Pakistan must pick up the pieces

They say fast-bowlers hunt in pairs. Almost all of the world’s greatest pacers have had a partner in crime. Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall, and Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock are some of the names that come to mind.

The same goes for batsmen. Mathew Hayden and Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, and Rahul Dravid (or Saurav Ganguly) and Sachin Tendulkar to name a few. Some batsmen just complement each other as a pair.

It is precisely this lack of effective partnership that has hurt Pakistan so badly in the ongoing series against New Zealand.

Pakistan lose yet again after De Grandhomme’s blitz

Moments of individual brilliance, while present, have been too few and far in between. Consistency has been all too painfully missing and so has any semblance of a partnership that could threaten New Zealand; with either bat or ball.

Fakhar Zaman and Shadab Khan have been the two most consistent performers. Fakhar, at the top of the order, has scored two half-centuries in the three matches that he has played and boasts an average of 69. Shadab, meanwhile, has impressed with the ball in the last two ODIs and scored a fifty in the second one.

Some of the others have also sparked into life every now and then. Hasan Ali has the tendency to suddenly revert to his wicket-taking best in between looking clueless about how to stop hemorrhaging runs.  Sarfraz followed up three poor performances with a solid 51 in the fourth. Muhammad Hafeez has scored two half-centuries but also has a bowling ban and scores of 1 and 0. Rumman Raees has bowled well in patches but, like the others, has struggled to rein in the hosts when they have been on top.

Sarfraz must improve, says Younus

Then there have been those who have been poor throughout the series — unfortunately the most consistent feature of the four matches so far. Muhammad Amir has looked more like the bowler that struggled on his return to cricket than the bowler who ran through India’s top order in the Champions Trophy final. Somewhere along the way, the teenager that wowed the world all those years ago has lost the swagger that made him one of the world’s best at such a precocious age.

The dichotomy between the mindsets of Amir and Boult — two swing-dependent left-arm pacers — could not have been clearer in the series so far.

Amir has the slightly superior economy of 5.18 as compared to Boult’s 5.37 but Boult has been significantly more dangerous. Where Amir has taken two, Boult has taken nine. But even that doesn’t paint the entire picture. Boult had figures of 5-17 and 1-73 in back-to-back matches — he was willing to concede runs in a bid to take wickets. Amir, on the other hand, was frustratingly content with a safety-first approach that saw him dwindle closer to mediocrity than a bowler with that much talent in his arsenal has any right to do. While Boult demanded wickets, Amir merely requested them.

To make matters worse, Shoaib Malik and Babar Azam, the finest batsmen in the side, have scored 70 runs between them in eight innings.

Inzamam ready to take responsibility for Pakistan’s debacle in New Zealand

The chasm between Pakistan’s best batsmen and their New Zealand counterpart is embarrassing. Kane Williamson, on his own, has scored 239 runs before also claiming 2-32 in 10 overs in the fourth ODI.

Just because he felt like it, just because he can, just to rub it in Pakistan’s face.

And such has been the one-sided nature of this series that it has been reduced to playground bullying.

The International Cricket Council need to figure out a way to reduce the gap between home and away teams — perhaps by regulating pitch conditions globally — but there is a limit to how many times Pakistan can use this excuse. These are international athletes — with particular emphasis on international — and international athletes should not be so woefully clueless whenever they are faced with unfamiliar conditions.

It seems like the Men in Green have gone from being completely filled with over-confidence to lacking any semblance of self-belief. And while it saves the fans from the heartache of seeing the slow demise of a loved one, it does raise questions about their mental fortitude.

These questions Sarfraz and his men must answer in the upcoming months. One series — even one as embarrassing as this one — will not and should not define these men but their response to this just might do so.

Pakistan are not yet in crisis but they surely are on the brink of one. Another similarly poor series will see the country’s typically fickle media and fanbase calling for heads. For the first time in his fledgling career as Pakistan captain, Sarfraz is left to pick up the pieces.

Chief selectors asks Sarfraz and co to use bench players to try and change fortunes

  • Sarfraz must improve, says Younus

    Former Pakistan captain urges current one to up the ante if he wants to continue leading side

  • Pakistan lose yet again after De Grandhomme’s blitz

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