» Unpredictable Pakistan quash preconceptions
Unpredictable Pakistan quash preconceptions
This wasn’t meant to be Pakistan’s tournament. Ranked eighth, lacking in star quality. Short on matchwinners but also calm heads. An attack led by a fast bowler that averaged 58 over the past two years. Surely the worst fielding side in the competition. Nowhere really.
Wednesday (June 14) wasn’t meant to be Pakistan’s day. England were unstoppable. They had the most formidable batting line-up in the tournament, with the highest total in ODI history. They had made it against Pakistan.
Mohammad Amir was out injured for this clash. And when two DRS decisions and two dropped catches went against Pakistan in the early exchanges, the tone was set for England to romp on towards their coronation as the world’s new one-day force. Pakistan don’t win when the cards don’t fall their way early on. They fold in a heap, like they did against India. Right?
The thing is, Pakistan don’t operate according to the forces of nature. Normal rules do not apply. “I think the best thing about Pakistan cricket is that we can bounce back from any performance,” Azhar Ali said after Wednesday’s outrageously one-sided win. What he meant is that none of your preconceptions apply. It doesn’t matter how long you may have followed Pakistan, or how deeply you might have analysed their previous game, you can’t possibly know what will happen next and you have even less chance of understanding it.
After the loss to India, Ahmed Shehzad was dropped and replaced by Fakhar Zaman. Nobody else does that. Shehzad had 79 ODIs under his belt, with six hundreds, and had scored a respectable 44 just a week before. Fakhar was yet to play for Pakistan in a 50-over match. Most teams like their players to have a minimum of 30 caps before a tournament, and spend the two years leading up to it planning as such. Pakistan don’t. They decided to blood Fakhar against Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel, and instead of looking like he’d been thrown to the wolves as logic dictates he should have, he just about won them the game. Then he smashed Sri Lanka, and by the time he’d knocked the stuffing out of England he’d scored 138 runs in three games at a strike rate of 118.
Another area where Pakistan have been different is with their bowling. Most teams have tried to swing the ball up front, and when it hasn’t they have struggled to take wickets in the middle overs. On Wednesday England bowled hard and straight, with no variations, and took too long to bring the spinners on.
Pakistan’s pacemen bowled cross seam, and Sarfraz Ahmed used spin from the 12th over. By the 32nd over, when Hasan Ali returned for his second spell, the ball was reversing and Eoin Morgan nicked off to leave England 141 for four. Junaid Khan was brought back immediately, and what followed was a masterclass in reverse-swing bowling on a slow pitch.
When they weren’t swinging it, Junaid and Hasan were taking the pace off, bowling cutters or nailing yorkers. Ben Stokes, who had two brisk hundreds from his last three innings, managed nothing more than singles in the first 31 balls that he faced. “He’s normally timing the ball even when he’s in a defensive mindset,” said Eoin Morgan. “The fact that he was quite sluggish at the start – I was as well, and given I’ve been in reasonable form of late, I thought it was quite tough.”
In the first 34 overs, 50 per cent of deliveries were dots. “I thought they bowled really well. They adjusted to conditions extremely well, and the wicket was obviously slow and low and hard to get away to start with,” Morgan added. “Every partnership we had started behind the rate, which put us under the pump a little bit, and none of our batsmen seemed to get away.”
Stokes stayed patient though, figuring that Pakistan would lose their cool eventually. Except, they didn’t. Moeen Ali fell to a brilliant catch in the deep by Fakhar. Shadab Khan didn’t allow Stokes to free his arms at all. Rumman Raees – another man asked to debut in the middle of a big tournament, who hadn’t even played a competitive game since April – didn’t let Stokes get going either. He bowled to his field, swung the ball into the right-hander, and his only real fault was to concede a few late extras. Still, Pakistan ended up with just three wides and two no-balls, while England bowled 11 wides alone.
The relentlessness eventually did for Stokes, as he misjudged the pace of Hasan’s bouncer and skied it straight up in the air. The pent-up frustration of his boundary-free, 64-ball innings came flying out as the catch was taken, his bat swishing the air as he screamed it all out. He was Hasan’s 10th wicket in the tournament – the most by any Pakistan bowler in a Champions Trophy. Crucially, six of them have come in overs 11-40, when wickets are not meant to fall.
During the course of this tournament, it has been easy to feel sympathy for Mickey Arthur. After all, how does one coach a team that defies all logic? But it turns out that it is opposing coaches who might face the biggest headache. After all, trying to come up with a plan to beat Pakistan is like trying to hit a moving target. This wasn’t meant to be their day or their tournament, but now that they have evolved from a ramshackle side who were riding their luck to a slick unit with the ability to wear opposition down, who knows what might happen next?
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