So the Big Match finally came. Rain storms threatened it for a little while on Tuesday night. But come match day the sky was clear and the sun was shining. One team would progress to Mumbai, the other, would disperse home. The Pak-India clash like all before it came with the extra weight of being more then just a cricket match. The pressure had to be tremendous for both teams. One lived up to the expectation. The other was more of a come and go. In the end when the dust settled (and the insects so keenly flying around on the field seemed to have lost interest) the match and the day was to belong to India, who will now meet Sri Lanka in Mumbai on Saturday.
But before we get into what all went wrong today, let’s just go over a little bit of background.
India’s recent cricket history has seen a side being steadily built up to a strong one and a pre-tournament favourite. They have a formidable batting line up and arguably by far the best in the world for now. They were always going to be there at the end. They had to be. Hosts and in with one of their best chances to win the World Cup. Dhoni and company have done an excellent job since the last world cup to build up an extremely formidable and competitive unit who have been largely successful under Dhoni. The only glitch was that apart from the 2007 T20 World Cup victory they hadn’t done well in global competitions. 2011 was going to fix that.
Pakistan entered this world cup on the back end of a recovery phase from everything last year. Spot fixing, whitewashes etc etc. But all commendations to Afridi for leading the side through this difficult period really well. For gelling them together. For making the dressing room and the team much more on a united front then they have been in the recent past. And also a captain who shows hunger and aggression. He has been an important part of the team leading from the front in the bowling department. For 2011, they were written off as just finishing 4th, and exiting the quarters without causing much of a problem (Unpredictable as they might be). Commendations to Afridi, Waqar and everyone for topping the group and making it till the semi finals. And in the process also bringing to an end Australia’s unbeaten run in World Cups which dated back to 1999 with the last defeat also coming to Pakistan. Afridi is so far the highest wicket taker in the tournament as well at 21. They have had an excellent run in the cup till the semi and have served some amazing skill and showcased excellent bowling.
So what went wrong for Pakistan at Mohali?
Four fundamental problems:
Horrible fielding yet again. 6 dropped catches with Tendulkar dropped 4 times. He went on to a man of the match 84.
Younis and Misbah both contributed a lot of dot balls in the middle of Pakistan’s Innings after getting a steady start of 70-1 in the first 15 overs. Even though Sehwag’s initial onslaught was the mathematical difference between the two sides (Pakistan were 70-1 and India were 99-1 in the first 15, the difference being 29 runs which is the margin by which we lost) it was those dot balls in the middle of the innings which just took the screws off the middle order. Younis wasn’t rotating the strike. He wasn’t timing or playing shots and eventually got out playing a very disappointing stroke.
Misbah, didn’t get out till the very end. Made a half century as well. But pure stats would hardly tell the story of the innings that was played. He was just guilty of not rotating strike. Not pushing himself for quick singles and doubles. Not responding to the release the pressure from the other batsman. It was all in all a bad innings and a bad knock from Misbah. The pressure created by the dots of these two senior middle order batsmen caused the collapse of 4 wickets. Asad Shafique, Umar Akmal, Razzaq and Afridi all got out playing shots they went for given the pressure of increasing the run rate which they might have otherwise not played. (well maybe barring Afridi). For me this was the biggest let down along with the dropped catches.
The final problem today was Afridi’s captaincy. Generally it has been good over the last few months and I still support him 100%. Today was an off day thou. The strategy was something which could not be seen. The bowling changes were good up till the point he brought back Gul twice after seeing that he was still not getting into rhythm and was expensive. While containing India to 260 was a good job after the start they got, it could have been perhaps lower than that as well had Gul not been given the ball in the final overs. Secondly during Pakistan’s innings, when wickets are falling, the last recognizable batting pair are on the crease…. and one of them is you, AFRIDI, a power hitter you take the batting power play to give yourself a chance. You don’t leave it for the tail enders. That’s leaving it too late.
To be fair to Pakistan there was also a fifth problem but that was something that should have been negotiated by the batsmen. The pitch didn’t play out at all as was predicted or read by the experts and the two teams. It was supposed to be a 300 a side sort of track. India therefore had gambled with Nehra back in the side in place of Ashwin. Luckily for them it paid off. The track had slowed down quite a bit and there wasn’t as much due as was expected either.
Pakistan didn’t play Shoaib Akhter so we should be saying farewell to a maverick of Pakistani Cricket for the past 10 years. He has given us misery and some memorable moments as well. At his best he was a terror. At this lowest he remained a terror but more so for his own side rather then the opposition. Wahab Riaz, with whom the team stuck, deserves applause for his outstanding performance today. 5 important scalps. He bowled with discipline today which allowed his talent to do the rest. This is something that he needs to bring out more consistently. But he is young and hopefully it will come through with maturity.
In the end, it wasn’t to be Pakistan’s day. I am disappointed that we lost. But more so I am disappointed in the manner in which we lost. Our batting , the core of our middle order badly let us down and didn’t put up a fight. I think we really need to look towards strengthening our batting credentials now and build up a more gutsy middle order. We also desperately need a more consistent opening pair and hopefully a world class wicket keeper.
There’s always another world cup and the next one is in Australia/New Zealand. Pakistan’s 92 victory came in that part of the world. Who knows maybe we will lift it again there in 2015, but that’s 4 years away and there’s a lot of cricket to be played in between :).