They have just gone and done it again. After being skittled out for the lowest total of the 2019 World Cup so far, Pakistan promptly went and scored the highest score of this World Cup against the number one side in the world.
Two defeats in two wouldn’t have been the end of the road for Pakistan but it would have drastically reduced their margin of error. Now, they take on a struggling Sri Lanka team that may well be the weakest in the entire competition. Win that and momentum—one of the most important things in all of sport—will be on their side.
And yet it would be folly to get too carried away with the win. Pakistan’s win over England was an upset and one win should not paper over a plethora of cracks.
Imam-ul-Haq is still woefully clueless about the demands modern cricket places on openers; his scoring rate is often so slow that his stay on the crease hinders the side rather than help it. It may seem harsh but Pakistan were much better off once he was dismissed. Imam was dismissed off the first ball of the 21st over. Pakistan’s run-rate in the first 20 overs was 5.5 and it was 7.9 after he was gone.
Outside of the top three, the batsmen are still unsure of their place both in the batting order and in the playing eleven. No single batsman has occupied the same position in the side for more than three matches in the eight matches since Pakistan arrived in England.
Uncertainty haunts the bowling department as well, with the management still experimenting with the number of specialist bowlers they should field, let alone the personnel. Wahab Riaz took wickets but was expensive, Hassan Ali seems a shadow of the bowler who romped to the top of the wicket-taking charts two years ago in the Champions Trophy, Mohammad Amir has impressed in the two matches so far but is still being let down by the fielders and Shadab Khan continues his best Jekyll and Hyde impression.
The 10 overs of part-time spin served up by Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik were arguably the best for Pakistan but surely the management cannot expect these two to continue to be this impressive with the ball. The benching of Imad Wasim not only deprived Sarfaraz of an extra bowling option but also of their best power-hitter in the final 10 overs—he averages more than 42 with the bat in 2019 at a strike-rate of 137.15.
Shaheen Shah Afridi waits in the wings as well and Mohammad Hasnain seems to have already become an afterthought, making his selection seem even more ludicrous.
And then there is the fielding, the only aspect of the game where Pakistan are consistent—albeit consistently poor. Three catches have been dropped in two games already: one by Babar Azam, one by Imam and one by Sarfaraz. These three are considered some of the safest hands and gloves in the Pakistan side. If the best is this poor then just how ridiculously low has the bar been set?
Perhaps the biggest flaw, however, may be a mental one. Pakistan are still adamant on playing an out-dated form of cricket and nothing summed it up more than when Wahab was brought on by Sarfaraz for his second burst.
It was an attacking move designed to dismiss the dangerous partnership of Joe Root and Jos Buttler. Wahab did his job and twice found the outside edge in that over, once off Root’s bat and the other off Buttler’s. Both deliveries, deserving of a wicket, raced to the boundary because Sarfaraz insisted on defensive field placement. All four frontline bowlers found the outside edge at one or the other, only to see it go through a vacant slip region for runs.
Pakistan’s management still somehow believes that a score of 350 can be defended even if wickets don’t fall. It can be if the chasing team has the likes of Imam, Babar, Sarfaraz and Haris Sohail in it but not with Jonny Bairstow, Buttler, Root, Eoin Morgan and Ben Stokes in the side. The only way to prevent them from chasing down a score of 350 on a batting pitch is to take wickets. The same applies to Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies, and India. The attack is no longer the best form of defence but rather the only possible form of defence. Pakistan seem to not have gotten that memo.
Pakistan fans tend to get carried away with every result, each win is treated like the start of an era of dominance while each defeat is made out to be the usherer of an age of darkness. The win over England, as satisfying as it was, must not hide the fact that Pakistan have won just once in their last 12 completed ODIs.
There is still a lot of work to be done and one shock win doesn’t change that.