5:50 PM ETOsman SamiuddinSenior editor, ESPNcricinfo CloseOsman spent the first half of his life pretending he discovered reverse swing with a tennis ball half-covered with electrical tape. The second half of his life was spent trying, and failing, to find spiritual fulfillment in the world of Pakistani advertising and marketing. The third half of his life will be devoted to convincing people that he did discover reverse swing. And occasionally writing about cricket. And learning mathematics.FacebookTwitterFacebook MessengerPinterestEmailprint
One of the first tasks of chroniclers is to rationalise what has just passed before them, so let’s get what makes sense about this out of the way.
This Pakistan side are not as bad as the 11-match losing streak they just snapped would suggest. The series against Australia was played by a second-string side. The series against England was closer than the 4-0 score line and they were missing two key bowlers.
The 105 all out last week was an aberration. Until that innings, their scores this year, in South Africa, the UAE and England read: 267-5, 203, 317-6, 168-2, 240-8, 280-5, 284-7, 186, 271-8, 307-7, 80-2, 361-7, 358-9, 340-7, 297. The last four were against England in England so at the very least, when they were put into bat in the morning, they knew where they were, who they were up against and what they could do.
That though, is pretty much that and once it’s out of the way, what we’re left with is what we’re so often left with, with Pakistan: a great big tangle of threads that can’t be untangled, unless it’s Pakistan, in a specific moment in time, doing the untangling.
Where do you even begin?
Mohammad Hafeez was the player of the match. Mohammad Hafeez who is nearly 39, is not and never was the dynamic young modern tyro most teams look to have as their number four; who might be better suited even lower in the order but who stubbornly sees himself as a top-order batsman; who remains in the side as much for the memory of his bowling but whose action has been called and changed so many times that he’s not really been bowling anymore: just 22 overs in his last eight ODIs before today.
They also picked the 37-year-old Shoaib Malik who, over 18 years of playing ODIs in England, averages 14 with the bat. He has bowled 27 overs in three years and Pakistan picked him thinking with Hafeez he could get them 10 overs as the fifth bowler for 60-odd runs. In his last ODI at Trent Bridge, in that 444 game, his figures were 3-0-44-0. For nearly two decades, the two have threatened to become one really good player but never quite gotten there.
They dropped Imad Wasim for this combination, who went for 6.37 runs per over in the preceding ODI series against England, bowled his entire quota of overs three times out of four and took six wickets. Hafeez and Malik went for 53 in their combined ten overs – and 15 of those came in Hafeez’s last over – and took two wickets. On this England batting line they applied a brief but critical choke like this was Sri Lanka and they were both Sanath Jayasuriya.
And Pakistan wanted something more that was unquantifiable – Malik’s calm on the field. And crazily, it worked, given that he went to Wahab Riaz after he had been hit for three fours in six balls by Jonny Bairstow and just persuaded him to breathe and calm down. Bairstow was beaten next ball, and two balls later was gone.
ALSO READ: ‘We just needed a kick for us to click’ – Hasan Ali
Which brings us to Wahab Riaz. Dumped unceremoniously a year ago by the coach; told in April by the chief selector that there are better bowlers than him in Pakistan. He had last taken an ODI wicket in April 2017 and had conceded 127 runs in 12.2 overs in his last two. Not only was he in the World Cup squad, he was in the playing XI. He took more wickets on Monday than he had taken in his last five games, including that big one of Bairstow, and took two important catches at the death. And maybe this bit makes most sense given the grievance he will be carrying, but he’s been their most pumped-up player since landing in England.
Then they opened the bowling with Shadab Khan, which he’d never done in an ODI before, and which felt like they couldn’t find a better idea and so decided to rip-off Faf du Plessis’ deployment of Imran Tahir from the opening game, itself based on Jason Roy’s relative weakness against legspin (that data was most definitely not mined by Pakistan). Shadab doesn’t even like doing it (he’s done it in T20s) but Pakistan also didn’t have a choice: their combination was such that they only had one new-ball bowler. Rip-off, compulsion, genius, it doesn’t really matter at this stage does it?
There was so much else, so many little and big things they did wrong. They sent Sarfaraz Ahmed in when the situation was crying out for Asif Ali. There was the obligatory dropping of big catches – Joe Root first, and Chris Woakes much later when he was threatening to bring the chase home. Sarfaraz missed a chance – a tough one, but a chance nonetheless.
Above it all, they were up against the hosts, the number one side in the world, most people’s favourites for this tournament, a machine as well-drilled, as well-financed as Pakistan are not. They were defending against a side that hadn’t failed to chase down a total at home since 2015, that had chased down 358 and 340 against them weeks ago, defending it with a bowling attack that, by most metrics, has been among the worst in the world for over a year. All at Trent Bridge, the meanest ground in the world for bowling.
They did it without actually bowling England out, which is what most coaches have said is the only way to beat them. Ten good balls Azhar Mahmood had said pre-game, ten good balls was all they needed. It was stirring stuff but not exactly big on plans was it? And technically he was wrong – nine did the trick.
And those 11 losses, caveats and all, are still 11 losses. They include big losses, narrow ones, and all those other kinds of losses that get lost in the fog of the final result but each one of which instills different kinds of doubt. Whichever way you cut them, these are losses and athletes live and breathe the idea of winning.
Sure the first task of the chronicler is to rationalise, to make sense of what has happened, but on some magical, upside down days it is also the most pointless duty.