To say that Angelo Mathews has turned a corner as captain would be the understatement of the year. The all-rounder, who was severely criticised from all quarters after surrendering the Sharjah Test to Pakistan in January, gave the most befitting reply of all by making his Pakistani counterpart, Misbahul Haq, suffer exactly what he had seven months ago.
In Sharjah, it was Misbah who was pumping his fist in joy in near darkness, and on Sunday the threat of rain in extremely gloomy weather was whisked away by Mathews and it was his fist that pumped most violently as Misbah sulked in the aftermath of a woeful defeat.
For Pakistan fans who had experienced great joy after the Sharjah run-chase, the defeat in Galle is a most unwanted U-turn made possible by a brain freeze and a dour, defensive and extremely ungainly batting performance in the second innings that was aptly termed ‘pathetic and listless’ by renowned commentator Ramiz Raja.
After Sharjah, one had hoped that Pakistan cricket would go forward and Misbah and Co. would embrace positivity as they had seemingly cracked the code for batting in the longest format.
But such hopes unfortunately proved fleeting, and Misbah’s casual “we need to forget such games” response to the Galle defeat is surely set to incense diehard fans of Test cricket further.
Going into the last day of the match, Pakistan had a deficit of 78 runs only and had nine wickets in hand; from the outset, the batsmen went into a shell and chose to occupy the crease aimlessly, hoping that they will bat out time against the raging turners of Rangana Herath.
But just like Mathews found out in Sharjah, a negative mindset with the bat can cost you the match on the last day of a Test and when the going got tough, Misbah and his batsmen crashed.
There was no plan B and on an easy pitch, Azhar Ali played 151 balls to stutter to 41 before encountering a Herath special, Ahmed Shehzad fell to a dubious decision and on the non-striker’s end, Azhar failed to recognise that Shehzad needed to review the decision to continue his vigil.
Misbah made a woeful misjudgement himself after playing a typical Misbah innings (bereft of strike rotation and a decent strike rate) and fell leg-before camped on the back foot.
Sarfaraz Ahmed later showed all how easy it was to manoeuvre the strike and hit the odd boundary in a street-fighter like knock of 52*. It was indeed a painful tragedy that he had no one to stick around with him for long.
Once in the field there was no way that Pakistan could have defended 99 runs in 21 overs, yet Misbah adopted another mind-numbing defence-oriented strategy by spreading the field from the start of the Sri Lankan innings.
Even the rain gods stayed away and chose to watch the events unfolding as Pakistan drowned in a deluge of their self-induced negativity.
With Saeed Ajmal a part of Misbah’s bowling armoury, one would have felt that the captain would have attacked the opposition and looked to nip out a wicket or two with some fielders around the bat.
The very first ball of Sri Lanka’s second innings was edged past the slip by Upul Tharanga; yet as expected, the close cordon was sent to mind the boundary in a matter of few overs.
All this while Misbah was hoping more for divine intervention to stave off the defeat rather than asserting himself on the opposition.
The reversal in Galle is now Pakistan’s third consecutive defeat at the venue; from 2009 to the present game, a horrid batting collapse has hurt the tourists’ big time.
The new team management of Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, Grant Flower and Moin Khan have a lot on their hands as they now hope to square the series in Colombo.
The second Test will be played at the Singhalese Sports Club ground, and the pitch there is expected to be another belter for the batsmen.
Pakistan will have to do the running and play in the fourth gear if they are to level the series and the team management must realise that they need to shun their negative approach to Test cricket for good; an approach that made Waqar’s predecessor Dav Whatmore’s run a most forgetful one.
The irony is that Whatmore also started his tenure with the national team with a humbling defeat in Galle, and Herath -- who took six wickets on Sunday -- featured prominently in that win as well.
While Sri Lanka seem to have mastered Ajmal, the Pakistan batsmen still remain clueless against the wizardry of Herath and one doesn't know if batting coach Flower can sort the predicament out so soon.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