South Africa v Pakistan 2012-13 February 20, 2013

The clammy fingers of inexperience

If cricket was a bowling contest, then Pakistan would be flourishing. Unfortunately our sport requires both batsmanship and ballsmanship

If cricket was a bowling contest, then Pakistan would be flourishing. Unfortunately our sport requires both batsmanship and ballsmanship, and no matter how far up the rankings tree their bowlers manage to haul the green-shirted collective, they are forever being pulled back towards the shrubbery by the dead weight of their willow-wielding compatriots.

Sunday in Cape Town dawned with the game tied up in a clearing, waiting for the Pakistan batsmen to take it by the throat. Two hours later the game had slipped its tether, bitten Misbah on the bottom and scampered off into the forest.

Losing to South Africa isn't a problem. It happens all the time. But realising that you are in a position to have a possibility of maybe beating South Africa can cause vertigo. Pakistan dawdled in the shadow of their opponents' immense reputation like innocent tourists pausing to gawp at snow-plumed mountains. Soon enough the mountains were upon them.

Carpe diem is all well and good but those who are free with the seizing advice often come up short on the details. When you get out onto the stage, what happens if you forget your lines?

Paralysed with inexperience, Pakistan's batsmen psyched themselves out of winning a game they might have won, like timid schoolboys setting up standing orders to hand over their lunch money in order to avoid the hassle of having to be bullied in person.

Asad watched the ball bounce onto his stumps with the helplessness of a wildlife cameraman witnessing a tragic example of nature's cruelty, knowing it would be unethical to intervene. Sarfraz was so struck with stage fright that he couldn't even move his arms as he watched a Peterson delivery land, grip, turn, and demolish his chances of a double-figure batting average.

So once again it was down to Mr Ajmal and his gang of lost-cause salvagers. There are many things to like about Saeed, but what I admire most is the way he has removed all unnecessary physical exertion from his method. It is bowling reduced to its essentials: propelling an object towards a target. Like darts players, he can do that from a standing start, although for appearance's sake, he does manage a dainty creep to the crease.

And should things go his way at the other end of the wicket, he screams the prolonged, insistent, agonised scream of a man who has just stubbed his toe against a table leg. Four times we heard the Ajmal shriek in South Africa's second innings, most notably on the removal of Hashim Amla, who had chopped him through point and lifted him over midwicket, but who couldn't keep him out for ever.

But it wasn't enough. South Africa can afford to lose a few wickets here and there, because they always seem to have more batsmen than a team is supposed to have. Perhaps, in the spirit of hospitality, they could lend one to their opponents.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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