BLOEMFONTEIN: The fall of Nasir Jamshed today brought an end to the briskness and positivity that Pakistan’s chase had begun with. By the time Misbah tried to attack in the middle overs, the game already seemed to be out of Pakistan’s reach. The reason for this change in fortunes was obvious: the art of rotation, once Pakistani batting’s hallmark, seems to have been forgotten by the current lot.
Pakistan need to overhaul the batting order if they are to remain competitive in ODI cricket. But even beyond that, the best possible line-up that Pakistan could play, will struggle in the middle overs far more than other international teams do. Gone are the days of Inzamam and Yousuf making the middle overs a constant progression with safety. The school of Asif Iqbal and Javed Miandad lies dead and forgotten somewhere in Pakistan.
This feeling was exacerbated by the contrast that South Africa provided in Bloemfontein. AB de Villiers’ innings was a masterclass in how to bat in the middle overs of ODIs. He only struck four boundaries in his innings of 65 off 63 balls. At one stage in his innings he had 45 at run-a-ball having only struck one boundary until that point. Colin Ingram, similarly, only struck two fours in his first 40 runs. The duo realized that there were gaps to be found at Chevrolet Park – the biggest ground in South Africa. The fact that most of the Pakistani boundary riders could best be described as leisurely did not help the cause of the bowlers either.
Between overs 10-30 today, South Africa played just 43 dot balls; Pakistan during that same period played more than 60.Ingram later talked about how both him and De Villiers had planned to minimize the dot balls, and to go in with the intent of utilizing the space on the field. He also mentioned to me how the only spinner he really had a problem with was Saeed Ajmal; and there was an attempt by both him and De Villiers to not allow Ajmal to settle with his length if they were to avoid him having the control he had in the Tests.
The duo played the Pakistani spinners better than almost any other partnership has over the past eighteen months. The recent changes in the field restrictions (from five boundary riders to four) is something that Misbah repeatedly mentioned after the match, and it would seem that is something that is harming the Pakistani spin strategy.
Meanwhile, Shahid Afridi continued his rut with the ball that has gone on for the best part of fourteen months now. If the spin strategy stops bearing fruit for Pakistan then the biggest weapon Misbah has in his armory could be curtailed.
But that is something that can be fixed. Pakistan has enough depth in its bowling to go with something other than the two-man pace attack they went in with during this match. A different proposition for South Africa might await in the rest of the series. But the late-summer pitches throughout the country will be like they were here today – dry and flat.
So the onus for Pakistan will go back to the batting and the fielding. The latter is something that only a miracle worker can change, so Pakistan will need to allow its best batting lineup to succeed. The first lesson, which Misbah himself mentioned, has to be the rotation of the strike. Between overs 10-30 today, South Africa played just 43 dot balls; Pakistan during that same period played more than 60. It is in these small margins that success is shaped at this level. The wickets of Shafiq and Younis, in particular, came from their inability to get easy runs, something that the South African middle order excelled at. And it is with this that Pakistan will be able to convert their starts: the most disappointing aspect of today’s match for the fans and the captain was that four of the top five crossed the 20-run barrier but none were able to get to even 40; again a complete contrast to the South Africans.
So, on the demoralized team goes to Centurion – the place of their lone success on this tour. Having played a Test and T20 there Pakistan will be better suited to the conditions and the ground than they were at Bloemfontein; but for the team to have success they will need to alter their thinking. Pakistan need to realize what it takes to bat in the 21st century, while not forgetting the lessons of times past.
What Misbah would give to have an AB de Villiers – a better keeper than any in Pakistan, a better limited overs batsman than any at Misbah’s disposal, and a man willing to do anything for the team. But of course, Pakistan mei talent ki koi kamee nahi.