Thursday, June 15, 2017

India-Pakistan Final: Form against the Unpredictable.

On Sunday India and Pakistan take to the field at Oval for the final of the ICC Champions Trophy, each carrying the weight of expectations of millions of people. India rides on the form of its front line batsmen and the fact that in the recent group stage match they thrashed Pakistan. Sharma, Dhawan and Kholi backed by a hard hitting middle order, (though not tested yet) have been the mainstay of India's strength in one day cricket. In this sense they have embraced the style of modern cricket, which suggests to rely on the batsmen to post a high score or have the hard hitting to chase down any total. England, South Africa and many other nations imbibed this philosophy as the rules of the game changed to favor batsmen more than bowlers.

For Pakistan who for decades have had a mercurial batting line up the strength to win matches always rested with the bowlers. In a sense as the rules changed the dice were loaded against strong bowling sides. For the past decade Pakistan has tried to follow the style of modern cricket, failing mainly because their players never had the exposure or temperament and perhaps self belief to approach the new form of the game with confidence. The adjustments have been all the more hard because as they felt the gap was being filled a betting scandal would force them to lose a talented player.

After the defeat to India, it would seem someone woke up in the Pakistan camp and said this new approach to one day cricket just does not work. In the matches since then the modern approach was shed off and a return to what Pakistan was good at was visible. The bowlers became the mainstay of their strategy, explaining the bizarre decisions to bowl first where many other captains would have done otherwise.

India on the other hand has continued to reinforce its belief in its batsmen, keeping in tune with the modern approach to the game. The result has been usually muscling their way to wins with never really having to bat below number 6. Interestingly the one game they lost to Sri Lanka, they reached 319 for 6 mainly due to the openers contributing 200 of the 321 runs they put on the board, the other six batsmen adding only 100 runs in the crucial power plays and yet Sri Lanka played the same game and romped home with ease.

To predict a win an passion filled match such as this final would be foolish. It could be anybody's day. While India will not change their modern day approach to the game Pakistan will perhaps revert to their bowling as the mainstay. But the bowlers will not have to try and contain India, like they tried in the recent game, but to go for wickets, like they did with South Africa, Sri Lanka and a strong England. Yes the Oval pitch will be skiddy and different to the wicket in Cardiff, and the bowlers will have to stick to a line and length form of attack. If Pakistan can do that then a couple of quick wickets will change the complexion of the game.

India may well on the exterior be confident of their strength and form but they know well the potency of the Pakistan attack once it smells blood. For the men in green the discipline on the field and belief in the bowling will have be the potential weapon that could rattle Indias top order and expose the middle batting line. India will also know that the batting line Pakistan now presents has learned to keep the scoreboard moving and in a couple of new faces they have the ability to change the fate of the match.

Either way, who ever wins, in terms of cricket fans it does not get bigger than an India and Pakistan final. Its a match where statistics, form and the words of pundits all are left on the boundary line, because on the square any thing can happen..

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pakistan Cricket: Batting on Hope!

Pakistan cricket team turned up for their match on June 4th at Edgbaston against India, and yes there were 11 players decked in green and they all had the necessary gear. That is about the best that they could do, sans Mohammed Amir, who clearly must think immigrating to a cricket playing country may be better than playing for a team for which amateur might be a compliment.

From the selection, to the bizarre decision to bowl first, and to tactics this was a sorry saga of a slow death, almost by choice. Rarely have Pakistan gone into major tournaments without the hope that one player will come to the party and play a match winning game. Micky Arthur, the Pakistan coach, admitted his choice of Wahab Riaz was based on the hope the big match would bring out a big game from him. After Amir's brilliant first over the script, if written in the mind of the captain, went to shreds. Any edifice a restoration of morale based of a middle overs come back went to shreds with Wahab Riaz's senseless bowling.

Sarfaraz as captain always gave the Pakistan team the hope, yes hope, that the leadership will have a spirit of fighting back. Simply having a fighting spirit is not enough, there has to be a strategy and one has to play to that strategy. Yes talent is good, and perhaps we have too much of it, but little skills to create the winning attitude within the teams thought process.

It was never clear what Pakistan as a bowling side was trying to achieve other than perhaps buy a wicket. And when the chances came they were squandered away and put done to the pressure of the game. In the modern game playing Ireland is a pressure game, so wake up and get used to it. The captain seemed on his own, lost in a confused state of mind and none of the senior players were consulted by him; it seemed he has an unshared plan and somehow through some miracle of hope it would fall in place.

If the bowling was abysmally lost in the woods, the batting was a disgrace. In the modern game you rotate the strike, you pick the loose balls to put away, you make the bowling side work for your wicket and do everything to derail their plan. Azher Ali may well carry the statistic of a fifty to his name, but someone had to remind him its not a test match. Azhar Ali and Hafeez were schoolboys who somehow picked up the Pakistan colors and thought that was enough. Babar Azam, while talented cannot fall into the trap of lauding on past innings, he has to play his role with professionalism and not just hope.

Was the target achievable? With a game plan, yes, with application and a positive approach yes. So what was missing? Perhaps the decision to bowl got to the team as it baffled everyone else. India planned it clearly that given the weather DLS would come into play and all India needed to do was get to 20 overs with a 130 odd score with no loss. We all know with each over lost the DLS system works against you if the side batting first has put up a decent score with no wickets lost.

Pakistan cricket needs dependability and this means just like we know Amir will get 7 to 8 of his 10 overs in at a good economy rate and apply pressure, we cannot be sure of any of the other 10 players. We can not even depend on them to field the ball or take a simple catch. There has to be a thought process behind the game, who does what and when, and when things are not going to plan what is plan B and Plan C.

Yes not playing cricket at home can be part of the problem, but strategy and approach are not bred on the grounds on Gaddafi Stadium, this is common sense and it would seem that is pretty uncommon with the people who manage cricket in Pakistan. In some sense our losses are put down to the one excuse, we do not get to play on home grounds! Pray tell me what will the dead pitches of Karachi and Lahore teach you to handle conditions in Australia or England? Indeed its not easier to prepare the domestic talent without cricket at home, but there is a domestic league and till the security situation is not seriously improved one has to make do with the resources we have. Nay not make do, but to approach the game with a modern mind set.

Yes the Champions Trophy is a tough battle and Pakistan cannot get anywhere if their approach does not change towards the remaining matches. This means some major chats with key players, it also means axing some players and getting a strategy in place not only for each game but each phase of each game.

Hope will not win matches, talent alone will only give you flashes of individual brilliance, but a team focused on a plan and true teamwork where all departments of the game change. We know making changes midway in a tournament are not recommended but then desperate times need desperate measures.