Pakistan got over the line without breaking a sweat. So much was at stake for both teams, especially Zimbabwe as a loss would end their campaign in the World Cup, yet the game turned out to be a colourless one-sided affair. It was at times a listless punch up, failing to even soak up energy of the large zestful crowd who had travelled miles on foot to see a gladiatorial encounter!
Pakistan produced a calm performance without any drama. They didn’t look twitchy by the build up of the event or thought of a loss and possible wxit from the WC. Neither did they show the effects of the NZ bashing or ugly controversy of the Akmal Bros pvt limited!
The team think tank took strong decisions and applied the stick and carrot policy by benching Shoaib and forgiving Kamran. However, both the cases can be contested. If Shoaib was left out of the game on the basis of form and fitness then why was he selected in the original WC squad. And surely didn’t Pakistan make a mistake of not using his anger and frustration of a bad previous game by unleashing him on Zimbabwe? If he is his team’s supposed strike force then he needs cajoling, not kicking and bucking.
Kamran Akmal got the carrot instead of the stick! His case is curious than Benjamin Button. Even a Holmes couldn’t solve it. How can Pakistan even begin to think to become a successful team with an ordinary piece of art behind the stumps. Look at all the great teams around us and the past and one constant that has remained great in their team is their wicket-keeper.
Like bad marriage kills the soul, a bad keeper kills the team. For a nation that has been brought up on the diet of world class keepers, this deterioration is so demoralizing and mystifying.
Asad Shafiq got in at the expense of Umar Akmal, whose ouster was shrouded in mystery. Rumour has it that he feigned injury to protect his brother from being axed. This brothers-in-arms act is becoming all too frequent an occurrence and needs to be probed aggressively. While the senior Akmal may have played his innings, Umar has a future and constant counseling and nudging in the right direction can save him from self destruction.
What was Umar’s loss was Asad’s gain. The little guy is tenacious. It couldn’t have been easy for him to do the pads after acting as a runner for the players in the dressing room for a full month. The other impressive attribute that he possesses is the ability to know his range and operate within those walls. It is such a blessing for the team if a young player knows his strength and weakness.
Umar Gul clinched the most valuable player of the day award from Asad for his sprightly speed and crafty control that derailed Zimbabwe batting. His three wickets in the first fifteen overs set the African outfit so far back that it was almost impossible for their weak middle-order to make a comeback. He has looked a different bowler with the new ball, happy and in the zone.
Pakistan are still operating at below peak level and need to dress up their game against Australia. They lost a chance against Zimbabwe to showcase their batting power and make a strong statement to the teams.
I guess they have decided that their best chance with the bat is to remain cautiously engaged at the crease without chancing their arms.
Can such a mindset and strategy work against top teams? Well we will soon have the answer on the 19th.
—The writer is a former Pakistan captain.