Lackluster performance! Submerging what the servants of the sports are capable of. Demotivated and discouraged by the viewers judging them at every delivery. Mauled by the arch-rivals to whom you were superior in performances against once upon a time. The unpredictables have become highly predictable. Their game is old school but watching them play has become ragefully tormenting with shameful and embarrassing results.
“India v Pakistan”, the title used to define as the Clan of the Titans! The mother of all battles! But in few years with the rise of the cricketing standards in team India and repeated failures in implementing the modern attacking cricket in team Pakistan has bored the tagged anticipation of the rivalry as Wildcat v Pussycat. In the last few years or a few contests, we have observed that India is not only beating Pakistan in results but destroying in all three departments; batting, bowling, and fielding. This has subjected the fans of the latter to expect low in the rivalry games which used to be those special occasions when the employee had to forward his request of a sick leave to his boss. In the countries where multinational people live and work together, the employee (if he is Pakistani) has to face his (Indian) colleagues in the office the next day with embarrassment.
As Imran Khan tweeted a couple of days ago “As a sportsman, I know winning & losing are part of the game but it’s painful to watch Pak being thrashed by India without putting up a fight”. There is no shame in losing but is shameful if you lost without attempting to fight. And the time passes on and we wait for the next Ind-Pak clash in the future ICC events, do we?
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Why did Pakistan lose so badly? What was missing? Was Pakistan really not able to defeat them? The simple answer is NO. We were able to defeat them ONLY if the team had believed in themselves and were self-confident that they can defeat any team on any given day on any given field. On the cricket field, if you want to defend yourself in the game, you have to attack. You have to roar, not meow.
There is no motivator who can make them believe and bring the will power to achieve something in their times. Not even the captain can inspire his own team who stated last week, “We are ranked eight, we have nothing to lose”. Wow! How touched I am reading the words of our captain. The word of the captain matters and no one set examples of what Imran influenced the generations when he wore a white t-shirt with a picture of a tiger before the 1992 World Cup quarterfinal match against the Aussies at their yard. Then there are further cases in our history when the tempo of the team is hurt by the behavior of the captains like Younis refusing to lead in 2006 Champions Trophy without consulting the PCB, Shahid Afridi retiring in tests after a 4-year comeback in the format during the 2010 English tour or his passing the statement that the team got more love in India than his country while stepping in India for his last international assignment, WT20.
Khan sahab is repeatedly repeating the repetitive statement repeated in past 30 years to maintain and strengthen the domestic infrastructure which is weak enough to introduce mentally weak players to the international cricket who would face difficulties in adjusting themselves to the challenges they face in proper standards. No one will disagree with him as all his fears and predictions have gone right. And to our misery, we do are suffering. PSL is not important as building a strong domestic infrastructure is. If other cricketing nations organize T20 franchise leagues than the reason is that they already have developed theirs. Despite the fact the infrastructure is weak, we still have been gifted with many champions and achievers like Wasim, Waqar, Saqlain, Inzamam, Saeed, Shoaib, Razzaq, and many more.
The other factor involved in the miserable defeat was the team selection which is fetched from a squad selection, and the squad selection (good or bad) is subjected from the selection committee whose selection always raise a question mark. And that is a very critical issue. Let me focus on the XI before the blog becomes a book. There has been a severe agonized outcry that the team is so far from time traveling to the existence that they have no hard-hitting batsmen to ease and accelerate the run rate and help push the score towards 300, 350 and even touch 400 which is yet to be done in the ODIs. Now then you have two such players in Fakhar Zaman and Faheem Ashraf, and the latter doing the unthinkable in the practice match against Bangladesh. The captain and the coach still didn’t prefer to pick any of the two in such an important clash! Was it really hard to think of replacing Ahmed Shahzad, Azhar Ali, Mohammad Hafeez with them?
Oh, wait! then there is Junaid Khan, the only potential and capable wicket-taking pace bowler who can make a promising opening partner to Mohammad Amir and make the viewers hopeful of watching their team take all 10 wickets in an inning. Junaid was expensive in the practice game conceding 73 runs, 5 more runs than Wahab Riaz in 9 overs. But the difference was that Junaid grabbed 4 wickets as compared to being wicketless in the latter’s case. To everyone’s surprise, Wahab was preferred over Junaid! And that is easily one of the key reasons for the defeat. Wahab getting smacked and destroyed was always on the card and we don’t have any luxury to witness any economical bowling of him in a lengthy period. I don’t remember if he ever grabbed 5 wickets after the WC semifinal game against India.
One of the tweets yesterday confirmed how worst has Wahab become, what burden of a liability he is on the team since Jan. 2016. In 12 ODIs, he has picked only 9 wickets at an average of 74 with the economy rate of 6.50. His bowling average was 104 vs Aus, 186 vs Eng, and 118 vs NZL. I think the readers are wise enough to understand why would a bowler with such horrible performances still end up in the squad and playing XI but not Junaid Khan.
WAS THE DECISION OF BOWLING FIRST CORRECT?
In most cases, the ideology is that winning the toss is the blessing but I believe either you win the toss or lose, you still have 450 overs in tests, 50 in ODIs and 20 in T20s to win the match. In my opinion, Sarfaraz’s decision of bowling first was correct because of the two factors. One, we know the chasing reputation of India which was avoided. Second, our bowling strength has declined a lot and we are not capable of grabbing all 10 wickets in most of the occasions. Yes, we are bad chasers who collapses even when we have to chase 150 or less but there is still a small percentage of a chance after failing in bowling in the first inning.
