The Pakistan cricket team was never as incompetent as it proved in the 4th One-day international at Christchurch on Sunday. It was not the defeat by 138 runs that mattered but the poor planning and visibly casual attitude of the players towards a vital contest that caused utter disappointment among the cricket lovers back home. But for a Herculean face saving effort by the middle order trio of Abdur Razzaq (31), Inzamam-ul-Haq (37) and skipper Moin Khan (50), Pakistan would have sunk deeper into the ocean of low scores in one-day cricket history.
Let us not take away any credit from New Zealand, they fought, played like a team of professionals should and most deservedly won this match. Even more so, no cricket lover would forget that masterly display of batting by McMillan, who hoisted a sparkling 104 in only 75 balls with the help of 5 towering sixes, especially the one to complete his century, will remain as one of the best on New Zealand soil. Plundering 24 runs off one over from a world-class spinner like Saqlain Mushtaq, was another remarkable feature of his batting. He deserved to be `Man of the Match', the way he made minced meat of Pakistan's acclaimed bowling attack.
One can now really wonder, why the Pakistan team continues taking pride in being widely labeled as the `most unpredictable team in the world,' or is it a predicament they cannot get out of, despite outstanding individual potential of each player? I feel, the players suffer from some sort of attitude problem, which needs to be treated before they provide further shocks to the nation and bring on heart attacks to ardent lovers of the game.
Notwithstanding the reputation of vulnerable batting, Pakistan always took pride in its bowling, rated as one of the top attacks in the world. The team won the first match on sheer pace and performance of Shoaib Akhtar. The fact, however, remains that in the absence of Shoaib who for lack of fitness was not a regular member of the team during the past year; the bowling arsenal continued performing to its optimum and at times even dominating. Pakistan could not possibly have a better combination of pace and spin than it has. Where has its skill that demolished many a strong batting side gone and why are the bowlers failing on pitches equally good for the two sides, is a question haunting the people.
Allowing the Black Caps to pile up an unconquerable total of 284 runs for the loss of only 5 wickets, clearly showed up the bowlers dismal performance. On top, was the lethargic fielding and dropping of some vital catches. However, the bowlers cannot be absolved of their responsibility to at least restrict runs if not bowl out the full side. One cannot imagine a superstar like Wasim Akram losing control of his arm, being so wayward and to concede an extra large number of wide balls.
After bowling out skipper Stephen Fleming for a duck, the bowlers could not prevent Nathan Astle (71) and Roger Twose (42) to build up a partnership of 101 runs. There was still a chance of getting New Zealand out for a total of around 200, when 3 of their wickets had fallen for 113 on the board. But the magnificent McMillan had other ideas. Any slim hope Pakistan had, frittered away through another excellent partnership of 112 runs between Craig McMillan (104*) and Chris Harris (39*). The two batsmen blasted the Pakistan bowlers at will, to provide their team a commanding total of 284.
This huge victory target of 285 runs was good enough to put the best of teams under psychological pressure. The Pakistan team, batting second after winning the toss, has sprung surprises in such a difficult situations but was obviously not in the right frame of mind. Earlier, its weaknesses had already been exposed in the 2nd ODI that was lost and the 3rd, won by a small margin. While the Black Caps fought with rejuvenated spirit after a drubbing at the hands of Sri Lanka have sensed the opportunity and played with a determination to win the current series. Well, equal focus and determination by the Black Caps coupled with a mediocre performance by Pakistan will get the result they want and rightly deserve.
Although a total of 285 runs was a mountainous target, there was no need for the Pakistan batsmen to be so desperate to start slogging from the word go. It was an experienced side, quite capable of handling the situation in a more mature fashion. With the departure of its key batsman Saeed Anwar, with only 2 runs on the board, Imran Nazir, Azhar Mahmood, Saleem Elahi and Yousuf Youhana batted like novices. They threw away their wickets playing irresponsible shots, rendering Pakistan to a mere 4 for 36 and 5 for 71.
Accurate bowling had torn-apart Pakistan's top order in 26 overs. The remaining players having succumbed to the shock effect of an up-coming disaster of their own team's making, required 9 runs per over to chase the target. Accepting it to be a lost cause, they preferred to stay at the crease, score runs at leisure and save the team from total disgrace.
Cricket is unquestionably the most popular sport in Pakistan the people thoroughly understand its tactics. Local cricket fans know the prowess of their team as well as the traits and temperament of the players. The question they are asking is, If Razzaq, Moin and a half fit Inzamam batting with a runner could stay at the wicket and collect 108 runs among themselves, why could not the other stalwarts do it? A suitable answer would be, `they were perhaps not as dedicated'. So let us search for a pill to induce the spirit of dedication in the team.
With Pakistan's humiliating defeat, the series stands at 2-2, with the result resting on the 5th and final ODI at Dunedin. With the Black Caps dominating and Pakistan keeping a low profile, let us keep our fingers crossed and wish the better team a success.