The heat was high in Colombo but Pakistan froze. In a game in which they had too less to lose, and India started poorly, Pakistan were never relaxed. India, as has become the way in these encounters, played with self-belief that once belonged to Pakistan when facing their neighbours. The psychological balance shifted many years ago--it might have been Sachin Tendulkar's six off Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup that was the trigger--and India look unlikely to give it up.
Why should they? Such booty has to be seized, it is rarely surrendered. In this game, where the strength of India's bowling seemed innocuous and the bounty of psychological advantage was for looting, Pakistan were positive on paper but inhibited in execution. Supporters rarely forgive defeat to India. They resent it more when a white flag is raised upon first sight of the enemy.
Pakistan's plan was a brave one. Win the toss and bat first, put India's bowlers to the sword. Promote Shahid Afridi to number 3, where he can cause maximum damage early in an innings and reacquaint himself with Irfan Pathan. Back your spinners, even young Raza Hasan, to outfox India's superior batsmen. But these were empty gestures, orders carried out with a reluctant heart. Captain Mohammad Hafeez, a professor with a weighty assignment, was a victim of the moment. When a leader should lead, Hafeez was dragged to oblivion by the gravity of the situation.
Defence rarely suits Pakistan's nature, yet Hafeez took backward steps at two critical moments. First, his decision to prod and poke his way through the Powerplay overs killed the tempo of Pakistan's innings. India's bowlers were decent, nothing more. The captain's reserve sent the wrong signal to his men. It spoke of nervousness, a fear of the occasion.
The innings never recovered and left India with almost nothing to do for victory. Still, Pakistan's only chance was to attack. Hafeez began brightly, posting a slip and encouraging his men. But too quickly Pakistan were on the defensive again. Close catchers were disposed of within the Powerplay when Pakistan required wickets. The field was dispersed upon the end of the Powerplay when Pakistan could least afford such easy runs.
Hafeez's body language and decision-making was of a man resigned to the punishment of Virat Kohli's blade. The Professor was calculating run rates, scheming for future examinations, while Kohli dealt expertly with the here and now. Such high art was unnecessary from Kohli, Pakistan weren't a pretty picture in this match. It was a collective failure, an abject surrender.
The worry for Dav Whatmore will be that his team's performance level has dropped with each game. The players need to be re-energised and re-focused. Inhibition against India must give way to aggression against Australia. Hafeez must come out of his shell, put away his introspection. And some hard decisions are required. Yasir Arafat's all-round struggles should give way to Abdul Razzaq. The batting order requires a dependable batsman for others to play around, which means Asad Shafiq in place of Shoaib Malik or Imran Nazir. The final necessity is for Umar Akmal, Pakistan's most assured batsman in this World Cup, to bat up the order.
All these changes are unlikely but Pakistan must act because such lame surrenders, as the one against India, are echoes of a troubled age.