KARACHI: The magical number now reads 6-0. Let us then begin the blame games. Let us begin the Spanish inquisition and the invariable witch hunt.
As is often the case with such matches, only a select few who played will be spared. But it is important that no bowler is burned at the stake for this. Yes, Pakistan conceded 300 but that was no more than par on a flat track against some of the best batsmen in the world.
All sides batting first in the tournament have made 300 so far, but of the four bowling units that have conceded them, only Pakistan were able to go into the break with their heads held high.
The plan for all four sides batting first has been similar; rotate the strike, keep wickets in hand and then go berserk in the last five overs. With only four fielders allowed outside the ring and batsmen wielding bats almost as heavy as new-born babies, the bowling sides are sitting ducks in the final overs.
The ploy worked well for New Zealand, who made 71-1 in the final five overs against Sri Lanka, and it worked well for Australia, who made 76-4 against England. It worked even better for South Africa, who made 96-0 against Zimbabwe. It didn’t, however, work well for India, who made 27-5 against Pakistan in the final five overs. Not for any fault of their own, but due to some incredible death bowling by Wahab Riaz and Sohail Khan.
A similar argument applies to India being in such a strong position after 45 overs, 273-2 with Virat Kohli on 107 and Suresh Raina on 72. The bowlers had conceded runs not due to any fault of their own, but due to some incredible batting by India.
Sohail, picked up from the wilderness of cricket and dropped into the pressure cauldron of the Adelaide Oval, was the clear star of the show with figures of 5-55 and some exceptional yorkers and slower deliveries at the end. Wahab also impressed with 1-49 and bowled with a dangerous combination of menace and accuracy that he has been missing for far too long. The spinners were expensive; especially Yasir Shah, who went for 60 in eight overs. But he did not bowl poorly, no Pakistani bowler did. Instead, he was on the wrong end of a few close calls, some extraordinary shot-making by both Raina and Kohli, and some sloppy fielding.
They say form is temporary but class is permanent. The Indian batting line-up had been poor of late but the potential has always been there. And against an unsuspecting and inexperienced Pakistan bowling attack, it suddenly and ominously clicked into gear.
Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and Raina all played perhaps the most mature innings of their careers and, bar Sohail’s one over that went for 14, the bowlers managed to slowly but surely tighten the screws around an Indian side in full flow.
But, as it often does for Pakistan, it all went wrong in the chase. For such a long time when Haris Sohail and Ahmed Shehzad were out in the middle, it looked like Pakistan would finally break the hoodoo. But Haris was dismissed by a Ravichandran Ashwin special and then Shehzad threw his wicket, and the match, away.
From there it was all downhill. Three wickets fell for one run. Suddenly, too suddenly, the match was over. Misbah, continued to fight a losing battle, and provided some semblance of respectability to the defeat but that is all it was.
Pakistan must pick up the positives from this game and, despite the damaging defeat, there are many of those. Shehzad and Haris impressed in their stand, Misbah continues to be ever-dependable, the bowlers clicked and the fielding was sharp for most parts.
But most importantly, while the defeat in Mohali was their last match in the tournament, this one was their first. There is still a long way to go, for both teams.
It may seem like it right now, but this is not the end of the world. There are five more matches to play for each team before the quarter-finals, and if Pakistan can turn it around and reclaim the cup they won in the same country all those long years ago, then neither Misbah nor his men would care of what had taken place 42 days ago. There is, still, all to play for.