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Surrender at Adelaide

Kamran Wasti

Match 1 Pakistan versus India
Date February 15, 2015
Venue Adelaide Oval, Adelaide (Day/Night Match)
Result India won by 76 runs

 

Pakistan’s last World Cup campaign ended with their fifth loss to India in the Cup encounters. Their latest began with their sixth.

For starters, this was decisively the most one-sided of all such encounters. Yes, there were rumours abound about the kind of shady dealing that made Salim Malik infamous but it was obvious from the outset that the Pakistani team was carrying extra baggage – a baggage of perhaps nerves or those five losses to India or perhaps ten one-day defeats in the last 12 encounters. That baggage ensured that the lack of fight presented by Pakistan was the highlight of the show.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s luck or Misbah’s lack of it began with the toss and the Misbah seemed to be resigned to his fate when he expressed his regret at not being able to bat first. This concession was compounded by India’s A-game while Pakistanis started with a D and progressively declined towards an F.

There were few positives for Pakistanis except perhaps the veteran Sohail Khan. A cricketing tragic, Sohail emerged around 2007 breaking record after record including becoming the first Pakistani bowler to take 16 wickets in a first-class game. Blessed with a beautiful action, he was, at the time a 145kph+ bowler. His retained his pace and his ability to swing the ball and netted over a hundred wickets in that season. It is always predictable that good teams would miss out on a lot of good cricketers when spoilt for choice. The West Indies team that lost the 1983 World Cup toured India right after and thrashed the hosts 3-0 in tests and blanked them completely in the one-dayers with a bowling attack that mainly comprised Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Wayne Daniel. They still had Andy Roberts and the genuinely fast Winston Davis in their ranks while Joel Garner was not even touring. However, the strangest of happenings were taking place in another part of the world where a rebel West Indian XI was knocking the daylights out of a strong South African line-up still playing many from Ali Bacher’s invincibles through Sylvester Clarke and company. In short, the West Indians could potentially field an XI comprising entirely of genuine world-class fast-bowlers alone! Sohail though was a standout at a time when Shoaib Akhtar was in decline, Muhammad Asif banned and the rest just not good enough. When he did make his debut, it was on a graveyard of a wicket where Pakistan scored over 760 and he did have some flaws; for one, he tended to fall in his follow-through, the arm not coming high enough causing him to lose pace and not allowing him to land the ball on the seam regularly and angling in towards the legs which was bread and butter for the Sri Lankans. Instead of working on his frailties, he was dropped. A game or two somehow happened in 2011 but that was just about it. Over time, he lost pace but his Yorkers started to land on the crease more regularly than ever and the bowling arm slowly started to come from higher up. So Sohail Khan, whose humble disposition was only betrayed by his claim to dismiss Kohli, first trumped Rohit Sharma and then worked his way through the lower order in an impressive display of fast-bowling – Yorkers, bouncers, slower balls and all those elements of death bowling which have hitherto deserted the likes of his more illustrious colleagues seemed to come to him naturally.

A worrying sign was the way the spinners were handled. Yasir Shah has delighted Shane Warne. He would have delighted Imran Khan too who played a similarly diminutive leg-spinner, Mushtaq Ahmad, against India in the 1992 World Cup loss at Sydney. Mushtaq was carted for 59 runs but took 3 wickets. Misbah though seemed unable to handle Yasir. Leg-spinners need careful nurturing. If they were not confident, the team management should not have thrown a leg-spinner to an Indian team on a flat wicket. Instead, on the basis of a bad outing in circumstances completely against him, Yasir will pay the price by getting dropped against teams that would have found him a far more difficult adversary.

Pakistan’s other problem was the way they became clueless in the middle-overs. Imran Khan, in All-Round View, explained how Abdul Qadir was a wicket-taker but offered control with his accuracy. Note the word “control” – not economy but control. Modern cricket though focuses more on economy and that is an idea that would always appeal to the naturally defensive Misbah. This played right into the hands of Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan who were allowed to ease into form while scoring runs at brisk pace.

In another world. Pakistan’s middle-overs would have been bowled by Saeed Ajmal, Muhammad Hafeez and Shahid Afridi. Not many realize that Saeed Ajmal has a horrendous record in Australia while Hafeez has hardly played any cricket over there. In theory, their absence should not have deterred the team but it had already done that given the way Mushtaq Ahmad had lamented the absence of Saeed Ajmal. Afridi was never allowed to settle and the team were not helped by Muhammad Irfan carrying out a failed impersonation of a taller, unfit version of Bruce Reid bowling at the age of 60 and bowling at a pace that would have made Madan Lal or Roger Binny look like Malcolm Marshall for most of the match. That Irfan has been exposed so easily and so early in Australia should not surprise anyone except the Pakistani critics who, for long, have held the belief that wickets are ‘green’, ‘fast’ and ‘bouncy’ in Australia and all one needs to do is to have a genuinely fast-bowler. The ignorance here is embarrassing. For starters, India’s fast-bowlers, who, for a change, bowl at brisk pace, were carted at 4 and 5 runs an over during the test series. And more importantly, the wicket Pakistanis were playing on was hard but so was the outfield. And it was not bouncy, not too fast and certainly not green.

