India v Pakistan, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Colombo October 1, 2012

Hafeez the hesitant

Somehow, the pulsating, tenacious Pakistan side which had won three successive World Twenty20 games failed to turn up

Even during the previous act, the stage had been set for the main show. Pakistan and India flags, the former more numerous, had begun to be waved in the Premadasa stands by the innings break of the Australia-South Africa game. The anticipation of the fans rose further with every Shane Watson boundary.

Minutes before the start, Jana gana mana gave way to wild cheering. Pak sarzamin gave way to wilder cheering. It was clear which team had more support at the ground. Yet, somehow, the pulsating, tenacious Pakistan side which had won three successive World Twenty20 games failed to turn up. In its place, the Premadasa witnessed a stop-start, dull group that retreated further after every forward step it took.

Nothing captured Pakistan's state of mind better than Mohammad Hafeez's 28-ball 15, a hesitant, even clueless, stay that sucked all life out of what had been a stirring start. Pakistan were 26 for 1 after two overs. It was nearly impossible to think at that stage that they would add barely a 100 more runs. But Hafeez kept defending and defending without intent for no conceivable reason.

The nature of T20 demands that the scoreboard keeps running, but more than that, and probably more than most other sides, Pakistan are the kind of team who feed off run-making momentum. They also tend to panic that much more when the runs are squeezed out. Even as Hafeez kept blocking, Shahid Afridi, Nasir Jamshed and Kamran Akmal fell in trying to force the innings along.

The move to send Afridi at No. 3 might itself be debated, but it was a gamble the team management took, knowing well that it could have lasted just one ball. His fall might even be attributed to himself, but even during Afridi's short stay, Hafeez played five dots and managed two singles.

Hafeez comes across as a well-meaning man and is probably the best one to lead Pakistan across all formats once Misbah-ul-Haq eventually goes. He has the air of someone who wants to be in control of his team and also wants to give the impression that he is in control. Probably because he never quite got the backing of the selectors and the team management for much of his career, he supports his players, and also wants to give the impression that he is doing so. Throughout the tournament, he has staunchly defended everyone whose place has remotely been questioned, be it Afridi, Umar Gul or Shoaib Malik.

With a Twenty20 international strike-rate of 109.75, though, it is Hafeez's position as opener that should come under question. Pakistan have four openers in their squad for the tournament, and purely on the ability to make an impact, Nasir Jamshed or Kamran Akmal deserves to partner Imran Nazir, with Hafeez dropping down the order.

It is not that Hafeez has not made runs in the tournament. He has a couple of forties against New Zealand and Bangladesh. But those knocks were support acts, while Nazir and Jamshed went berserk at the other end. Today, with Nazir falling early and the experiment with Afridi failing, Hafeez needed to ensure the initial momentum was not wasted. He left that to Jamshed and Kamran, both of whom fell trying to attack the part-timer Yuvraj Singh.

It was now even more crucial that Hafeez carried on, having spent so much time on the wicket, but he fell instead to a nothing shot against another part-timer, Virat Kohli, trying to dab a delivery to off from outside leg stump.

It has been said about Hafeez that when he withdraws into a shell, he remains in it for a while. His diffidence carried itself into the field. He is usually such an active captain, ordering fielders around, snapping instructions, waving his arms, selflessly giving himself the ball in the Powerplay. He was the sixth and final bowler to come on today, as late as the 13th over, by which time Pakistan's chances had almost evaporated.

There was no way you could directly blame Hafeez for Pakistan's below-par fielding and dropped chances, but his diffidence seemed to spread through the team. They hardly looked like a typical Pakistan side, which would have waited like a big cat ready to pounce on the slightest opening. Hafeez, though, did not think there was anything wrong with Pakistan's demeanour on the field.

"Today, India played better cricket than Pakistan, there is no doubt," Hafeez said. "Kohli was excellent tonight, but I don't think there was anything missing as far as our body language was concerned. We really wanted to win the game, but unfortunately we kept losing wickets at regular intervals, so we couldn't come back after the first ten overs. We were looking for a few early strikes when India batted, but once we couldn't get those wickets early on, India got on top of us."

Even towards the end, that man Afridi, demonstrative and energetic as ever, clapped vigorously, trying to drum up passion among his team-mates. But Pakistan simply hadn't turned up at the Premadasa.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 2, 2012, 9:21 GMT

    Yes, yes, yes, you are absolutely right but former cricketers of Pakistan are looking for all reasons that caused Pakistan to lose except the poor performance of this man when it was required by him to step up and lead form the front.

