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Again, Misbah-ul-Haq and the bowlers were let down by the rest of Pakistan's batting line-up
George Dobell at Edgbaston
June 10, 2013
No defeat is welcome, but it was the wearingly familiar nature of this loss that will really sting Pakistan.
None of the fatal flaws will come as a surprise. No-one will be shocked to have seen Pakistan drop a crucial chance and no-one will have been surprised to see Pakistan's batting prove as weak as a kitten. An asthmatic kitten with a broken paw and commitment to pacifism. They have now been bowled out within their 50 overs in seven of their last 12 ODIs.
Equally, none of their strengths will come as a surprise. Despite a surfeit of full tosses, Pakistan again impressed with the ball - there is no more thrilling bowling attack in this tournament - and Misbah-ul-Haq - again - led the way with the bat. It's just that too much is asked of Misbah and the bowlers from the pathetically weak batting. A car can be fitted with the fastest engine, it won't go far without wheels.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this performance. Pakistan have, after all, persevered with some of the same old players for many years - well over a decade in a couple of cases - long after it became apparent that they were unable to perform with the consistency required for international cricket. And, as they say, if you keep on doing the same old thing, you are likely to end up with the same old results. Sometimes you wonder what Imran Farhat or Shoaib Malik have to do to be dropped.
Maybe it is not their fault. Pakistan, starved of international tours, are not over-endowed with good quality young batsmen and replacements are not clear. The temptation to go back to the likes of Younis Khan is obvious, but it would offer a short-term solution at best.
If Pakistan really want to progress, they need to invest in the likes of Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Haris Sohail and Mohammad Rizwan. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, who was somewhat surprisingly dropped for this match, might also add solidity. Neither are, perhaps, natural limited-overs players, but you worry about the speed your boat is sailing after you've stopped it sinking.
Pakistan need to encourage these players with A tours or stints in domestic or league cricket around the world. They need to help them gain experience of other conditions and different types of bowlers. Such a venture would prove far more beneficial than the white elephant of a new stadium that has recently been built in Islamabad at great expense. It may be that the ICC need to offer more tangible assistance, too, but simply firing and hiring a succession of batting coaches will do nothing to fix the fundamental issues within the Pakistan system.
It will take time to turn things around. One of the replacements in this game, Umar Amin, endured a horrid match as he dropped Hashim Amla on seven and then looked out of his depth with the bat. But if the selectors were right to pick him here, they will be right to stick with him for months ahead to give him any chance of adapting to the rigours of international cricket. Pakistan supporters are going to need to show great patience in the years ahead.
It would be a tragedy if Pakistan cricket went the way of West Indies cricket and spectator numbers ebbed away due to dwindling belief in the team. At a time when cricket grounds across the world struggle to fill their grounds, Edgbaston was filled to the brim with voluble but good humoured Pakistan supporters. Not for the first time, the Pakistan supporters outperformed their team.
Most of then, anyway. Misbah was, quite ridiculously, booed at the post-match presentation despite top-scoring for the second game in succession and fielding with an athleticism and skill that put men 10 years younger than him to shame. Twice he completed run-outs while his diving catch to dismiss David Miller would have pleased Jonty Rhodes.
To his immense credit, Misbah defended the supporters' boos and admitted that the performance of his side's batsmen was inadequate.
"One day it is zindabad, the next day it is boos," Misbah said afterwards. "When you produce these sort of performances, they have the right to say this. The players need to take responsibility. If you are not delivering as a player, the team will suffer.
"At the moment, no-one is justifying their place in the team. No-one is getting runs. You think about selection after the tournament. We thought these were the best six batsmen in Pakistan when we came here. Again, it is about application and batsmen applying themselves. All the responsibility lies with the players.
"It's really difficult when you're batting is performing like that. It's really disappointing. Even in mid-innings, it was less than six-an-over and it was very much like a Pakistan pitch. We've played time and time over on these sort of pitches. You can't say the wicket was difficult."
The frustration from a Pakistan perspective is that South Africa were there for the taking. Weakened by withdrawals, they batted with timidity and were overly reliant on a debutant fast bowler - the hugely impressive Chris Morris - and the much-improved Ryan McLaren with the ball. But Pakistan made limited bowlers such as Lonwabo Tsotobe and Aaron Phangiso look like world-beaters and, for the second game in succession, only two men scored more than 16. They will win very few games while that is the case.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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