Irfan, with his height and his bounding run, is destined to break down rather badly at some point on the hard Australian outfields. That he has a mixed action, a hybrid between side-on and front-on, is another warning sign. And that he was not fully fit was obvious. It seems though that he was played with the intention of working over the apparent Indian concern of facing a seven foot tall fast bowler on an Australian wicket. This was reverse psychology at its worst. They should have done well to remember that in 2006, at a time when Inzimam had usurped Bob Woolmer’s authority, the players were made to practice on marble slabs by the captain before the Old Trafford test, driven by the fear of facing Stephen Harmison on a bouncy track. It did not work as the scared Pakistanis were blasted out for 119 in no time and only Younis Khan showed the necessary application. In short, playing Irfan was a blunder and the obvious reason behind it made it even more embarrassing.

Going back to the middle overs, Pakistani teams show obvious disregard for quick singles – when fielding in the middle overs, they never care to stop the follow of runs attained through running between the wickets and when batting, they never try to get them themselves. This then is augmented by some horribly disastrous fielding. It was argued that Umar Akmal could be a force-multiplier with his wicketkeeping and allow an extra batsman or a bowler. In the end, he merely served to remind why his elder brother would never be missed as his duck and a host of dropped catches showed. Sarfraz should have been persevered with lower down the order. A seemingly successful one-off outing as an opener should not move this wicketkeeper up the order. He should be allowed to bat where he has scored most of his runs, all in a Moin Khan-like role. Moin was never made to open – the captains at the time knew that he could provide those nuggets but only where he is comfortable.

Another plus for the Pakistanis was Wahab Riaz who bowled with genuine pace and hurried the Indian batsmen regularly. That India did not end at 350 was only because of him and Sohail Khan. In any case, Sourav Ganguly was right when he stated very early that Pakistanis were incapable of chasing 230, let alone 300.

Younis Khan’s opening was another problem – instead of daring to give an extended run to the openers, the team management looked for shortcuts. One feels sorry for Younis Khan, a good team man but ill-suited to one-day cricket. That he is there is more due to the unreliability of the rest of the batsmen. His insistence on playing the World Cup is going to haunt him in the longer run. Readers would remember Javed Miandad’s helplessness and Ian Chappell’s condescending jibe when he came out to bat in the 1996 Bangalore Quarter-Final also against India: “The old swagger is still there but the shots are not quite coming at the moment.” Younis with his stubbornness and the team management with their defensive mindset are selfishly denying the team a chance to work with a younger and fitter set of players. In the end, he was caught between two minds when his misery was finally ended by Muhammad Shami.

One-day batting needs planning and it is obvious that the game plan has changed from the 1990s when 225 was a good target to defend. Later, Pakistanis often assumed that their top order would fail and would bank on their lower order to boost the score with some lusty hitting against the flattened old ball which was useless for bowlers who did not bowl reverse swing. However, there were worrying signs already. Kohli and Company played themselves in and grew increasingly fluent. Haris Sohail launched himself fluently and then progressively went into his shell along with his partner Ahmad Shehzad. Things have indeed changed for now, we know very clearly that losing more than two wickets in the first twenty overs is a disaster – Pakistanis were on track around that time. We also know that anything more than four wickets down by the 40th over potentially spells doom. In case of Pakistanis, they were already seven down. The match was decidedly over by that time.

The innings on the whole was punctuated with a unwillingness to run for singles – something that seemed to exist during the Bob Woolmer era but has quietly become extinct, very much like the Dodo. And perhaps, this was one of the deciding phases of the game – the middle overs in both innings: Indians running like hare. Pakistanis not wanting to run at all.

Misbah needs to be reflect too: he has an excellent one-day record and he scores his runs at a decent pace except that he usually does a lot of catching up when the time has passed. In the Mohali semi-final of 2011 for example, he and Sachin Tendulkar had the same strike rate. We all know though why it did not matter. Similarly, here when he needed to stamp himself, he defended and his later flurry of runs came at a time when the match was already lost. In the end, he had decent figures but they are as deceiving as a lot of other things about post-Imran Khan Pakistani teams.

Umar Akmal got a raw deal with the DRS. Apparently, the PCB thinks otherwise. It is also reasonable to assume that since this was an important game, Umar Akmal would have failed anyway and did not need a bad DRS call. However, one still needs to understand the damning evidence that compelled Steve Davis to overturn the decision.

Pakistan’s next match is against the West Indies. Like the India game, a lot of negative speculation is already in the air and the team retains the potential to suffer a heavy defeat against the ridiculously pathetic West Indian cricketers who seemed to sworn to humiliate their great predecessors. Avoiding that would require Pakistanis playing at their best – bat aggressively, bowl fast and give the ball a rip.

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