Friday, March 21, 2014

Easy victory exacerbates batting gulf between rivals

In the second over of the opening match of the World Twenty20 Super 10, Kamran Akmal came down the wicket to an innocuous delivery from Bhuvneshwar Kumar and didn't connect with his shot. A complete breakdown in communication between Akmal and his partner Ahmed Shehzad resulted in the kind of nonsensical run out that only Pakistan can manufacture.

In the eighth over of the innings Mohammed Hafeez came down the wicket to Ravindra Jadeja, completely misjudged the bounce and angle and his resulting half drive-half slap was holed out to deep cover.

Five balls later, Ahmed Shehzad came down the wicket aimlessly to a classic leg spin delivery from Amit Mishra and was beaten all ends up. So clueless was the batsmen's stroke that MS Dhoni had enough time to enact two stumpings with ease. 

Then in the 16th over of the innings just as Pakistan were primed to launch an assault in the death overs, Shoaib Malik came down the wicket to Mishra with the intent to launch him into orbit. The veteran batsman tried to generate power, but completely misjudged the drift of the ball and succeeded in getting caught at long off.

In T20's hyper-accelerated world of big hitting, coming down the wicket in an attempt to hit big shots is not only understandable but also mandatory. That being said, there should always be a method to the madness, and as time goes by it seems Pakistan's batsmen are hellbent on madness while possessing contempt for method. To lose so many batsmen to shots coming down the wicket in modern cricket is simply inexcusable.

Technically, Kamran Akmal didn't lose his wicket to the bowler, but it masks the fact that his shot was nothing more than a blind slog. Nonetheless, he can at least appropriate some of the blame to his partner. The dismissals of Shehzad, Hafeez and Malik however, bordered on the amateur. Yes, the wicket had assisted spin more than was initially expected, but as the Indian batsmen proved, after a brief settling in period, the surface was nothing short of a batting paradise. Having the aptitude to recognize which ball to hit is still a cherished value in the cricket's format, something most Pakistani batsmen patently don't have.

Even more glaring was the fact that the Indian batsmen played smarter cricket against an arguably stronger bowling attack, although Umar Gul's days as a leading bowler should surely be under scrutiny. Fans of Pakistani cricket may well have resigned themselves to accepting such adventurous 'release' shots, because even the basics of keeping the scoreboard ticking with singles and rotating strike seem to be a bridge too far for the team's top order. 

Between them, Pakistan's top 6 against India have played 309 T20 internationals, yet they seem to show no signs of improving. One of the more galling aspects of this sorry mess is that in addition to the selectors, many Pakistani fans deem Misbah-ul-Haq unworthy of a place in the Twenty20 side on the account of being a 'slow' batsman. Match circumstances are often not included in Misbah's pace of scoring, but Pakistan's captain in the longer forms of the game would be well within his rights to wonder why the supposed flamboyant batsman struggle to get the team cross 150, or for that matter barely manage to get the run rate above six an over most of the time.

Pakistan's excellent trio of spinners have ensured that the team have had the best historical record at the World T20, however even the efforts of Messrs Ajmal, Hafeez and Afridi might just prove to be in vain this time around, as Pakistan's batting standards continue to hurtle onto a downward spiral. On the opposite side, while India's bowlers will surely be punished against better opposition, their batsmen seem to be in ideal touch to ensure the team reaches the semis for the first time since they won the whole thing in 2007.
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