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Falling short: tactic or nerves?

March 20, 2012

-Photo by AP

When Pakistan ripped England apart in the UAE test series a little over a month ago, one couldn’t help but wonder how the likes of Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Umar Gul and Aizaz Cheema would fare against the top batting side in the world, India.

But as the Indian side achieved a mammoth target of 330 in the 48th over against the same attack on Sunday, it wasn’t a question of how but what the hell just happened?

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq simply replied with a, “we did not have any answers” when asked about the loss to India in Dhaka and Virat Kohli’s magical innings of 183 off 148 balls proved that Misbah was right to a great extent.

India’s run-chase and the fireworks that ensued, however, begged one straightforward question: was Pakistan’s tactic to bowl short a battle plan or just a case of nerves?

Of Pakistan’s fast bowlers, Aizaz Cheema, in particular, was quite giving in his spell of 8-0-60 and bowled the short-pitched, leg-stump line regularly even with the fine-leg up. Umar Gul’s 8.5 overs produced quite a decent dose of half-trackers as well and his length was particularly baffling, keeping in mind his preferred mode of operation. Wahab Riaz was listless and clearly no role was defined for him in Pakistan’s six-man bowling line-up.

The shorter length has been a preferred strategy for teams playing against India of late, but the utility of it seemed a little unwise on the placid Sher-e-Bangla wicket. It also meant that Pakistan gave away the one advantage that bowling under lights brings with it: the zip that the pitch produces, provided you pitch the brand-new ball on a good length.

Cheema’s introduction into the attack in just the third over of the innings, that too after Mohammad Hafeez had picked up a wicket from the same end, was a little premature and indicated that Misbah had already started reading too much into the proceedings. Even though Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar seemed comfortable against the spinner, Hafeez could have been gambled with for a few more overs. His drift with the newer ball is usually what earns him wickets and 330 was a big enough target to play with.

Saeed Ajmal, by far, looked like the only threatening bowler on either team and attacking with him would have served Pakistan better. Rather, he finished with one over in the bank.

It is unclear how much of an influence Dav Whatmore's Australian mindset had on Pakistan's plans while bowling, but if aiming for the throats of the Indian batsman was indeed a tactic then why was there no plan B?

However, if this bowling performance was indeed a case of nerves than Kohli has given the bowlers a little bit more to worry when Pakistan take on 'chase-masters' Bangladesh on Thursday.

AN OVER RELIANCE ON SPIN

Sunday's game highlighted the fact that Pakistan seriously lacks the fast-bowling partners that Gul needs. It is clear that the man, even as the most senior pacer in the side, is best when given a particular role. The continued success of the team's spinners has meant that the management has not been too adamant in trying out/looking for pace prospects.

The over-reliance on spin, however, will serve Pakistan only in certain conditions, against certain teams and most importantly with certain fields.

Pakistan has a long lay off coming up after the Asia Cup and will have a good five months to beef up its traditional strength.