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Sublime Kohli leads Pakistan’s rout

Jamal Ahmad

Another World Cup. Another India-Pakistan match. Another Pakistan defeat. Any serious cricket follower, let alone a Pakistani fan, would get tired of the monotony of this trend. Not because of the defeat perhaps but because of the lack of fight.

What is it that takes over our players in these crunch encounters? Nerves? Fear of defeat? Some other unexplained phobia? I am yet to put my finger on any one reason. Having said that, Pakistan’s recent inglorious ODI record of 10 defeats in 12 matches going into this crucial match, this result was pretty much expected. Pakistanis have waved the white flag a lot of times but even by their standards, the usual lack of fight was visibly magnified in a most depressing way.

Dhoni’s good times started with the spin of the coin. His toss record is just below the 50% mark and he has tended to bat more than field when he does win it. Being a smart captain, he must have remembered that for whatever reason, his India always seem to be at their best when playing Pakistan who then play the catching game but only succeed in going increasingly bad.

Indian openers started off, scoring freely until Rohit Sharma was deceived by Sohail Khan, who was making a comeback to the squad after years in the wilderness. Once Kohli came to the crease, the scoring rate started increasing. Though he had not had a decent innings in the ODI leg of the Australian tour but against Pakistan, Kohli revived himself and was allowed to continue in his merry ways effortlessly. That fact that the match was being played at his favourite ground in Australia where he has plundered mountains of runs on this tour added to his advantage and as the Pakistani bowlers played themselves into his hands. The positivity rubbed off on Shikhar Dhawan as well who until this match had not scored a run on tour.

The middle overs are usually where Pakistan seems to apply the brakes with the likes of Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi. With the first two missing for various reasons and Afridi not finding his rhythm, it was going to be an uphill task. Irfan was way below his best and at times was sending down some military medium deliveries. His fitness seemed to be a question mark for sure. Why he was not fully fit for this crucial game is beyond understanding.

Another area of concern is the lack of thinking shown by Misbah during the middle overs. Batsmen were allowed easy singles and fielders were pushed to the edge of the circle. No pressure was applied from either end. A slip, a silly point or a short leg would’ve at least made the batsman think differently and moved him out of the comfort zone.  Add to that butter fingers Umer Akmal and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. Why is the team management hell bent on playing a non-regular keeper in such a major event? Sarfraz needs to be persevered with to give him some confidence. He surely can take this role permanently for some years to come.

Raina,  who replaced Dhawan, further upped the ante. By the time Kohli departed after scoring the 22nd ODI hundred of his career (just 8 fours mind you which means 75 runs through running between the wickets), the match looked set to stay loyal to the pattern of the India Pakistan World Cup results.  A score in excess of 325 was very much there for the taking but some disciplined bowling by Wahab and Sohail at the death kept it to a round 300. The Indian batsmen gave a good example of constructing an inning by nudging the ball around, applying some deft wrist work and taking singles whenever there was a chance. They were never tied down and it was only by some sheer good fortune and containment at the end that the target was at least 25-30 runs less than what one would’ve expected at the end of the 30th over.

Even with this somewhat reduced target, if we could call it that, the prospect of Pakistan chasing 300 is a huge ask. Pakistan’s comfort zone in a chase is below 250 and anything beyond takes one out-of-this-world performance like the one by Afridi in the Asia Cup match against Bangladesh in 2014.

The experiment to open with Younis Khan was a disaster to start with. If anything, he should’ve been pushed further down the order. One really cannot understand the thinking behind opening with someone who is struggling against the new ball. Younis is a world class test batsman, perhaps Pakistan’s best ever. He surely has the numbers to back that up but he is ruining his test legacy with these consistent ODI failures and keeping a youngster out of the side. He surely needs to be rested for the rest of the tournament. Shami ended his misery but it was the wrong decision to start with.

Harris Sohail exudes class. The way he middles the ball even when playing a forward defensive stoke is sheer class. Shahzad and Sohail kept moving at a decent pace but got bogged down for no apparent reason and let the spinners settle down. This is yet another area which needs serious work. It is surprising that generations have passed but the skill of rotating the strike is not being imparted into our batsmen. Coaches have come and gone but the status quo has remained. If India won the game during their middle overs, then Pakistan lost it in theirs. A decent partnership was broken due to unnecessary self-imposed pressure and that started the slide. Shahzad really needs to improve his strike rate. He is a far better batsman to be striking at 70. Playing dot ball after dot ball just adds to the pressure which results in a rash stroke. A procession of wickets followed after Shahzad. Umer Akmal was very unfortunately to be given out through a baffling DRS reversal. The worthy umpire, Mr. Steve Davis, is as guilty as a glutton sitting next to a pile of orange rind mumbling “lovely oranges” in the story “who ate my oranges”.

At 103 for 5, the writing was on the wall and some late strikes by Misbah only reduced the deficit to double digits. Another spineless performance against the arch rivals at the biggest stage of them all.

Let’s hope our boys in green can bring out their A-game for the remainder of the tournament.

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