Steady India
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Shahid Afridi |

The Indo-Pak Champions Trophy encounter failed to live up to its hype as Pakistan produced a forgettable performance at Edgbaston. As a Pakistani supporter, the drab show was a painful watch indeed as India once again proved that it has a stranglehold over its neighbor that it is in no mood to relinquish.

India started as the favorite and played the entire game in the same frame of mind, even as Pakistan crumbled limply. Sarfraz Ahmed won what was a crucial toss in tricky weather conditions. When rain is around, the team batting second gets a huge advantage. Unfortunately though, a poor game plan and shoddy execution, besides abysmal fielding, nullified the advantage.

Players of the caliber of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are very hard to stop if they are allowed to settle early, and that is what Pakistan allowed them to do.

Mohammad Amir bowled a splendid first over and I thought he would strike with the new ball. Strangely though, Sarfraz handed the other new ball to Imad Wasim despite the overcast conditions. The tactic was perplexing for me since the match wasn’t being played in the UAE! Even if Sarfraz wanted to surprise India, he should have deployed his faster bowlers after an over or two from Imad.

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While the Indian openers negotiated Amir carefully, they gradually got their eye in against Imad. Players of the caliber of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are very hard to stop if they are allowed to settle early. Pakistan missed a trick and for the rest of the Indian innings, there was hardly a period where they looked troubled.

Pakistan’s fielding was very ordinary too, with easy runs given away inside the circle, besides the dropped chances, which made life tougher for the bowlers. The players looked tense and nervous despite the claims to the contrary before the start of the game.

India built a solid platform through Sharma and Dhawan. Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh then flayed a tiring attack before Hardik Pandya’s cameo turned the match totally in the defending champion’s favor.

This was a big game, and after the initial overs, the Pakistani bowlers crumbled rather insipidly. Wahab Riaz was once the spearhead of this bowling attack but his performance was a major let down on such an important occasion.

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The 324-run target that was revised to 291 in 41 overs was always going to challenge the Pakistani batting line-up against what has now become a formidable Indian bowling attack.

Our death bowling was once our strength, especially with the ability of our bowlers to bowl yorkers consistently. I don’t know why the yorker has gone missing. Perhaps the two new balls and the lack of reverse swing at the end of the innings have shattered the confidence of the pace bowlers.

Once you concede 72 runs in the last four overs of the innings you have almost no chance of coming back in the game. The momentum is lost and the batsmen feel the heat even before they step out to bat. The 324-run target that was revised to 291 in 41 overs was always going to challenge the Pakistani batting line-up against what has now become a formidable Indian bowling attack.

As has been the case in recent years, our batting looked clueless as the run-rate mounted. We have some richly experienced batsmen in Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed, and Shoaib Malik, yet the problems of old – like lack of strike-rotation and dot balls came back to haunt us big time.

Despite a solid start, we never looked like chasing down the target as the batsmen failed to break the shackles. In modern ODI cricket, you need to innovate and come hard at the bowlers, batsmen can’t let the bowlers get into their groove.

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I feel that our batsmen are short on the skills side and freeze under pressure. The senior lot failed to cope with the increasing run-rate and got out after occupying the crease for long but barren durations. There is simply no excuse for a 164-run score on a flat wicket where the opposition managed 319 with consummate ease. Pakistan needs to do some soul-searching before its next game against the top-ranked ODI team – South Africa.

After a heavy loss, it has nothing to lose and should play with uncluttered minds against the Proteas. Recovering from today’s defeat would be a tough ask, yet it isn’t impossible to see Pakistan bounce back.

I hope the team management lifts the morale of the players ahead of the do-or-die clash; hopefully, we will see them fight hard.

Shahid Afridi represented Pakistan in 27 Tests, 398 ODIs and 98 T20Is between 1996 and 2016. He played in five World Cup, six World Twenty and five ICC Champions Trophy tournaments. This article was first published at www.icc-cricket.com.

Shahid Afridi represented Pakistan in 27 Tests, 398 ODIs and 98 T20Is between 1996 and 2016. He played in five World Cup, six World Twenty and five ICC Champions Trophy tournaments.

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