There is no doubt that Andre Russell is one of the most exciting players in international cricket. The ‘Kingston Mohawk’ is a match-winner especially on the professional T20 circuit. But is the 31-year-old, who suffers from arthritis, capable of single-handedly cowing Pakistan on a perfect batting strip?
The way Pakistan capitulated against Russell’s short-pitched deliveries was an unpleasant surprise for me. Don’t get me wrong. I know Russell bowled his heart out and was well-supported by the likes of the young Oshane Thomas and West Indian skipper Jason Holder. But that can’t explain Pakistan’s batting collapse in their seven-wicket defeat at Trent Bridge on Friday. Why were the Pakistani batsmen so scared? Didn’t they know that the West Indians will try out the short-pitched stuff in order to get some early wickets? Didn’t they prepare for it?
What happened in Pakistan’s opening World Cup game was nothing less than utter disaster. It was a match Pakistan really needed to win. No disrespect to West Indies as they are currently a dangerous team but I must underline the fact that there are tougher World Cup games facing Pakistan than the one they conceded without even putting up a fight.
Their second match, once again at Trent Bridge on Monday (tomorrow), is against formidable England. The hosts thrashed Pakistan 4-0 in their ODI series just before the World Cup.
England might not have a World Cup under their belt, but the World Cup hosts have time and again shown, in recent times, that they are among the hot favourites for the coveted title this summer. More recently, they proved it again by demolishing South Africa in their opening World Cup game.
If Pakistan can’t handle teams like West Indies, who are forced to carry half-fit players like Chris Gayle, then they shouldn’t even fancy their chances against well-oiled and supremely-fit teams like England.
Then there will be matches against Australia (on June 12 in Taunton) and India (on June 16 in Manchester). Even if Pakistan beat Sri Lanka, who are currently going through a lean phase, in Bristol on June 7, defeats against the trio of England, Australia and India, will severely dent Pakistan’s chances of making to the semi-finals.
That’s why Friday’s game against the West Indies was a vital match for the Pakistanis. They should have prepared for it. They had plenty of time to do that. They had plenty of help too.
As if the big coaching staff headed by Mickey Arthur wasn’t enough, chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq flew out to England to be with the boys. He lectured them and gave them tips. Maybe Pakistan would have been better off without it. No disrespect to Inzamam as he was a great batsman, one of the finest of his generation. But when it comes to planning match strategies or even giving out pep talks, he falls really short.
I still remember his captaincy tenure when things went really bad for the Pakistan team. I was there when Inzamam led Pakistan to their worst World Cup showing in the Caribbean in 2007. I was there at The Oval when he embarrassed Pakistan by masterminding their protest which led to the country becoming the first team to forfeit a match in Test history. If I were Ehsan Mani I would have kept Inzamam at a distance. He was a poor choice as chief selector. Everybody in the world of Pakistan cricket knows that. Well everybody apart from the men running Pakistan cricket. He isn’t a good motivational speaker either.
To send Inzamam to England to be with the boys was an option taken by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). It was a bad option.
So was making Mickey Arthur Pakistan’s head coach in the first place. I still remember asking him why Pakistan just switched off in their big group match of the ICC Champions Trophy against India in Birmingham in the summer of 2017. Arthur appeared as clueless as his charges after the heavy defeat. He had a similar look when Pakistan bounced back from a couple of poor results to win the Champions Trophy a few days later. The man didn’t look in command. Things, it seems, stay the same two years later.
For a man who has coached top teams like Australia and South Africa in the past, Arthur falls remarkably short in his role as Pakistan’s head coach. Together with his coaching staff, Arthur should have prepared Pakistan from any kind of challenge. It’s quite apparent that he failed to do so.
Winning and losing are a part of the game. Nobody is saying that Pakistan took the field against the West Indies as the favourites at Trent Bridge. But nobody expected Pakistan to surrender so meekly either. And the third man responsible for it is the captain. Sarfraz Ahmed has become quite a divisive figure in the world of Pakistan cricket. His supporters see him as the only man capable of leading Pakistan. They cite the example of Pakistan’s title-winning triumph in the ICC Champions Trophy. They also talk about Pakistan’s ascent to the top of the world Twenty20 rankings under his captaincy. His critics, who are now growing in numbers due to Pakistan’s losing spree (they have lost 11 ODIs on the bounce), reject him as a failed leader. They see him as a puppet controlled by the coaches.
In recent times Sarfraz has failed to prove them wrong. His performance with the bat, which was one of the reasons why he was entrusted with the responsibility of leading Pakistan in all three formats, has dipped in recent times.
Back in 2017 especially during the second half of the Champions Trophy he came across as a captain who commanded respect. He came across as a captain who could bring the best out of his players.
Things have changed. If Pakistan failed to turn the tide, Sarfraz will have a lot to answer for. The stakes are high for him. A World Cup disaster might not just put an end to his captaincy tenure, it would also put his place in the national team in jeopardy.
Inzamam, Arthur and Sarfraz might be the key villains behind Pakistan’s sorry ODI run in recent months but they are not the only ones responsible for the downslide. Players like Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir, who played key roles in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy success, have been unable to perform consistently. Fakhar, who hit a match-winning century in the Champions Trophy against India, has failed to reproduce such knocks when it has mattered the most for Pakistan.
Hasan Ai had a meteoric rise soon after making his international debut but his performance graph has also dipped. He has been losing sting, something that was evident again at Trent Bridge when he failed to pose the West Indian top order any kind of problems with the new ball.
Amir has also been a failure since his match-winning spell at The Oval two years ago. Though he ended with a three-wicket haul against the West Indies on Friday, Amir will have to bowl much better if Pakistan are to bounce back in the World Cup.
More experienced players like Mohammad Hafeez also need to pull up their socks. The way Hafeez got out on Friday was an ugly sight. Going through a collapse, Pakistan really needed Hafeez to take charge. He couldn’t. Wahab Riaz, a surprise inclusion in Pakistan’s World Cup squad, was also quite a disappointment.
It’s true that the World Cup has just started and Pakistan still have eight matches to play. They were hit hard by the Windies but like Rocky Balboa they have this ability to bounce back. For the sake of Pakistan’s fans one hopes that they will.