The ice under captain Misbah-ul-Haq’s feet became thinner than ever on Monday night when Pakistan suffered another series loss to Australia. Both teams had their chances of winning the Cool & Cool cup under extremely hot and humid conditions. Eventually, it was the team which held its nerves that came up trumps.
Pakistan fought hard in patches but when it really mattered most; chances were squandered as their captain, keeper and fielders cracked under pressure. On the other hand, Michael Hussey and Glenn Maxwell displayed serenity – almost an indifference of sorts. The game was over before it could reach its potential climax and so was the ODI series which the Australian won 2-1.
The series saw bowlers dominate on pitches that supported both spin and swing. Australia backed its fast bowlers, and their lone specialist spinner Xavier Doherty warmed the bench throughout the series. Man of the series, Mitchell Starc, being the pick of their bowlers registered his first five wicket haul in the first game and got four in the 3rd ODI. He was aided well by James Pattinson and Mitchell Johnson. This trio along with Pat Cummins recovering fast from injury can potentially form an extremely potent bowling attack for the Aussies in the future.
Pakistan, as expected, relied heavily on its spinner. A country which was once renowned for its fast bowling talent went into the final with one fast bowler and four spinners. This was clearly a defensive strategy which had been tested to similar results against England earlier this year. Saeed Ajmal, however, did not let his ICC award omission get to him and was at his wizardly best. He picked up 10 wickets with an economy rate of 3.41 and an average of 9.90. Mohammad Hafeez supported him and hardly gave away any runs. Shahid Afridi failed to impress and it seemed his fitness and focus were missing throughout the series.
While Junaid Khan showed promise, Aizaz Cheema and Sohail Tanvir looked pedestrian, giving away 144 runs without picking up a wicket; it is difficult to imagine Umar Gul being dropped for that combination again.
In bowling friendly conditions, Nasir Jamshed and Michael Hussey were able to guide their team home and win man of the match awards for the second and third ODI respectively. There were 10 half centuries scored in the series without a single century indicating the difficulty of settling down on slow surfaces under trying conditions.
The Australian openers failed to deliver in any of the games and remained a cause of concern. The Aussie batting lacks the big names it relied on so heavily for a good part of the last decade and the likes of George Bailey and David Hussey are finding it difficult to match their predecessors. The experienced shoulders of Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey gave the Australian middle order strength, accumulating 135 and 131 runs respectively.
The silver lining in the series for the Pakistan batting lineup was Nasir Jamshed with a run aggregate of 168 and a top score of 97. After questions about the role of Mohammed Hafeez as an opener, he finally came good in the last game, scoring a well-paced 78. Pakistan’s middle order of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal got starts but none of them were able to convert their innings into anything substantial. Shahid Afridi was a disappointment, scoring 7 runs in two innings while Kamran Akmal scored 6 runs of 17 balls in the same number of outings; ironically the selectors had over looked his wicket-keeping horrors due to his explosive batting powers.
As expected the fielding was the big difference between the two sides and its impact cannot be highlighted enough. When one side saves 20 runs and the other gives away 20 while dropping chances at the same time, the end result usually goes only one way.
It was in the two captains that one could see the difference between the two sides.
Clarke was tipped to be captain from the moment he set foot on the international stage, and for good reason. His aggression is parallel to Mark Taylor’s while his cool head is reminiscent of Steve Waugh. However, his situation is similar to Allan Border’s, given the task of reconstructing a side after a flood of retirements. His astute captaincy and unfazed confidence epitomised the Australian attitude throughout the series.
Misbah-ul-Haq on the other hand, continued to use defence as the best form of attack – a ploy which had worked well in the earlier part of his tenure. He took over captaincy in difficult times and has given much needed stability to the team, on and off the field. However, Pakistani fans seem to be losing patience after repeatedly watching their side lose its grip on games while on top. In both the games lost, some blame will be borne by his strategic errors and some by lack of his own batting form.
Out of all facts and figures perhaps what stands out most is that after Pakistan won its last series against Australia in 2002 it has not won a single final after being level in a bilateral ODI series. Pakistan has lost 8 out of 8 matches in a series deciding game in the last 10 years.
It seems improbable for Misbah to be around during the next World Cup at the age of 41. Maybe it is time for Pakistan to look forward. However, very often Pakistani captains are selected and retained due to lack of options or replaced due to the existence of too many. It is hard to predict how events will unfold but some murmurs point towards a certain Mr Malik.
The writer grew up in a home with sports as its religion and “The Cricketer” subscription of black and white pages as holy script. He resides in Istanbul and can be reached here.
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