In big cricket matches, a team field its best playing XI and do not experiment. Unfortunately, Pakistan never remember this simple formula. The much-hyped match between Pakistan and India turned out to be an easy outing for the men in blue on a batting paradise in Adelaide. The 76-run emphatic victory lifted India’s record to 6-0 against Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup and Pakistan might have to wait for another four years to break this jinx.
It was nothing but a mindboggling team selection that shocked millions of its fans around the world. What’s the rocket science of promoting Younis Khan as an opener? What’s the logic of leaving out specialist wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed when he could also bat aggressively? It was like pushing the panic button before the start of an all-important event like the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
I do understand that Nasir Jamshed flew into Australia in place of an injured Mohammad Hafeez at the last-minute, but was he there to prove himself in a warm-up match against England or he was supposed to play in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015? Wicketkeeping is also a specialised job. Dozens of times we have seen Umar Akmal drop crucial catches in crunch matches at vital points. He didn’t surprise me when he dropped centurion Virat Kohli behind the stumps.
To me, it seems Pakistan team management is confused where its strength lies. It wants to bat deep down to Number 8 and also doesn’t want to miss out on the sixth bowler. I am afraid that’s not the right approach in big tournaments. True, Pakistan lost the all-important toss, but that doesn’t mean it should throw in the towel from the onset. India, I must admit, did its homework brilliantly. The way Shikhar Dhawan built the innings with Kohli, Misbah-ul-Haq seemed to have virtually no plan against them. Both the India batsmen waited for the lose deliveries and even nullified all the much talked about pace and height of Mohammad Irfan. Perhaps the pressure of a big game played on the mind of Irfan. He was warned twice for running onto the danger area and had no other option to bowl around the wicket. It simply took the bite out of his bowling.
Both Kohli and Dhawan intelligently rotated the strike and had the left-hander not got run-out, Pakistan could have conceded another 30-40 runs. The century stand between Dhawan and Kohli gave Dhoni the luxury of keeping Pakistan at bay by promoting Suresh Raina ahead of Ajinkya Rahane as Pakistan bowlers couldn’t adjust their line and length against right-left batting combination throughout the innings. Pakistan bowlers also bowled too short and on batting wickets, it’s one of the worst choice of a fast bowler.
Pakistan team management also forgot that the brigade of India batting has done wonders against spinners all around the world. Pakistan fielded not one or two, but three spinners! Expecting leg-spinner Yasir Shah to come out and do wonders in only his second ODI, is perhaps asking too much. India batsmen looked at ease against him and the leggie was smashed for 60-odd runs in his eight overs!
Relying on the left-arm spin of Haris Sohail was another big gamble and against solid batting oppositions, he won’t be effective at all on pitches in Australia and New Zealand. The only positivity in Pakistan’s bowling was the five-wicket haul of Sohail Khan, but it came at a time when 300 was always on the cards as Kohli had had done enough damage with his two century stands.
Despite Misbah saying at the toss that Younis will open the innings, I was hoping Pakistan might tinker with its batting line-up after conceding 300 runs. I was expecting Shahid Afridi to open the innings with Ahmed Shehzad and look for some quick runs. But sadly, the team management didn’t read the situation.
It’s a fact Younis had been struggling in ODIs. The earlier we accept this cruel fact, the better it will be for Pakistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. He is trying to find some unique technique to come into form and this led to his another early downfall when he gloved a short pitched delivery. If you are not an opener you tend to struggle against the new ball and if you are not in form, it only compounds your problems.
Pakistan was still in the match until the pressure of scoreboard ran onto Ahmed’s mind and he played a rash stroke after doing all the hard work. Only a miracle could have got Pakistan through after Pakistan lost Umar Akmal and Sohaib Maqsood for noughts, and Misbah’s 76 only reduced the margin of defeat. There were no demons in the wicket, but simply irresponsible shot selection cost Pakistan the match as it shuffled the batting order only to accommodate Younis.
In a way it’s good that Pakistan has got an early jitter in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Remember, Pakistan lost three matches in a row in 1992, which also included defeat against India, before it came back strongly and lifted the trophy. Pressure should be now off from the shoulders of the Pakistan team and it should concentrate on its remaining five group matches.
What it just needs is to field the right combination and look for specialists instead of accommodating players who are not in form! Remember Pakistan should come first and not the individuals.