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Pakistan's aura of unpredictability, something that made watching them so fascinating, has come to an end
Nagraj Gollapudi at The Oval
June 7, 2009
Pakistan's aura of unpredictability, something that made watching them so fascinating, seems to have taken a break. Previously, they would have made a fist of chasing 184 - the second highest target so far in the event - but today you could predict their downfall as easily as the outcome of the French Open final between Roger Federer and Robin Soderling.
Even though Shoaib Malik plucked a blinder at point to cut short Ravi Bopara's innings, Pakistan's bowlers never seemed a potent force that would halt the march of the England top order led by Kevin Pietersen and Luke Wright. Their captain Younis Khan had asked England to bat as he felt the numerous cracks on a weary pitch (this was the fourth match played on the same surface in two days) would help his bowlers keep the hosts to a manageable target of 160.
"I would never had thought we would end up chasing 185," Younis said after the defeat, which he blamed on the utterly shoddy fielding. "Our fielding was bad and [because of that] we easily gave away 20-25 runs. This is a matter of concern for us." Asked to put a finger on the exact reasoning behind such sloppiness, Younis said he himself was trying hard for answers. "I have no idea why our fielders are unable to field properly. Maybe they are under certain pressure. It is not as if we are not working hard but we are not just getting it right for reasons unknown to me."
It is not funny when more than one fielder in the team starts spilling catches and fumbling in the outfield. Pakistan dropped four catches at various points during the England innings: Saeed Ajmal (twice) and Yasir Arafat and Salman Butt (one apiece) were the culprits. Butt was the comfortably the worst fielder and his captain did not hide his anger and disappointment. "Even if Butt scored 28 as an opener we'll have to think about him [for the next game] because of his fielding," Younis said.
Another man Younis singled out, who he thought has failed to rise to the occasion, was Kamran Akmal. "Kamran Akmal is a senior batsman but he can't somehow take the responsibility. We need a senior guy in the top order who can play the anchor role."
Pakistan were playing only their second Twenty20 in seven months and the rustiness went beyond the fielding. Unlike their smooth sailing into the 2007 World Twenty20 finals where they only lost twice - both times to rivals India - Pakistan are still lumbering to the task this time around. They lost both their warm-ups and seem to be grappling with the cold conditions in the UK.
None of the Pakistan bowlers, apart from the inexperienced offspinner Ajmal, came to their team's rescue, as England built on the platform laid by Pietersen early on. Though Umar Gul and Shahid Afridi are two of the best bowlers in this format, they failed miserably. Gul may feel deprived for not having a go after picking up a wicket in his very first over but surprisingly Younis decided to replace him immediately. It wasn't an isolated moment because there were numerous other points during the England innings when the Pakistan captain appeared desperate and lost.
When the time came to chase the huge target Pakistan failed to get the required kick-start and lost wickets easily. They were 41 for 3 at the end of Powerplay compared to England's 63 for 2. "We lost a lot of wickets in the first six overs. Also we lacked a good partnership - England did well on both fronts," Younis said.
In their the next game on Tuesday Pakistan need to win by at least 25 runs, or with about three overs to spare, against Netherlands to qualify for the second round. Younis has put the onus on his senior batsmen senior guys like Afridi, Misbah ul Haq, Malik and himself. "I hope they will come forward."
And, for the curious, Federer won.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at CricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
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