Pakistan v India, 5th ODI, Karachi February 19, 2006

Worse than a sieve

Fielding has been the difference between the two sides in this series

Mohammad Sami was particularly inept in the field © Getty Images

There was news last night that the Pakistan board was trying to bring in Jonty Rhodes as fielding coach. Inzamam-ul-Haq had admitted at the pre-match press conference that the fielding had been the difference between the two sides in this series and Pakistan's had deteriorated sharply as the series traversed the country. It sounds a mighty impressive coup, were it to be pulled off and in intent, it is a noble thought. After today's display, its importance is likely to be magnified.

Pakistan dropped two chances, one crucial, one not so, and that wasn't the worst of it, not by far. Assessing fielding is an inexact pastime but there should be little doubt for anyone present at the ground that this became, as India's chase progressed, Pakistan's most inept, shambolic and deplorable day of ground fielding yet. If there is anyone out there who has seen all of Pakistan's matches ever, it might be worth a punt calling them and asking them whether this was the worst display - so bad was it. Given Pakistan's traditional fielding reputation, there are likely to be a few contenders.

At times, it seemed that more direct hits were missed than there were people in the stands, more balls were fumbled than there are people in Karachi, throws were backed up in much the manner Brutus backed up Julius and as a collective, fielders became India's 12th, 13th and 14th men on the field. Indian batsmen gleefully took the piss, tapping straight to fielders and blindly, sans calls, running because even in the unlikely event of the ball being picked up clean, stumps weren't going to be struck. Mohammad Sami was particularly special, bizarrely pulling out of a catch at square leg and throwing regularly at an imaginary set of stumps on another ground. Many others made sure he didn't feel left out, with Shoaib Malik dropping Yuvraj Singh at extra-cover when 94 were needed at nearly eight per over. The only positive might be that it really can't get any worse.

In Delhi last year, when Pakistan wrapped up the series 4-2, they did so with one of their brightest efforts in the field. At the time, it seemed another sign of the impressive work that Bob Woolmer had done with the team but in the period since - particularly in the Test series against England - they have fallen away sharply. Inzamam's comments before the game were prescient, although he was hardly to know what would happen today. Not least of their worries will be that younger fielders were at the centre of most misdemeanours. Albeit incompetent today, they at least remained enthusiastic and energetic; more experienced players lacked even that urge. In this context, the appointment of Jonty Rhodes might just be applying band-aid to a bullet wound. What after all can he realistically do with a side that carries onto the field men such as Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Yousuf and Inzamam-ul-Haq?

But defeat, and four thumping ones at that, has a terrific way of opening eyes. Their top order inflicted collapses upon itself habitually through the series and their bowlers took only 25 Indian wickets in five matches. Sri Lanka, England and the Champions Trophy offer a tricky few months and Pakistan will undoubtedly examine more carefully issues in all three departments.

But defeat also shakes up perspectives. In a sense, as Woolmer admitted later, it was better that this happened now rather than in March next year. In any case, the loss shouldn't overlook Pakistan's considerable achievements in this home season; two Test series wins over strong opposition and one ODI series win as well - this series loss was their first in over a year. Much progress has been made but here has been the surest sign that much more needs to be made. More startling wake-up calls than this last fortnight will be difficult to find.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo