There is a point in the sci-fi classic, The Matrix, when the newly recruited hero, Neo, is in the subway under pursuit from the seemingly unstoppable villain, Agent Smith.
Our hero, who has struggled for belief until now, rather than take the logical course of action and run, stands his ground in the face of impossible odds. His mentor Morpheus, who is observing from afar, comes to a realisation about Neo and gasps, “He is beginning to believe.”
Today, in a thrilling game against South Africa, it seems Pakistan, too, stood their ground and found some self-belief. The stars, of course, were the fast bowlers.
Defending another mediocre total, the seamers were tremendous in their defense; bowling with bounce, swing, and accuracy, as they shook the South African batting to its core.
Credit must go to the skipper Misbah-ul-Haq for once again defending a below par total, with intelligent use of his resources through tight field-settings. Credit must also go to the team for not losing hope after South Africa took command of the chase with an aggressive start.
Coach Waqar Younis has worked hard on improving the bowling lengths of his young charges, and the result was an exceptional performance.
While Waqar has been criticised for using Rahat Ali instead of Yasir Shah as the fifth bowler, the decision has paid off so far. Rahat Ali is improving all the time, has been a key element in three Pakistan victories; his unplayable yorker was the delivery of the day.
|Quinton de Kock wears a wry smile after falling to a bouncy Irfan delivery. —AP|
But where management is to be commended for Pakistan’s efforts in the field, they must explain their mistreatment of Sarfraz Ahmed.
Sarfraz’s innings was like the introduction of broadband to a team stuck on dial-up.
Though not always aggressive, he maintained intent with his body language by staying consistently on the front foot. It was a welcome change for Pakistan to have a top order batsman on the prowl for any scoring opportunities every delivery.
As a result, South Africa grew more defensive, allowing Pakistan more opportunities to score.
Supported well by Younis Khan and some perplexing bowling decisions by South African skipper AB de Villiers, Sarfraz helped Pakistan reach 90/1 at the end of 16 overs. Yes, Pakistan. Yes, against South Africa. Yes, a run rate of 5.62.
By the time the wicketkeeper-batsman made a fatal mistake, Pakistan were sitting on top of an excellent platform. The magic from Sarfraz was especially impressive considering that he had had no match practice before being asked to face the might of South Africa. With the odds against him, it was also a curious sight that Shehzad did not take the responsibility of facing the first ball of the innings.
It is unfortunate to note that the wicketkeeper had been on the receiving end of friendly fire from his own management.
Considering that the specialist wicketkeeper hadn’t been in the greatest of forms with the bat or gloves in Australia, the decision to have him sit out in favour of Umar Akmal was a decision one could accept, at least initially. However, the recent statements regarding Sarfraz by both captain and coach are anything but acceptable.
Responding to Ramiz Raja’s comment that Pakistan should think outside of the box by opening with Sarfraz, Misbah sarcastically asked if that meant they should start their innings with tailender Mohammad Irfan.
Sarfraz's captain certainly did not do his confidence any favours by comparing his batting to the eleventh-best batsman in the order.
Is the young keeper to understand that his career hinges on a handful of World Cup matches?
Worse still were Waqar’s comments, who not only suggested that Sarfraz lacked the technique to open in Australia (of course, with Nasir Jamshed’s watertight defense in his mind), but that opening in the World Cup could end Sarfraz’s career.
Although stress can cause such gaffes, the comments were disappointing.
Take a look: The Waqar doublespeak
Sarfraz responded in the best way possible today.
He was incredible on the field, and was the difference between the two teams – in fact, he ended up snaring six victims, thus breaking the record of most catches by a Pakistani wicketkeeper. His inclusion also meant that Pakistan had freed up Umar Akmal, who is one of our better ground fielders.
Hopefully things have been clarified to Sarfraz by the management, who all things considered, are doing a commendable job leading an inexperienced team that has been recovering from an endless number of catastrophes.
To win the three knockout games, Pakistan must improve in how it recovers from the loss of a wicket.
At the time of Sarfraz’s dismissal, Pakistan’s run rate stood at a healthy 5.47. But they then began a consolidation process where the RR dropped to below 5. While the caution is understandable (considering the fragility of the batting lineup), Pakistan has to find some way to keep the momentum flowing, especially after an excellent start.
There will be a time when Pakistan will need to score at least 300 against a Test playing nation, and they must be ready when that moment comes.
For now though, for the first time in the World Cup, Pakistan will actually enjoy the long break between matches.