FAILING THE DEPARTMENTS
Even if you lose the toss and select a wrong XI, there is still a chance of winning if you perform well in all the three departments; batting, bowling, and *hehe* fielding. A cricket statistician should do some favor to our team and add a new category of catch drops to add some interest in digging that how many catches did the team drop from their soft buttered palms. At least I am interested to know by average that how many are they dropping the catches each game. I happen to watch one of the youtube videos to understand how this team practice before the game and ended up with this video leading me to nowhere.
Then they have a history of losing the most crucial games by the catch drops. More bizarre of the fact is that Pakistan’s journey to the last two world cups ended by dropping the most important catches, 4 against Tendulkar and one against Watson. The military training that was scheduled before the English tour last year is not possible to be scheduled for them on regular basis nor is this a solution. Not all the teams are physically trained by their country’s military.
Sarfaraz’s plan to open the bowling with Imad in the second over was a bad idea. He is a kind of bowler who comes to bowl in the middle of the inning when he has to stop the batsmen accelerating the score in which he is pretty good at. Change in plans and Imad turned IMad with no idea what to bowl in the opening and death overs. Result? The whole focus and blame go on his silly haircut but this was the worst he has ever performed. He has been one of our best performers in ODIs and T20Is in past 10 months. If spin was obligatory from the start, Hafeez was the best option to go with as he has always stood a threat against the left-handers but hang on! the captain gave him not a single over! Indian openers lose their hands for shots when Wahab’s first intolerable spell began. Pakistan could still have marked a decent comeback but they missed easy chances on the field, the bowling was not on the line. When the fielders dropped catches of Kohli and Yuvraj, you actually gave them the license to kill you.
Their other weakness which adds misery to their woes is that if the batsmen go on aggressive mode, their bowling and fielding goes defensive and last of all, they give up. They choose wrong bowlers for the death overs or if they choose the correct one, then they bowl flat. This shows that the captain and coach had no plans, and if they had then these were not implemented. Had Junaid played this match, he could have calmed the pressure and assisted Amir. There could definitely have been a wicket in the start as Rohit was controlling his hands not to make any mistake but their openers succeeded because Imad was introduced at the wrong time and then Wahab did what he is good at. Amir’s temporary injury also helped India smashing more runs in the end as expected. India was so confident that they send Hardik Pandya instead of their death over assassin, MS Dhoni, and Pandya didn’t disappoint the captain.
In 2017, where openers are the destroyers, regular strike rotators, partnership builders, large-inning constructors; there is our baffling batting order who play with the same flow while batting first and second, press the panic button and lose their mind. Collapse all of a sudden like a plucked leaf dropped from the hand or an old individual from the wheelchair. They think twice when they have to take a quick single and commit suicide on the pitch. Their almost every batting scorecard has an honorable mention of a RUNOUT by someone. In an era when the teams are chasing 300 more often, this team reaching 300 is still a rare event. In an era when the batsman is focusing on breaking records and building huge innings on the flat pitches, scoring a century by our batsman is sapphire-rare. And that is why there are only 3 entries of our batsmen reaching 150 in ODI history. Strauss alone has 3.
When you are chasing a target at the required run rate more than 6, you have to take the risk and play shots, and try to accelerate the score. But once Ahmad Shahzad departed, the humans on the batting crease became zombies. Till the 17th over, the stats showed on the screen that Pakistani batsmen had dotted 60 balls which are precisely 10 overs. Even the commentators complained live that the batsmen were taking the pressure and dotting too many balls which helped the asking run rate climb swiftly and they gave up. This is not how you bat in modern cricket.
With that target, Sarfaraz must have decided to open with Ahmad and drop Azhar to 4. But the Plan B was missing, so was Plan A. When two wickets fell, they made further mistakes and sent Hafeez instead of Shoaib. And the rest is boring.
ANYTHING TO EXPECT IN CT JOURNEY?
Given the fact that Wahab is injured and out of Champions Trophy for good, Sarfaraz and the coach Mickey Arthur have to decide what should still be done to expect positive or aggressive cricket. Junaid will likely get the ball in the next game. Either Hafeez or Ahmad can make the room for either Fakhar or Faheem. Or both can be dropped and add Haris Sohail with any of the two Fs. But enough is enough, such performances are a huge insult to the global fans who support their team green. So many people from around the world show up on the ground for the love and support but are deceived and bereaved.
How long will they play old-school cricket? When will they upgrade their game or install the new software/hardware? For how long will we listen to the excuses in the same funny post-match interviews of our captain. Yes, Pakistan is not playing international cricket at home and didn’t get that much exposure of IPL, the home of flat pitch batting circus, the game changer in the modern cricket which put a permanent full stop in the golden competition of bat and ball as it used to be in the old times. But being very honest, this is all excuse. Despite the above-mentioned factors, Pakistan somehow peaked the ranking in Test cricket last year thanks to our heritage of performing well and being unbeatable side on UAE pitches. We did win Asia Cup, defeated South Africa and India in the ODI series at their yard. We claimed the world title in T20 in 2009 and even reached the semis of 2011 WC. Sorry, but there is no excuse of what the team has become. If the international cricket is not coming to Pakistan, then the head of the PCB should ask ICC the reason? If the international wrestlers can come to Pakistan, if Leisure League featuring world famous football legends Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos can happen, then why not international cricket? If security was really the issue then the above-mentioned entertainers and sportsmen would not have bothered to come here.
I know they will repeat the mistakes but hoping the best for the team is the only thing I can do while writing this blog because since beginning to love this sport in 1997, I have seen my team in fluctuations and in many good and bad unforgettable moments and memories. Cricket is won only when you promise yourself that you will never let the game down. Cricket is won only when the challenges are tough but the desire of achieving is real. Cricket is won only when your heart tells you to be sincere with the game and conquer the game for the sports, for the nation, for the people who support and love you. May you someday achieve what we still wait for.