  • Dummy4 on October 2, 2012, 7:22 GMT

    i totaly agreed this comment from fahim-akhter, Winning & losing is the part however, I think Hafeez & company didn't try to win game what r the reasons, its big ? mark also we don't see any game plan and hung of victory, i think its time to real changes in pakistan team,we lose with same old horses so y don't make new blood from merrit,we should make team for next 2 or 3 years,with new young energetic captain with some young batsman bowlers ,b/c 20/20 is the game of energy power and courge, our this team onley play own persnol play ,defencvi play but i think 20/20 is an attacking cricket

  • Dummy4 on October 1, 2012, 20:41 GMT

    attitude of hafees is questionable he only bowl one over.that is very rare and his wasting of bowls also shows some thing is wrong.

  • Cricket on October 1, 2012, 20:17 GMT

    @ EngineerKhan on (October 01 2012, 17:55 PM GMT) :- Yes, I completely agree with you. Even i did not understand why some of the fans are blaming Afridi for Paksitans poor performance, even though his bowling has been very good. Also I would like to point out that Afridi is one of the best Pakistani fielder alongwith Umar Akmal. on the other hand Gul has taken only 2 wickets at an avg of 65.5 & economy 10.91 in his 4 games.(Afrdi 3 wickts, avg 36, eco 6.87 ) Stats ->;type=tournament

  • Cricket on October 1, 2012, 20:12 GMT

    correction to my earlier stats : In comparison Y.Arafat has taken 5 wickets at avg 14.6 & eco 9.12. Stats ->;type=tournament

  • Cricket on October 1, 2012, 19:25 GMT

    @ asim229 on (October 01 2012, 15:15 PM GMT) :- You have a point, but the selectors have not given any other options to Hafeez. In the present squad only Shafiq is there to replace Nazir. Other guys on the bench are Sami & S.Tanvir, who should not have been picked for this tournament. That leaves Hafeez with very little choice. Also if Junaid would have been in the squad it would have helped Hafeez, but he is not in the squad. So Hafeez is left with playing Gul who has taken 2 wickets in this tournament at an avg of 65.50 runs per wicket & eco 10.91 runs per over. Gul is ranked 49th in the wicket takers list in this Tournament. Stats -->;type=tournament

  • Cricket on October 1, 2012, 19:18 GMT

    I hope Hafeez puts Nasir Jamshed back to the opening slot. my preference is 1) Hafeez, 2) N.Jamshed, 3) K.Akmal, 4) A.Shafiq, 5) U.Akmal, 6) S.Mallik, 7) A.Razzaq, 8) S.Afridi, 9) Y.Arafat, 10) S.Ajamal, 11) R.Hasan. , I know many will be surprised at my choice of replacing Gul, but he has taken only 2 wickets in this tournament at an avg of 65.5 and economy of 10.91. That is the poorest in the tournament so far. Now Hafeez cannot wait any more for Gul to come back to form as this is a do or die game for Hafeez & Pakistan. In comparison Y.Arafat has taken 5 wickets at avg 10 & eco 6.

  • abdul on October 1, 2012, 19:11 GMT

    drop hafeez, never liked him

  • Cricket on October 1, 2012, 19:10 GMT

    In my earlier comment I had recommended bringing in Abdul Razzaq in place of Yasir Arafat. But now after checking the performances in this tournament I found some very suprising stats. Umar Gul has taken only 2 wickets from 4 games at an avg of 65.50 runs per wicket and an economy of 10.91 which is one of the worst in the tournament. As a result of his poor performance in this WC he stands on the 49th position in the highest wicket takers of this tournament.;type=tournament , Whereas Y.Arafat has taken 5 wickets, avg 10, eco 6. Arafat is highest pakistani on that list. That prompts me to change my preference and bring A.Razzaq in place of U.Gul, & A.Shafiq in place of I.Nazir.

  • aziz on October 1, 2012, 19:09 GMT

    Some players thrive under pressure in big games. There are some who wilt under pressure. Hafeez and Kamran Akmal have never performed under pressure when Pakistan needed their contribution. Afridi, Abdul razzak, Umar Gul and Umar Akmal have performed under pressure situations. There is no logic in persisting with Yasir Arafat when he is used for one or two overs only and his average runs per over in 11 or 12. Hafeez and Kamran should come down the order and Hafeez should try some aggressive field placing when Afridi and Saeed Ajmal are bowling. Pakistan will still qualify for the semis.

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