March 19, 2012

Despite exceptional batting by Hafeez and Jamshed, and the team setting a target of 330, India defeated Pakistan by six wickets.

What cannot be denied is that India’s batting, particularly Kohli’s brilliant 183-run knock, simply outclassed Pakistan. But there were several mistakes on Pakistan’s part that cost them the match.

The batting, though brilliant, slowed down towards the end and, one could argue, impacted the outcome of the game. Had Pakistan managed to get to 360 plus — which seemed likely at one stage in the match —  things may have been different. The what ifs are endless, but there were more obvious mistakes made during the second innings.

The ‘dependable’ and more senior members of the team failed to deliver. Afridi’s performance was lacklustre both with the bat and ball. Umar Gul, though picking up two wickets, did so only towards the end, when it was all over for Pakistan, and couldn’t get the crucial breakthroughs.

The bowling on the whole was quite ineffective, not to say that the Indian bowlers were more effective though they did manage to pick up a few more wickets. Despite playing seven bowlers, among whom only Ajmal and Hafeez held some kind of an edge over the batsmen — that too, not for long — none of them were able to get the much-needed breakthroughs. Gambhir and Tendulkar’s were the only timely wickets. The other two wickets — Sharma and Kohli’s — were a case of too little too late.

The decision and timing of which bowler to bowl at what stage of the match was puzzling itself. But what was really difficult to fathom was why Misbah didn’t give Hammad Azam even one over to bowl, especially when Wahab Riaz and Aizaz Cheema proved to be so expensive — Riaz more so, who conceded 50 runs in just four overs. If it was never intended for Azam to bowl, why wasn’t Sarfaraz included in the team instead? The proper replacement would be Azam for Riaz, and surely to play Azam as a batsman could not have been the intention.

What has been questioned time and again is the tendency to play Umar Akmal as makeshift keeper. Akmal’s keeping was definitely a weak point in the game. But not only his keeping, fielding by Pakistan in general was extremely shoddy to say the least. Overthrows and misfields, together with the extras conceded by the bowlers did little to strengthen Pakistan’s chances of a victory.

Pakistan are already in the final. India’s fate depends on the Bangladesh and Sri Lanka match to be played on March 20. Ironically, while Pakistan defeated both teams in relatively low-scoring games, they lost to India in the highest scoring game of the tournament, that too, a total of their own making.

There’s very little to be predicted about Pakistan’s performance in the final since they are a surprise package every game, but rethinking the team combination, who to play in what spot and who to bowl at what stage, with a marked improvement in their fielding, are the expectations from them for the finale of the Asia Cup.

Here’s to hoping that the Greenshirts swing back in the finale.

Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.