May 2, 2009

Michael Jeh

Not Imran's Pakistan

Michael Jeh

The first time I began to understand the true significance of the term ‘momentum shift’ in cricket was the 1992 World Cup when Imran Khan used it to devastating effect. He picked the moment when he felt his ‘cornered tigers’ were ready to attack and set them loose. The sudden shift in gears when Inzamam and Imran were batting and his decision to unleash Wasim Akram at crucial times underscored his total mastery of the art of sensing momentum swings and then exploiting it with sudden, brutal aggression. It was great theatre.

What’s happened to Pakistan recently then? They seem to have lost that legacy that Imran handed down to them in the early 1990s.

To be fair, it is more an art than a science, difficult to measure or describe. It is probably a gut instinct but it’s certainly something that cricket has now tried to turn into a science. The most successful captains in recent times are the ones who sense these game-changing periods in the wind and can then execute a daring attack that is difficult to counter. Once momentum starts to shift, a game can change forever in a few short overs of mayhem.

The mighty West Indian teams rarely had to worry about momentum shifts – it was usually just one-way traffic with chin music playing in the background. The only way some countries occasionally beat them was to pick a rare moment to try and swing the game violently away. India famously did this in the 1983 World Cup Final, Australia did it to Richie Richardson’s team in the 1996 World Cup semi-final and England did it in front of a packed house at Lords in 2000 when Caddick and Gough bowled like West Indians themselves!

Pakistanis seem to have an instinct for this art form to suddenly transform a game that appears to be meandering along. Their tour of England in 1992 was famous for searing yorkers and late-afternoon collapses engineered by Akram, Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed. It was masterful captaincy and high quality bowling but the secret was in the timing of the assault.

In this latest series against Australia, it seems to be an instinct that has deserted Pakistan. Watching the 4th ODI from Abu Dhabi, I suspect that had Imran been captain, the game plan would have evolved differently. Last night’s tactics were reactive, defensive and utterly lacking in that sixth sense or intuition that tells great captains when to pounce. The innings was crawling along at about 3.5 rpo in the 33rd over when Afridi came to the crease. He was immediately off to a good start with the Shoaib Malik well set at the other end. It was the perfect moment to take the batting powerplay and change the momentum of the game. Against the new ball on a slow deck, Afridi’s hitting power was probably the only thing that would have changed the direction of the game at that point. Pakistan needed a moment of inspiration but it never came.

Instead, Pakistan chose to keep delaying the PP until first Malik and then Akmal were dismissed, followed by a long period of stagnation when Arafat got stuck at the start of his innings. By the time they eventually took the PP in the 43rd over, that moment had come and gone. Half an hour earlier, the game was ready for that momentum shift but in the end, Afridi holed out in the second PP over and they finished with roughly twenty five runs and two wickets to show for it. We’ll never know what could have been but it’s safe to assume that two for twenty was not part of the perfect blueprint. Not even close!

Watching the innings unfold, I kept shouting at the television, willing Pakistan to break the game wide open while there was still some life in the batting order. It may not have worked but it was worth a try. Afridi is always likely to do something extravagant anyway, even with fielders in the deep so it just made no sense to deny him every chance of inspiring that momentum shift. The longer they waited, the more likely it was that he might be out before he could use the full five overs. In the end that’s exactly what happened.

Even the earlier games had similar moments of indecision. Hopes and Hilfenhaus were allowed to recover in Game 1 when the spinners were taken off with one wicket to get. In Game 3, they delayed the PP so long that they ended up being bowled out halfway through it. Perhaps, even this skill suffers from a lack of practice. One should not forget that Pakistan have played precious little cricket recently.

With someone like Afridi in your team, it’s almost criminal to waste his explosiveness. Some situations demand a momentum shift strategy and this was Pakistan's window of opportunity. What would Imran's cornered tigers have done in the same situation I wonder? They won a World Cup, no less, feeding on smaller scraps of inspiration.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

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Posted by Farhan Asif on (May 22, 2009, 3:56 GMT)

Here I must say that whole Pakistani nation is missing Muhammad Yousuf. Senior fellow, solid player and has played many brilliant innings in difficult batting conditions and under immense pressure. He is no doubt a great Pakistani batsman.

