Younis attributes win to seniors
Two days ago at The Oval, Younis Khan made a bizarre comment in the context of what had just happened: Pakistan had lost to England by 48 runs. Their fielders, especially Salman Butt, had put on one of the worst fielding displays in an international game. Most of his frontline bowlers failed to rise to the occasion. Minutes later, Younis walked up to the media briefing to say he did not attach much meaning to the result. "Twenty20 cricket is entertainment," he said with a smile - it was difficult to understand if Younis was being serious.
After today's smooth and expected victory against Netherlands, Younis stood by that opinion. "In this form it is better to take it easy and have fun. It is like WWF," he said with an open smile. His statement somewhat describes Pakistan's attitude in the tournament - they are reluctant winners.
Their win today marked a return to normal service. Even if certain punters had forecast an upset, Pakistan never looked in danger at Lord's on a grey and cloudy afternoon. Shahid Afridi's record figures were sharp enough to counter the steely determination of the Dutch, who probably got distracted by the target of 151 that would take them to the Super Eights.
There was a perceptible difference between the Pakistan that lost in shambolic manner to England and the more focused team today, and the difference lay in the actions of their players. Younis said the solution was in the hands of senior batsmen like Shoaib Malik, Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal and himself. Today, each one of them played a hand, cobbling together valuable partnerships that were missing two days ago.
The team strategy this time around was different as well. Sohail Tanvir, dropped from the England game after losing his form, returned today as the strike bowler and made an impact with his economical bowling. Younis's captaincy was more purposeful too, as he got his best bowlers firing straightaway. His most important move was to bowl the spin trio of Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Malik and Afridi after the first five overs.
"I was watching them [Netherlands]. They were struggling against spin against England," Younis said. "England just had one spinner, but we have three good spinners so I thought why not use bowl Ajmal and Afridi up front. Also, Netherlands are still new to playing against bigger nations, so I was confident."
The Dutch skipper Jeroen Smits agreed with his counterpart. "[Adil] Rashid was easy compared to Afridi, who was the difference today."
Younis said Pakistan have always been slow off the blocks but difficult to stop once up and running. "When we lost back-to-back warm-up games, we lost our way and there was pressure," he said. The only way to get out of the rut was for his senior players to perform. "What we need is for our senior batsmen to defend well. Today Malik was good at No. 3, followed by myself and Misbah, hence we could muster up 175."
Having crossed he first hurdle, the challenge becomes more difficult in the Super Eights where Pakistan are grouped with Ireland, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. Yet for Pakistan, deprived of international cricket for little fault of their own, winning this tournament would be extra special. "We are slow starters but we have managed to reach the semifinals or even finals once we are through the initial roadblocks in the past," Younis said.
Last time around Pakistan reached the final with confident victories against every opponent except the two losses to India. Under the persistent Geoff Lawson, who was making his debut as an international coach, Pakistan appeared to have a plan. This time Pakistan are under the caring eye of veteran Inthikab Alam, who belongs more to the old school. It becomes more important then that each player understands his responsibility.
"The planning is simple: play your role and have fun," Younis said, outlining the strategy for Pakistan's road ahead.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo