Early trend at World Cup is bad news for Pakistan

Published June 3, 2019
Pakistan's cricketers leave the field at end of play during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between West Indies and Pakistan at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on May 31. — AFP/File
Pakistan's cricketers leave the field at end of play during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between West Indies and Pakistan at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on May 31. — AFP/File

NOTTINGHAM: A trend seems to be developing at the World Cup and it isn’t great news for Pakistan.

At least in these early days, it looks like being a tournament for fast, aggressive, short-pitched bowling the kind of stuff the Pakistanis have been known to struggle with.

Just look at how they fared against West Indies in their opening game: All out for 105 on what proved to be a bouncy track at Trent Bridge, with pacemen accounting for all 10 wickets. Pakistan’s batsmen left alone much of the short stuff, and often were ruffled when they looked to take it on.

Next up for Pakistan on the same Nottingham pitch is England, the buoyant host nation who could be about to unleash Mark Wood along with Jofra Archer in a double-pronged pace attack.

And Pakistan know what to expect on Monday.

“We didn’t handle the short-ball really well so we practice a lot [because] we know it will come,” said Azhar Mahmood, Pakistan’s bowling coach. “In South Africa [over the winter], we had the same sort of issues.

“When people come from the subcontinent, other teams will use that sort of tactics,” added Azhar, a former all-rounder with English counties Surrey and Kent. “All the teams will bowl short against us so we are practising, and we’ve done it before, so I think we need to move on and concentrate on the next game.”

Data from the cricinfo website showed that of the 54 wickets that fell in the first three days of the World Cup, 23 of the balls were pitched short or short of a length by fast bowlers. Fast bowlers have bowled 454 balls short or short of a length in four matches, cricinfo says, with a strike rate of a wicket every 19 balls.

Among the most exciting quicks so far is Archer , who took 3-27 against South Africa in England’s opening-day win and bowled at an express pace of up to 93 miles per hour (150 kph).

A late call-up to the England squad, Archer could prove to be the team’s most important bowler given how the tournament is developing.

“It could be a trend,” England captain Eoin Morgan said of the success of the fast bowlers. “Probably over the last couple of the years in the shorter formats of the game, it’s been legspin. This might be a trend for the tournament.

“It might be the nature of the pitches. The pitches look pretty good, cross seam into the wicket might be getting a better reaction than any other bowling.”

It is unlikely to last, though, as pitches get more worn and slower. Pakistan will be among the teams hoping that change comes quickly.

Azhar isn’t worried. He pointed out the Pakistanis lost their first game at the 1992 World Cup and went on to win it. They lost the first game at the 2017 Champions Trophy staged in England and went on to win that, too.

“We’re preparing for Pakistan at their best,” Morgan insisted. “Only two years ago they were the best side in the Champions Trophy, they turned us over, they turned India over. We’ll be preparing as best we can for their A-game.”

Certainly, Pakistan should never be counted out in tournament cricket, but the team’s current situation looks grave while they’re on a run of 11 straight completed losses in ODIs. Amid that unwanted run was a 4-0 ODI series loss to England in the weeks running up to the World Cup.

Few would bet against it becoming 12 losses in a row, with top-ranked England having hit the two biggest ODI totals ever and both were at Trent Bridge 444 against Pakistan in 2016 and 481 against Australia last year.

“We know they have ability, skill and the best batting lineup,” Azhar said. “A lot of debate is going on about this 480(-run) pitch being a world-record pitch but they have to play 300 balls to get that, and we have to bowl 10 good balls to get 10 wickets. We have ability and skills to do that.”

“If you see the one-day series, we were not that far from England. They scored 1,430-odd runs, we scored 1,370 runs, so we were 70 runs short. Our fielding was not up to the mark and we give an extra bonus because we had an inexperienced bowling line-up. They need to learn from their mistakes.”

Asif Ali might be recalled by Pakistan for his power-hitting down the order, while Wood could come in for Liam Plunkett to give England that extra pace in the attack.

“I think there’s a good case for playing any of our bowlers,” Morgan said. “We’ll have to adapt to anything the wicket throws up. “If there is anything to exploit, hopefully we’ll select the right team.”

But Morgan was well aware of the attraction of an Archer-Wood partnership. “It is exciting. It’s like saying can you add a Jason Roy 180 to a Jos Buttler 150 off 70 or 80 balls — it might happen and if it does that would be awesome.”

One player going nowhere from the England lineup is Ben Stokes, the all-rounder who provided the moment of the tournament so far with his stunning one-handed catch on the dive against South Africa.

It created headlines at home and abroad, and Morgan believes moments like that will bring more fans to the sport.

“Everyone from five years old to 75 who watched the game can relate to taking a great catch, taking a wicket and scoring runs, having one of those days where you do nothing wrong,” Morgan said. “For the sport, it is awesome.”

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2019

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