Ashes to Ashes? Analysis of the Pakistan Cricket Team’s Losses Against England
The first three hours of the second England-Pakistan ODI match in the deserts of Abu Dhabi was little more than recapitulation of the first ODI played at the same venue. The English skipper promptly opted to bat first when he won his second successive coin toss. The Pietersen-Cook duo propelled England with another 50-run opening stand before Kevin Pietersen was trapped leg before by Ajmal. Jonathan Trott shared a moderate stand with Cook, before he threw his wicket away to an average delivery from Aizaz Cheema.
The English skipper, meanwhile, lived up to his “run-machine” reputation with his clinical seriatim hundred, while Ravi Bopara scored his second successive half-century. The pair saw England through the mandatory batting powerplay, before Cook spooned a rising delivery to Afridi off the former Pakistani captain’s own bowling. Such was the resolve and appetite of the man that he was dejected at throwing his wicket. With 56 balls remaining and six wickets in store, England looked on course to trump their total of 260 in the first ODI.
However, a combination of impressive death bowling by Ajmal and Cheema, and slightly baffling restraint from Morgan and Bopara, pegged England and restricted their total to 250. It appeared that England had resolved that any target above 250 would be sufficient to guarantee victory against a fragile Pakistani batting line-up. Still, the Pakistani dressing room and supporters surely felt that 251 was achievable with some discipline and application from Pakistan’s top order.
Indeed, Pakistan’s opening pair of Hafeez and Farhat launched the run-chase off with more resolve, circumspection and tenacity than they had shown in the previous match. Hafeez, however, continued his trend of throwing his wicket away after entrenching himself when he succumbed to another cross-batted shot into the hands of Trott at short midwicket off Anderson’s bowling. Farhat didn’t leave his partner alone in the dressing room for long: he incredulously ran himself out three runs short of his half-century while Stuart Broad and England’s close-in fielders appealed for a leg before. Three overs later in the 25th over, Younus Khan was trapped leg before to Patel, throwing the match’s probable outcome in the balance, with 148 to win from 155 deliveries.
Azhar Ali, whose selection for the ODI raised a few eyebrows, played well for his cameo of 31 before being bowled by Patel while trying to cut a delivery that was too close to his body. With 109 required from 103 deliveries, Akmal at the crease and Afridi yet to come, Pakistan could still have backed themselves to bag the match. Misbah played a characteristically patient but sensible innings to propel Pakistan, and Akmal provided excitement in the innings with a couple of elegant boundaries. His contest with Steven Finn, who has looked threatening with his seam and control in the series, was enchanting. However, as has happened many times in the past, Akmal succumbed to his aggression. He attempted to follow up his boundary over point in the previous delivery with another four through the covers but instead found the diving hands of Samit Patel at extra cover. Akmal, who was expecting anything but a dismissal, stood his ground as the catch was referred to the 3rd umpire, Simon Taufel. After taking his time, viewing the catch from several angles, Taufel decided that there was no reason to give the benefit of doubt to Akmal and adjudicated that it was a clean catch. Pakistan’s batting powerplay, which had injected momentum into the run-chase, turned into a net loss, and not for the first time either.
With Afridi and Misbah at the crease, however, and with 72 needed from 67 deliveries, Pakistan was still very much in contention. Afridi looked rather spasmodic – even by his standards. He had a couple of swings without much luck and had a close call when he was dropped by Broad in the 43rd over in what would have been a blinding catch.
The required rate was climbing, and some boom-boom magic was desperately required. Afridi obliged in the 44th over from Samit Patel, with a six over long-off, and followed up with a powerful boundary through extra-cover, giving ten runs from two balls. Pakistan, however, squandered the opportunity with just one run from the next three deliveries.
Still, the required rate had been brought down with 44 runs from 36 balls. All that was needed from this pair was perseverance, maturity and strike rotation. However, Afridi capitulated to Afridi-ism as he attempted to smoke Anderson out of the park, missed and lost his middle and off stumps.
With Misbah there and the required rate still in reasonable check, Pakistan was still in the hunt. However, that changed the moment Afridi’s replacement Abdur Rehman walked in. Rehman faced four dot balls as he kept softly dabbing and missing Anderson’s off cutters, leaving Pakistan with 44 runs to win from the last five overs. Misbah exquisitely cut away Broad’s first ball of the 46th over for a much-needed boundary before taking a single from the next ball, only to enable Rehman to repeat his antics from the previous over with another four dot balls and a generous wide. What did that leave Pakistan with? Thirty-eight from 24 balls.
In the 47th over, Misbah could not find the gap; Rehman scored a single, faced two more dot balls (including one off a free-hit) and lost his off stump to a swing-and-a-miss on the last ball, walking off with one run from 12 deliveries.
Rehman’s dot-ball galore put too much pressure on Misbah as he top-edged Broad, only to be caught brilliantly by Kieswetter and all but ended Pakistan’s hopes of a successful run-chase. The rest of Pakistan’s tail had some fun with a couple of tantalising boundaries, which made Pakistani supporters feel they could have won if Ajmal or Gul had been sent ahead of Rehman, who before this match was known as an all-rounder!
At the end of the day, Pakistan was undone by Cook’s brilliance and England’s bowling discipline. But batting fragilities and the management’s perplexing decision to continue with Umar Akmal, who clearly does not have the wicketkeeping ability to perform at the international level, proved to be the deathblow.
Adnan Akmal must be brought in for the next match. The dilemma, however, is who Adnan Akmal will replace. Given Younus Khan’s continued poor form in the ODIs, he deserves the axe as much as anyone else. Imran Farhat, even with his 47, hasn’t done enough to justify his continued selection in the ODI XI. However it is unlikely that Pakistan will proceed with such a course of action. Continuing with Akmal, however, who dropped Cook at 28, would be a disaster. It may also be an enterprising idea to bring Hammad Azam, a talented 21-year all-rounder, who starred in Pakistan’s Under-19 World Cup team in place of Aizaz Cheema.
Pakistan must also betray its traditional monotonousness with the batting order. Umar Akmal could be brought up the order to provide some momentum in the middle overs, and Asad Shafiq who has generally been a consistent ODI performer should not have been dropped for the 2nd ODI. Batting has been Pakistan’s traditional Achilles heel. It was exposed in the Test Series on several occasions, but Pakistan’s world-class spin attack was enough to atone and cover up failings with the blade. These structural problems must, however, be addressed. Misbah, Afridi and Younus (all in their 30s) will retire within the next five years. Pakistan must look forward, groom and discover a genuine all-rounder to replace Razzaq, hone the skills of young batsmen in the country’s talent-pool and help Mohammed Aamir return to international cricket. Pakistan needs him as badly as he needs a second chance.
Pakistan also needs some better luck with the toss!
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