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September 12, 2007
The first two matches on the second day of the tournament were hardly gripping contests, but the Durban games would have been reassuring for the bowlers. After being blasted all over the park - and having to endure blaring music after every insult heaped on them - a modicum of sanity and equilibrium was restored as the bowlers had plenty of say in both matches.
That Kenya collapsed without a whimper against New Zealand was hardly a surprise, but what was far more surprising was the manner in which Scotland kept Pakistan in check. There were periods - most noticeably when Shahid Afridi made his presence felt - when they threatened to unravel, but at no point did they flag in the field or lose control over their discipline. They didn't overstep even once, and sent down just five wides. Compare that with West Indies' profligacy at Johannesburg, and you begin to wonder which team consists of professionals.
Batting and bowling are both skills that take plenty of time to master, along with the right sort of training and exposure. Fielding is a different matter altogether, requiring mainly a willingness to work at it and not see it as a chore. Scotland's performance in this area was faultless. Neil McCallum's effort in the 19th over was a classic example of how the Scots approach the task - he raced around from long-on, dived full length, and saved what looked like a certain four. The catches were all held cleanly, the ground fielding was clean, the fielders all attacked the ball knowing the importance of saving a run, and the throws were more often than not directed perfectly to the wicketkeeper or the bowler.
Pakistan weren't too untidy either, but one effort early in Scotland's innings - when Umar Gul let one through with some shockingly lazy work - showed there are still elementary lapses which happen too frequently. (For good measure, Gul repeated his error in the last over of the match as well.) It's a malaise that has gripped India as well, and unless these mistakes are corrected quickly, it could cost Pakistan against better opposition.
Against a stronger team (read their next game against India), Pakistan will also need to rethink their strategy of sending Afridi at No.6. The shortened format hardly gives the batsmen time anyway, and Pakistan's think-tank could do a lot worse than giving their most explosive batsman the maximum number of overs to wreck havoc. India have been at the receiving end of his heavy bat before, and in the Twenty20 format, the license to launch into overdrive is always available.
The two games at Durban were also a pointer towards the fact that bowlers might have some chance in this format, especially at this venue. The ball wasn't always coming on to the bat, and there was some swing and seam on offer, which meant hitting through the line of the ball wasn't always a high-percentage shot. It was good to see spinners play a significant part too, as Mohammad Hafeez and Afridi bowled a tight spell in the middle of the innings.
Pakistan and New Zealand both got the job done with plenty left in the tank, but both will know that much stiffer challenges await them. Even before Pakistan's match got underway today, discussions were already veering towards Friday's big match. The stadium was hardly 15% full today, but Friday will be another story altogether. Hopefully, the bowlers will have a say in that game as well.
A look back at five high-profile exhibition matches
Bide your time, put your body behind each delivery, and play with the batsman's mind