Posted by Kaiser Mukhtar on (May 17, 2009, 4:57 GMT)

Well everyone including the main writer has said everything about the tactics employed by the great technicians of cricket in death or pressure overs of the game, Great piece written. I'm of the view that these ploys have been so common and displayed by all the cricket teams allover the world that even common man sitting in front of the tv screen can suggest or sum up the situation but Pakistani captains fail to employ the same or understand the twist and turns and grab the moment. In fielding The present captain has made so many blunders in tests where he was the full captain against the SL team that all day even every commentator kept shouting to keep 3rd man in place but he never put that fielder in place and conceded so many precious runs in that area that everyone was aghast to see that happening and SL were so clever to exploit that region. Fielding positions are so common in observation to attack and contain the opposition but i never saw any improvement in this area.Sanity Plz.

Posted by Vikram Maingi on (May 13, 2009, 10:40 GMT)

Imran Khan is the best captain Pakistan has ever produced. He won World Cup for his country without the number one bowler, Waqar Younis, of the team. He left a good talent behind him, which is slowly diminishing. After the retirement of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Pakistan's performance is moving in the negative direction. A point to note that last time any test-playing nation was beaten by Pakistan in a World Cup match was the semi-finals of 1999 World Cup, where they had beaten New Zealand. In the last 2 World Cups all their victories have been against non-test playing nations.

Posted by Adeel Azhar on (May 4, 2009, 5:16 GMT)

Pakistan in its current form reminds of Indian team in the mid 90s...at that time India was a mere pushover of Pakistan, times have indeed changed...and time will change. Pakistan is facing problems these days in a lot of different areas... but these will have to come to an end someday. So is with cricket...with some regular dose of cricket in coming days i see a much stronger pakistan team under Younus by the mid of 2010

Posted by faraz on (May 4, 2009, 3:19 GMT)

Very rightly analyzed and written article .Pakistan has certainly lost their sting over the last couple of years, the lovely moments that we have seen like changing the flow of the game in the course of two,three overs either by taking wickets or making some quick runs , not seen those moments for a longer period of time .Imran was a genius who had the ability to judge the situation and chose the perfect man to make things flow in his very own way. Let just hope that younis khan can just take a leaf from Imran`s book and jus bring back some of the previous glory to Pakistan cricket.Wishing thema good luck .

Posted by safwan on (May 4, 2009, 2:23 GMT)

the night is the darkest before the dawn.....gud to be optimistic.....some budding young talent is coming up the ranks....but emulating the feats of the great imran khan, or for that matter javed, wasim n inzi wud prolly be asking too much from the current team....to be honest i believe our time as a cricketing force is well and truly over....we may win a couple of matches here and there, but thats about it!!

Posted by waterbuffalo on (May 4, 2009, 0:28 GMT)

The irony is Imran Khan rates Younis Khan highly as captain. He was calling for him even when Inzy was captain. A public slap in the face of a great batsman and a very under rated captain of a pretty good team. Imran was a great captain, you neglected to mention his use of leg spin in the 92 WC, but his judgment of Younis as a captain and as a perrenial failure at number three speaks for itself.

Posted by montek on (May 3, 2009, 23:36 GMT)

i suggest india and pakistan re-unite (as pre-independence times) and rule not only the cricket world but all sport and science.

Posted by yasir-nisar on (May 3, 2009, 22:59 GMT)

I Agree that pakistan is not the same side what they were in the 90's but if they keep playing they will be back Imran was the best thier is no replacment for him but i belive that Younis is also not a bad caption he just need time and support from the team i hope in the near future pakistan team will be thier on the peak as they were in 90's

Posted by desihungama on (May 3, 2009, 21:35 GMT)

Greatly explored article but you have got it somewhat upside down. You are describing a moment in Imran's life when he was at the zenith of his captaincy whereas Younis has just got the break. I think for starters he has done quite well. I think he will take a thing or two from the series. The wickets were crumbled and spunned. Our side hasn't played any useful cricket lately or it showed lack of playing Test Cricket. But Younis does not need to pick the knack of the moment. I strongly beleive M.Yousaf and Razzaq are requirements of the moment and can change the whole dynamics of this team.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Jeh
Born in Colombo, educated at Oxford and now living in Brisbane, Michael Jeh (Fox) is a cricket lover with a global perspective on the game. An Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, he is a Playing Member of the MCC and still plays grade cricket. Michael now works closely with elite athletes, and is passionate about youth intervention programmes. He still chases his boyhood dream of running a wildlife safari operation called Barefoot in Africa.

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