WHEN England surged to a 54-run victory over Pakistan in the fifth One Day International (ODI) at Headingley, Leeds on Sunday, the difference between the two sides was there for everyone to see but the team management. And by the time the game had ended, the visitors’ losing streak had extended to 11 consecutive losses.

It wasn’t Pakistan’s batting that let them down this time but their bowling and fielding that ensured England ran away with the silverware quite comfortably in the end. Although, to be fair to Pakistan, they came close to winning the contest on two occasions. First, when they almost chased down 373 in the opening game, and second when they almost knocked England over while defending 340. But dropped catches and misfields throughout the series against a quality side such as England meant that Pakistan were always going to end up at the receiving end.

The batting, often labelled as Pakistan’s Achilles heel, did very well to the surprise of many. Of course, there is always room for improvement and one hopes that it will only get better as Pakistan’s top six batsmen showed glimpses of what they can do at the World Cup.

But, it is the bowling and fielding that need the utmost attention of those who are at the helm of affairs. It seems that the cricketing gods are exacting revenge on the PCB for their mistreatment of Steve Rixon, the former fielding coach under whose tenure the fielding had improved dramatically. It is unfortunate that Rixon had to leave his job nine months ago for not getting paid on time and the unprofessional attitude he had to face from PCB.

It will also not be wrong to say that Pakistan’s bowling has been on the downward spiral for the past 18 months or so. Azhar Mahmood, the bowling coach, appears to be clueless as to what has gone horribly wrong with the bowling. The bowling coach has got nothing substantial to back up his claim of working hard with the bowlers apart from Pakistan’s brilliant show in the Champions Trophy 2017 which was mainly due to the exploits of an in-form Hassan Ali at that ICC event.

And for the sake of argument, even if he is working with the bowlers, his efforts are just not bearing fruit. England, too, conceded more than 300 runs on three occasions against Pakistan during the ODI series but not once did their bowling look as toothless as that of their opponents. The glaring difference between the bowling sides of the two teams was the lack of full length deliveries bowled to the English batsmen by the Pakistani bowlers.

And when, on the odd occasions, they did hit the right channel, the English batsmen’s scoring rate did slow down quite a bit. Surely the variations come in handy, but when your fast bowlers bowl slower balls and cutters more than usual, you are expected to get smashed all around the park. From the experienced Junaid Khan to young speedster Mohammad Hasnain, it seemed as if everyone’s plan was to trick the English batsmen by running in hard only to bowl medium pace deliveries and off-cutters.

Needless to say that tough challenges lie ahead of Azhar Mahmood. With Wahab Riaz and Muhammad Amir’s late inclusion in the World Cup squad, the bowling line-up looks slightly better on paper unless one takes a look at their stats that are just as poor as the wickets were in the England series. There is no doubt that the modern cricket favours the batsmen more than the bowlers, but as the great Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis have said on various instances, when nothing works out for you, stick to the basics of bowling and bowl yorkers as they will always come in handy.

Perhaps now would be a good time for the bowling coach and the Pakistani bowlers to listen to the advice of the two stalwarts who no doubt are fast bowling wizards.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2019