end of Azhar Ali’s captaincy, which had begun after the World Cup. Despite some hiccups in between, that tournament had ended Misbah’s long reign in charge. In a World Cup that felt like his swansong, Misbah’s ODI legacy was at its peak. Pakistan were miserable at batting and were one of the best bowling units.
To illustrate this, the table below takes each (Test-playing) team’s scoring run-rate during the World Cup and subtracts its conceding run-rate from it.
Pakistan competes with Zimbabwe right at the bottom of the difference, yet look one column over and you will notice that its bowling RPO is well below what the other nearby teams have, and closer to the teams at the top of this table. Meanwhile, its batting RPO is well, well worse than anyone else’s. Even a pre-transformation England were at 5.48 to Pakistan’s 4.92, and everyone else was at 5.81 or higher!
In the Azhar era, things had gotten better for the batting relative to before, but worse for the bowling. Misbah was well known for being a superb bowling captain, and the impact of Waqar Younis’s coaching on the bowlers is far, far more valuable than whatever salary amount Yahya Hussaini gets riled up by. Azhar has had a more limited attack, and isn’t the best captain in the field. The consequences are quite obvious.
Pakistan’s bowling RPO has now dropped to being third-worst in the world, while its batting has gone one better to be second-worst. Its differential is also much further behind the rest than it was at the World Cup. (I haven’t included Zimbabwe and West Indies here, particularly because Pakistan’s results are skewed by the Zimbabwe series at home. Since that situation was a one-off, it isn’t relevant to the larger picture.)
The obvious thinking might be to look to the bowling and find solutions there. It was our strength and its decline has been clearly costly. I certainly see a lot of people moaning for the great attacks of the past and decrying the number of runs we concede these days. With batting, everyone can see that there is some progress, so we seem to be less alarmed.
But this is the point where we return to Twitter and Facebook.
You see, in modern ODI cricket, batting is Facebook and bowling is Twitter. It is much harder to be good at bowling/Twitter, and ultimately it isn’t that useful. Team Misbah ran a great Twitter campaign during the World Cup (#ThatSpell) but was non-existent if not terrible on Facebook and bowed out at the quarter-finals.
In other words, batting is what will decide cricket games with the white balls every time. Of course, those who bowl well will be the best sides, but there is no point in being a good bowling side until you are a better batting side. A great example is Bangladesh, whose jaw-droppingly low bowling RPO since the World Cup is still outdone by its batting RPO, which isn’t great but is well ahead of the bottom two.
If Pakistan are to improve in ODIs, that change will have to come from becoming a better batting side. They would need to be at least getting nearer to 5.6-5.8 RPO in terms of batting in order for any improvements in the bowling to even matter. Focusing primarily on improving bowling in modern ODI cricket is a lost cause. We need to embrace that reality.