<
>

Pakistan's defensive tactics almost cost them

Pakistan dodged a bullet, for which there will be some relief. That the bullet came from a gun they were pointing at their own head will bring only resignation and bemusement. It is what they do every now and again, though it must be said they don't usually miss. John Davison spoke before the match of Pakistan being the kind of side that has a "poor day" very often; he spoke only fact. Against Pakistan, Associates can always dream.

Pakistan played as if spooked by a ghost. Shahid Afridi admitted that the defeat to Ireland four years ago - which he missed because of a ban - flashed through his mind when Canada were batting. "I told my boys that we must play for a win, to not be negative, we will win this game, work hard and don't worry about the result," he said.

Predominantly the batting was poor, wracked by nerves and unclear thinking. In any case, Pakistan, despite three wins, have been overcautious in this tournament, playing a line-up that bats till eight; if seven haven't scored, it's very rare the eighth will, yet they persist with an approach that, traditionally, suits them as well as the sun does vampires.

The clouds and pitch at the Premadasa were doing a little bit, so panicked shot selection was inevitable, something Afridi realised would not cut it against better teams. "There was poor shot selection and it was a very poor batting performance. If we want to play good cricket against good teams then we must improve. It's a good wake-up call for us."

A third failure for the openers Ahmed Shehzad and Mohammad Hafeez will be taken all the more seriously given that two of the games have been against Associate sides. Afridi, though, was more critical of the middle order. "We had a very good opportunity for me, for Abdul Razzaq, for Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal to carry on batting; we could have scored more runs but we didn't. We need a good start.

"The condition of the pitch was such that we needed to bat with patience. It was a totally different pitch and the sun didn't come out. There were clouds and the ball was stopping so there was a need to wait while batting and we couldn't do that. If we had spent time at the wicket runs would have come."

But where was the sense in not taking the batting Powerplay when Misbah-ul-Haq and Umar Akmal were set, or when Afridi and Abdul Razzaq were together? In no scenario can it be right to take the Powerplay when Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal are at the crease. It appears that Pakistan plan beforehand to take it after the 40th over and don't readily budge from that plan, no matter what the situation of the innings.

To see no slip to the possibility of a Saeed Ajmal doosra when Canada chased, or as many as five men on the boundary when they were eight down, only completed the picture of a quite unnecessary defensiveness. The team's plan was to bowl "maiden overs, so that their required rate goes higher," Afridi said, and you can see some smidgeon of logic in that. But against Canada? and when you've only got 184 to defend?

Afridi's bowling, at least, was much sharper than some of the moves he made as captain, and a second five-wicket haul in three games keeps him comfortably in the leading wicket-taker's spot in the tournament so far. With 14, he has taken nearly half of all Pakistan's wickets in three games.

Conditions, he acknowledged, are ideal for his fastish spinners. "I try to bowl wicket to wicket and I get spin on these pitches where it skids, so I'm getting wickets. The conditions are very good: perfect for spinners but also good for fast bowlers if you hit the right areas."

If there was a system to Pakistan's performances, then it would have been tempting to conclude that they have gotten a shocker out of it early, without any real damage in the long run. If they haven't done that yet, they have at least put themselves on the verge of a quarter-final place.