Champions Trophy October 1, 2009

An opportunity missed in the middle

The semi-final will offer a further opportunity to judge the health of Pakistan's middle order, especially if Pakistan bat first


Mohammad Asif's return gives Pakistan the option of playing an extra pace bowler © Getty Images
 
Pakistan blew a golden opportunity to knock Australia out of this year's ICC Champions Trophy. Ricky Ponting's team is the one you don't want to meet in the final, a more important factor for me than the sentiment of battling India again.

As much as Pakistan beat India in the middle overs, with a wonderful partnership between Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf, it was the same middle overs that cost Pakistan this encounter. Younis Khan, in particular, broke the momentum of the innings, and Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq did not do enough to restore it. It was a deceptively difficult batting track but those unfocused middle overs meant Pakistan's impressive bowling attack was given just too much to do.

For me, the jury's still out on Yousuf, despite the volume of support he has received in previous blogs. Cricket lends itself to statistics but numbers alone are often deceptive. A successful batsman isn't simply one that records the highest volume of runs or achieves the best average, but somebody who makes the difference between defeat and victory, especially when the going gets tough. Yousuf, for all his excellence, has not been that batsman on enough occasions for Pakistan. Once he has, he can be rightly acknowledged alongside Javed Miandad and Inzamam-ul-Haq. The next two years will establish his position in the hall of fame.

Now Pakistan prepare for a semi-final against New Zealand, a pleasing outcome considering their outstanding record against the Kiwis in major tournaments. Pakistan will be confident that they have sufficient force to overwhelm New Zealand, although the toss could play a decisive factor and again favour the side bowling first.

It's hard to allow for such a lottery but Mohammad Asif's return gives Pakistan the option of playing an extra pace bowler. Asif started gingerly but reminded us why his star rose so quickly. Yes, his double-wicket over was a throwback to his first stab at international cricket. But his ability to combine a high delivery arm with a penetrating line and length make him the bowler he is and more than compensate for his low 80s pace. He misfired more than he usually would but the metronome was in sufficient evidence to encourage his captain and supporters.

The semi-final will offer a further opportunity to judge the health of Pakistan's middle order, especially if Pakistan bat first. If they do so, they might want to consider using their last batting Powerplay before the final five overs. Pakistan's strategy has long been built on an assualt in the final ten overs. Why not take the final Powerplay from the 40th over or even the 35th?

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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