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Match Analysis

Pakistan's self-doubt and uncertainty clear for all to see

The hesitant batting of captain Babar Azam was a microcosm of the problems facing the team

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
07-Jun-2024
There were nine minutes between the end of USA's Super Over and the first ball of Pakistan's, and that phase where no cricket was played painted as eloquent a picture of the story of the game as any passage of actual action.
Every single American fielder was in position at Grand Prairie. Saurabh Netravalkar had ball in hand. A full-time employee at a software giant in Silicon Valley, Netravalkar - who once played for India's Under-19 side - had taken time off from his day job for USA's T20 World Cup campaign. He glanced over at the opposition's dugout of full-time cricketers; they couldn't quite work out who was best equipped to take on Oracle's software engineer in the pressure moments they were supposed to excel in for a living. You wouldn't have begrudged Netravalkar's impatience, paid time off in the US is rare enough not to be spent waiting around on the opposition's Super Over choices.
There was no reason for USA to shirk away. This was, after all, the sort of moment those cricketers will have looked forward to for the best part of their careers. They knew they should have wrapped this game up well within regulation time, and it was an excited rather than nervous buzz that pulsed through the home side. As Pakistan, wracked with self-doubt and uncertainty, went back and forth on how to scrape their way out of the hole they'd dug for themselves, it suddenly became hard to tell who the underdog was.
For the past day or so, Pakistan captain Babar Azam had told everyone about all the things that aren't in Pakistan's control. The Dallas weather that forced them to train indoors for two days when it rained, though better scheduling would have seen them arrive with time enough to acclimatise. The niggle to Imad Wasim that upset the balance of the side, though a 34-year-old with an extensive injury record was always a risk worth factoring in. The toss when USA inserted Pakistan to bat against their will, though Babar won the toss five times in the build-up fixtures - supposed to be dry runs for this tournament - and never once opted to bat first.
Babar the batter, though, is all about control. But under the pressure of a fiery USA start, he shrunk into his most conservative traits. But then again, Pakistan's middle order has the lowest combined average of any of the top 12 nations. It thrust Babar into the impossible position of sticking around aimlessly and diminishing his side's chances, or get out taking a risk and watching them go up in smoke anyway.
By the end of a powerplay where Pakistan scored 30, he had managed 4 off 14 balls, and after nine overs, 9 off 23. When he flicked the final ball of the 10th over the rope, it was the first four of Pakistan's innings. They burned through deliveries like an oil nation with a carbon budget, unable to recognise the finite nature of those resources even as they evaporated before their eyes.
But it was Pakistan's profligacy with the ball that put all that had gone before to shame. USA had recognised there was little to fear from the target, or indeed a bowling unit that spent at least 14 disinterested overs going through the motions.
Shadab Khan has backslid as a bowler far enough to barely be considered an allrounder, and yet Pakistan were forced to get through four overs from him and Iftikhar Ahmed. When Babar needed him to squeeze in a tight one as the quicks built up a modicum of pressure at the death, Shadab would toss in three loose deliveries and was fortunate to concede just the 11 that helped USA break the shackles.
That Pakistan could put out such a performance and still somehow find themselves in a situation where defending 12 off three would win them the game was almost a travesty. A half-hour of clutch bowling, culminating in an enthralling penultimate Mohammad Amir over that saw him land four yorkers on a sixpence demonstrated the ceiling of Pakistan's performance and how far below that they had dipped for about 35 of the game's 40 overs.
It was the sort of display that has seen him lauded as the architect of two of Pakistan's three ICC titles, and the sort of over he has the ego to believe he can bowl more frequently than anyone else in the nation.
Pakistan had bowled just two full tosses in the previous six overs despite almost exclusively going for yorkers, but Haris Rauf would miss his mark twice in the final three balls, with Aaron Jones and Nitish Kumar finding the 11 runs they needed to drag their side into the Super Over.
But wins against the run of play are rare in cricket, and the debt Pakistan's wastefulness had racked up would have to be paid. Amir, whose full deliveries on the stumps had proved so reliable, suddenly strayed from the plan, sending the Super Over out of the batter's hitting zone. The best thing you could say for that approach was it worked, though only because it was too wide for the batter to reach on at least three occasions. Like the child who always falls for the same magic trick, USA opting to steal a run every time the wide was called seemed to surprise the Pakistanis; seven of the 18 they put up came off wides.
From getting themselves into a scarcely deserved winning position, Pakistan had leaked 29 off 9 balls. The damage done over three hours of improvidence could not be undone by nine minutes of timorous repentance. Pakistan had invited the wolves to the door, and the debt was about to be settled.

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000