February 20, 2013

South Africa v Pakistan 2012-13

The clammy fingers of inexperience

Andrew Hughes
Saeed Ajmal kept Pakistan in the hunt with crucial top-order wickets, South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 4th day, February 17, 2013
Saeed Ajmal: has a mean shriek  © AFP


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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Posted by hasan on (February 21, 2013, 6:16 GMT)

well Andy, i have to disagree with you a bit on this one. If cricket would have just been a spin bowler's game, only then Pak would have been on top of the world. Simply Becuz they dont possess the same fast bowling venom anymore which had made them infamously lethal in the past. Out of the current crop, Only Junaid Khan knows how to use a new ball. Umar Gul, despite all his years of service, doesnt use the new ball well and also has a nasty habbit of giving bad balls every now and then to release pressure. Irfan is unique, but still has a long way to go on accounts of consistency and fitness if he desires to make a mark on Test cricket. Rest are also average to mediocre at best on both accounts of swing and pace. Perhaps Wahab Riaz might be the only promising star in Pak's current fast bowling brigade, but he doesnt get consistent chances and also his inclusion will make Pak fast bowling attack too one dimensional with 3 left arm quicks. So, its just not the batting alone.

Posted by Dr Rishabh Kumar rana on (February 21, 2013, 4:32 GMT)

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. How can you come up with lines like this??? terrific!!!!!!!

Posted by Kathy on (February 20, 2013, 18:40 GMT)

Perhaps they could borrow Richard Levi for the 20-over matches. He reminds me of that nursery rhyme about the little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead, "And when she was good she was very VERY good, but when she was bad she was HORRID!"

Posted by Mohammed Baluch on (February 20, 2013, 15:30 GMT)

Andrew Hughes has so beautifully captured the mind set of the Pakistani batsmen in the second innings of the Cape Town test - quite remarkable since presumably he was not watching the game live. This shows that despite overt gestures of humor in his writings, he watches (interesting) games with a passion and seriousness second to none. Perhaps Andrew could play psychologist for the Pakistani team, and teach them the art of "carpe diem" - before the team's aura of exciting and talented dissolves into a tame fizz reminiscent of teams not as naturally gifted.

Posted by Meeech on (February 20, 2013, 15:07 GMT)


Posted by Tushar on (February 20, 2013, 13:31 GMT)

Where is my dictionary? :-(

Posted by jack on (February 20, 2013, 10:28 GMT)

once again sir andrews has come with a good article,what makes his article so good is that his choice of words espcially that "he does manage a dainty creep to the crease" line is good

Posted by Pakman on (February 20, 2013, 9:02 GMT)

Andrew, don't be so harsh. We may have lost the test series but we've successfully taken the one title South Africa have held on to so dearly over the years; chokers.

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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