Pakistan are 1-0 down in their World Cup campaign, 1-0 down against arch-rivals India and must overcome that mental scarring in order to kickstart a winning run. There is significantly less margin for error now.
Zimbabwe’s spirited fight against South Africa and Ireland’s stunning win over West Indies have rung alarm bells for the more established cricketing nations in Group B – results that showed nothing can be taken for granted.
Honestly speaking, it was nothing short of panic that prevailed a day before Pakistan’s opening match against India when it was decided by the team management that veteran Younis Khan would open the innings – despite there being two more obvious candidates.
Mohammad Hafeez being ruled out with injury was a major blow but Nasir Jamshed was called in his place and when selecting the World Cup squad, it was mutually decided that wicketkeeper Sarfaraz Ahmed could do the job as an alternative opener.
In Nasir and Sarafaz, Pakistan had two capable openers, yet Younis started in that spot. And if that was not enough, specialist wicket-keeper Sarfaraz was dropped and Pakistan went with part-timer Umar Akmal to adjust both Sohaib Maqsood and leg-spinner Yasir Shah.
So before the much-anticipated battle with India, Pakistan had disturbed all three bases and were looking vulnerable; there was no plan A, never mind a plan B!
As for the match itself, Pakistan had opportunities to put the Indians on back foot but they failed to grab them. After dismissal of Rohit Sharma, Pakistan could have dismissed Virat Kohli very early but Yasir Shah reacted late as a catch went down.
From there on, the credit must be given to the Indian top-order, which nullified the threat of lanky Mohammad Irfan and Shahid Afridi.
When Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli sensed that runs were hard to come by, they crafted singles and doubles to keep the scoreboard ticking over, striking the odd boundary whenever the chance was presented. Despite a cautious approach, India were cruising with almost six runs per over and it was Suresh Raina who really upped the ante.
Kohli was given another lifeline in his 70s when Akmal missed a simple catch and it proved costly as he along with Raina really thrashed Pakistan. If it was not for Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz’s express bowling, India would have easily crossed the 330-run mark.
Wahab was bowling with real venom, which was heartening, while Sohail – a last-minute inclusion in the team after much deliberation – showed great temperament when bowling at the death.
I feel happy that I had pushed the case of Sohail after good performances in domestic cricket. Fellow selectors were against his inclusion because of concerns about his fielding and fitness but I stuck to my guns and now he has shown the world what he is capable of.
In my view, the bowlers did their job because stopping the world-class batting lineup of India on 300 was a good job; people must understand that big scores are being posted not because of bats being thicker but because the restrictions have become thinner.
Three hundred is easy to chase in these days with five fielders inside the circle. It was up to the batsman to do the job and they failed badly.
Younis who had been in phenomenal form in the UAE, has not been able to repeat his performances in New Zealand and Australia and there will now be question marks ove his place in the side.
Ahmed Shahzad and Haris Sohail played well for some time but then blocked too many balls which built the pressure and once they got out, the required run-rate was over seven runs per over. One of them should have ensured that the time they spent at the crease was better utilized. Sohaib Maqsood fell to a golden duck playing a reckless shot that really broke Pakistan’s back and then Umar Akmal was caught behind off Ashwin.
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From there on, Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq should have realised that a win was far away and all they could have done was to play out the overs and get nearer to the score.
However, this was also not achieved and Pakistan could not bat out the full 50 overs, something that may haunt the team because at the end of group stages, I believe that run-rate will come into play. I just hope that Pakistan will not rue failing to play a full 50.
India taught Pakistan a lesson that good players do not only depend on boundaries but can play around with singles and doubles, which are more important than big shots in my opinion.
They taught Pakistan that top players rise to the occasion and perform instead of failing on the big stage.
It is crucial now that head coach Waqar Younis, skipper Misbah and chief selector Moin Khan cheer up the players before their next match.
Pakistan should put the defeat behind them now and with a few days before the next game, the management should now get the players in the right frame of mind.
There are still five more matches to be played and if they are to progress, Pakistan must play specialists in each position; the experiments did not go according to plan in the first match and there is now very little room for more experiments.
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