Heading into the World T20, Pakistan were the most prepared team. This statement might sound preposterous but from February 4, the 15 that went to India got engaged in the opening edition of the exceedingly competitive Pakistan Super League (PSL).
The league was staged in conditions similar to India; some pitches in Dubai and Sharjah were belters, while some were sluggish turners. Immediately after the PSL, Shahid Afridi and his troop marched on to Mirpur for the Asia Cup.
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Four T20Is meant that by the time the team took to the field for their World T20 opener against Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens, the core group of players had played up to 14 shortest format games in a month and a half.
But the cracks that appeared in Mirpur had turned into enormous craters by the time a jittery and seemingly clueless Afridi led his team to Mohali’s IS Bindra Stadium — to play New Zealand and Australia.
The irony is that by March 25 — the 24th anniversary of the 1992 World Cup triumph — Pakistan had suffered the ignominy of being the first major team to exit the tournament.
Post mortems or performance reviews are often easy and brutal since most are compiled with the advantage of perspective and hindsight.
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But the Pakistan debacle was on the cards from the onset. It didn’t take one to be a genius to decipher that the Men in Green weren’t going to repeat their 2009 triumph. In fact, it became evident in Mirpur that Afridi’s lackadaisical captaincy and Waqar Younis’ exasperating game plans were going to make progress from the ‘Group of Death’ next to impossible.
And the miracle didn’t happen because at possibly the worst time, Pakistan’s much vaunted bowling attack crumbled miserably against the blazing bats of the two Antipodean teams in Mohali. The batting did show up but only in patches but the biggest culprits for the miserable performances were the fielding and lack of common sense.
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The man who breathed life in a wretched 2015 World Cup campaign with his electrifying batting played a grand total of 17 balls in the entire tournament!
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Sarfraz Ahmed, who had played gainfully in the Asia Cup, scoring an unbeaten 58 and 38, while batting in the top-order was inexplicably left unused by the think tank coming in to bat at numbers six, seven and eight against India, New Zealand and Australia respectively — on each occasion the time had run out for him to make any substantial impact.
What boggles the mind is the incredible lack of game awareness on the part of the captain and coach who it seems were clueless of what the strengths of their squad were, especially the choice of batsmen suitable for the Indian tracks.
When Ahmad Shahzad and Umer Akmal were struggling to come to grips against the New Zealand duo of Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner, Sarfraz was just the batsman who could have utilised the rich experience of combating turning tracks, but he was left high and dry in the dugout.
The running between the wickets was also lousy and well-short of international standards — when Pakistan field the opposite batsmen have some lazy bodies to steal twos and threes from; the Men in Green are seldom afforded this luxury.
As for the bowling, almost the whole of Pakistan was busy hyping up the bowling attack; some foreign experts also jumped on the bandwagon but when the crunch games arrived, the bowlers looked infuriatingly pedestrian.
Mohammad Amir was hailed as the talisman, the saviour who would scythe through opponents. When the moment came, Amir was sparingly used against India — three overs for 11 runs.
But when he was used, he was extremely expensive, especially against both Australia and New Zealand in the death overs — his last over against the Black Caps was taken for 16 runs, while he remained wicket-less against Australia, conceding 39 runs in his four over quota.
Mohammad Irfan, another bowler with a reputation greater and higher than his seven foot frame, looked terribly world-weary and unimpressive. Irfan was expensive against both India and New Zealand before his lack of penetration cost him his spot in the starting eleven for the Australia game.
Afridi’s best days as a leg-spinner are well past him and even on the Kolkata minefield, his lack of control reflected in a woeful outing, while in Mohali his spells bordered on mediocre. Imad Wasim was benched for the Kolkata game, a decision that continues to bewilder.
Mohammad Sami, who breathed fire in his opening over against India, bowled with great control and accuracy against New Zealand but reminded all why he has struggled to cement a place in 15 long and terribly inconsistent years when he put in a drab display against Australia.
The yorkers that served him so well against Black Caps were deleted from his armoury, his state of mind was well reflected when he allowed Steve Smith and Aaron Finch to an all-run four, perhaps the first such instance in the plethora of T20Is played on Indian soil.
Sami was preferred over his competitors primarily on his all-round skills, including fielding, but his abject capitulation in the final game mirrored the fate of the team.
When Pakistan wilt, they wilt worse than amateur teams and the fielding was a reflection of the predicament.
Against Australia, a conservative estimate by leading cricket website ESPNcricinfo, suggested that the fielders leaked 18 runs, while the New Zealand batsmen were running twos and at times three runs on shots played straight to deep fielders, from Afridi to Irfan the fielding was comically shambolic.
‘We need to pick better fielders next time’ quipped Waqar as the team exited the event.
Yes Waqar, we need to pick a better prepared think-tank next time as well; not sure if you’ll fit in.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2016.
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