Pakistan failed to sustain the momentum gained by winning the Sharjah Test against Sri Lanka in January and floundered in the Tests against them. But in the shorter format, the momentum achieved by pulling off two thrilling chases in the Asia Cup in March at Dhaka was carried over gainfully in the first ODI at Hambantota.
At 106 for five (chasing 276), the tourists were down and out and the loyal Pakistan fan club had given up after Misbahul Haq failed to inspire with the bat for the fifth consecutive time on the tour.
Then from nowhere, Fawad Alam – who has provided a newfound strength to the middle and lower order – and the man of the match Sohaib Maqsood carved out a breathtaking 147-run partnership to pull off one of the better chases in Pakistan’s rich ODI history.
Alam, who has enjoyed a purple patch since his return to ODI cricket in the Asia Cup, continued from where he had left in Dhaka by anchoring the innings brilliantly with Maqsood.
It was indeed a heartening performance from two men who are yet to cement their place in the team but the effort on Saturday must go a long way in giving them the much needed confidence ahead of the premier ODI tournament — the World Cup 2015.
Pakistan had earlier surprised the pundits by opting to play seven frontline batsmen after a very long time, and the decision seemed to have backfired after the hosts were let off the hook from a precarious position of 75 for four in their innings.
Shahid Afridi and Junaid Khan had bad days with the ball and were carted all around the park by the blazing bats of Angelo Mathews, Mahela Jayawardene and Ashan Priyanjan.
Misbah was clearly short of a bowler and his experiment of turning to Alam also backfired as the left-arm spinner conceded 10 runs in his only over of the innings.
Playing seven frontline batsmen is a strategy that has done wonders for India and captain MS Dhoni. Pakistan also have the advantage of possessing two quality all-rounders in Mohammad Hafeez and Afridi—a luxury that Dhoni never had.
But one is still not sure if this strategy is going to bring long term success for Misbah, since a potent bowling attack has served him very well over the years.
One feels that the team management would have to quickly decide whether Younus Khan, who made a comeback in the ODI format after more than a year, needs to be a part of the playing eleven.
His presence might disrupt the balance of the team pushing a talented stroke player Maqsood to the number seven spot.
Maqsood would struggle to deliver consistently at number seven and more often than not would be required to throw his bat around in search of quick runs.
Instead of Younus, Pakistan should play another frontline bowler with Afridi batting at number seven—a number he delivered from consistently in the Asia Cup.
The prevailing fielding restriction (allowing only a maximum of four fielders outside the circle) has made chasing big targets a lot easier, hence any team that doesn’t possess quality death bowlers is bound to suffer.
By bolstering the batting and reducing prowess in the bowling department, Pakistan are trekking on a route that is unnatural to them and despite the Hambantota win, they might rue it soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2014.
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