December 19, 2000

What went wrong at Karachi?

A lot has been said about Pakistan's defeat at the hands of England at Karachi in the third and final of the three Tests. I would also like to add my views about the Karachi debacle, as I like to call it, but with a slightly different approach to the subject. My aim here is to analyze the strategy adopted by Pakistan skipper Moin Khan during the last half or so of the eventful fifth day and to see if there was room for a better performance by the home side.

For many, the Test match was very much over as soon as the last Pakistani wicket fell at the score of 158 in their second innings. But I thought otherwise, although I was proved wrong in my thinking later on.

I remember someone asking me what were the prospects of the match. Whether Pakistan was going to save it or not? I had no doubts in mind that Pakistan would save the match, unless, of course, they bowled and fielded as badly as they had batted earlier that day. That's exactly what happened when England started their run chase. The home side bowled really badly and their fielding was even worse. By saying this I do not in any way want to discredit the England batsmen of a momentous victory that they earned through sheer hard work and diligence. They deserved to win and they did exactly that!

Still I am convinced that had Moin Khan, the Pakistani skipper, handled the situation a bit more sagaciously, the result of the Karachi Test would have been all together different. And if one is to be a bit more optimistic, the result of the series could have been one-nil in favor of Pakistan (remember England were 64 for three at one stage, and it might have been worse a bit later had Moin acted sagaciously).

Now for once let me elaborate what I mean by "acting sagaciously". Whenever a team has to defend a certain total, it has to do so considering all the available resources and then applying them in the best possible manner. This is the essential principle on which Economics is based, and fortunately for me it is as universal a principle as to be applicable to cricket as well.

Coming back to the Karachi Test, it can be contended that Moin had no such resources that he could have been proud of. He did certainly have Waqar and Saqlain in his line up, but whereas the former was playing a comeback match, the latter was not in the best of form. He had Abdur Razzaq as the second pace man, and Danish Kaneria as the second spinner. But whereas the former has never been considered as a frontline Test bowler, the latter was playing only his second match. Shahid Afridi was also there in the bowling line up, but only as a part-time bowler.

Despite the scarcity of resources, Moin could have fared a lot better had he acted on judicious grounds, as we all do when we have to face the scarcity of resources in everyday life.

In my point of view, the first and the foremost "offense" that Moin committed was to go on the defensive from the word go. In the first place, he operated with Waqar and Razzaq in tandem for only seven overs, and that too before tea. Secondly, he had a slip for Waqar for only his first over. When the pace man was hit by Michael Atherton for a few boundaries, he removed that single slip, thus, tamely yielding to the Englishman's show of aggression.

It was refreshing to see, from Pakistan's point of view, that both England openers were out relatively cheaply, although they were looking very ominous early on. The Pakistani skipper did not make use of this opportunity to the optimum. With two new batsmen - Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe - at the crease, his strategy should have been different from the one that he applied.

If he had made up his mind to continue with the spinners - although it would have been wiser to attack with Waqar or Razzaq from the other end - he should have opted for some close in fielders. But sadly enough, we did not see any close in fielders throughout the England innings. Instead, the field was spread far and wide, allowing too many big gaps for the batsmen to work the ball through.

It seems that Moin Khan has too much confidence in Saqlain Mushtaq's abilities. Why shouldn't it be, considering that the bowler has on many occasions won matches for Pakistan! But he was going through a bad patch. Despite that, it's a pity that the off-spinner was used almost throughout the England innings, when it was obvious to every one (except Moin) that he had been struggling with the ball after the first Test at Lahore.

Some might argue that if Saqlain was out of form, how did he claim the first three England wickets. True, Saqlain did bag those three wickets, taking his tally to 18 in the series, but looking a bit closely we will see that those three batsmen - Atherton, Trescothick and Stewart - became victims of their own poor shot selection, rather then becoming the victims of Saqlain's guile. All three wicket-taking deliveries had no venom, whatsoever, in them. It was the aggression displayed by the batsmen, which resulted in their own demise.

It is a fact on record that out of a total of 42 overs, the Pakistan spin trio, comprising of Saqlain, Kaneria and Afridi, bowled 32 overs without any success, except those initial bursts by Saqlain.

For me, the greatest mistake that Moin committed on that fateful evening was not to introduce Waqar into the attack immediately after the dismissal of Stewart, which saw the arrival of Graeme Hick to the crease. The skipper must have known that besides dismissing Hick in the previous innings, the Pakistani pace man had undone him on no less then five occasions in Test matches. So it would have been a good option to try to capitalize on the Worcestershire batsman's weak point in the initial stages of the innings. As for Thorpe, I cannot suggest any remedies against the mastery he displayed at the National stadium, except that the Pakistani skipper should have tried to plug gaps that he was mostly exploiting. Moreover, the introduction of a pacer, with a long start, into the attack would automatically have slowed down the over rate. (Isn't that what the whole Pakistani squad was aiming at?)

To sum up the whole of the above discussion, I would say that the policy for Moin should have been to attack from the start, which meant taking close in fielders and having a few slips. Such tactics are effective in the sense that they force the batsmen to be more cautious in their approach. The application of a pacer from one end throughout the last session would have proved more effective, as a pace man possesses more variety in his armory in the form of bouncers, yorkers, short ones, etc.

A word of wisdom in the end: Never use negative tactics in any field, let alone cricket. The Pakistani skipper must admit wholeheartedly that he employed such maneuvers to thwart England efforts of winning the match. One must agree that negative tactics never pay; they only create a negative impression of the man who has employed them.