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The predictable start
ICC Cricket World Cup 2019

The predictable start

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 is being hosted by England and Wales. Ten top teams of the world, not the entire gauntlet of twelve Full Members or any Associate, are taking part. Ireland and Zimbabwe sit out. I believe, still, it is an acknowledgement of the world’s greatest cricket tournament celebrated by the consumers, sponsors, organisers and the players alike. It has been a quest to pick the best team globally. Played with a round robin format, it promises to provide qualitatively best cricket ever seen since 1975.

As Jonty Rhodes always says, cricket in England is a game of two summers. Matches in the first half can be a nightmare for the batsmen, as we grow in months conditions become conducive for stroke-making. Nonetheless, the world over with scientific interventions, pitches have been tailor-made for high scoring matches. Soil analysis, even the drop-ins have changed what we used to see in England and Australia. However, there has been a sharp contrast what was initially being contemplated. Barring the pitch which was provided at the Oval for the South Africa-England match, the other three at Trent Bridge, Cardiff and Bristol were heart-breaking. The one at Trent Bridge had steep bounce and evidence of early moisture, the one at Cardiff was absolutely green and so was the pitch at Bristol.

I went on social media writing about my observations and was instantly termed as a conspiracy theorist in my attempt to protect what had transpired with teams from Asia slithering to an ignominious low. One can’t justify the frailty and ineptness of the Pakistan batsmen. It was so outrageously evident they couldn’t handle the short of length deliveries. It seemed, they were clueless and didn’t have the skills to negotiate steep bounce. Accustomed to having played a majority of their cricket in the United Arab Emirates, most of them plant their leg left forward (right-handers) and complete their pivot before the ball gets to them, which erodes their mobility, failing to adjust to the length and flight. It seemed the top five batsmen were looking for zone bowling which never happened. However, from a broader perspective, one has to draw parallels and comparisons about the pitches.

Sri Lanka have lost it. The politics at the SLC reflects in their team. Angelo Mathews being removed as captain, Danish Chandimal left behind and a host of others ignored are contrasting to the team Sri Lanka had produced in the 1990s. Starting from Makin Saleh, Anura Tennekoon, Ranjith Fernando, David Heyn, Michael Tissera, Bandula Warnapura, Sidath Wittamuny, Sunil Wittamuny, Roy Dias, Ranjan Mudugalle, Duleep Mendis, followed by Arjuna Ranatunga and Arvinda de Silva who took Sri Lanka cricket to a different pedestal. In white ball cricket, Sanath Jayasuriya, just like Test cricket, redefined Sri Lanka’s perspective. Romesh Kaluwitharana with Sanath transformed ODI cricket during the Wills World Cup 1996, introducing pinch-hitting. Asanka Gurusinha batted unlike those from Sri Lanka. He was an aggressor, resolute and high on resilience. There were a few others including Hashan Tillakaratne, Chandika Hathurusinghe, Russel Arnold, Brendon Kuruppu, Marvan Atapattu and Roshan Mahnama. Kuruppu had started his Test career with a double-century. Atapattu scored five zeroes and a single in his first six innings in Tests before posting six double-hundreds and captaining his country. However, Aravinda de Silva was in a different league. He was a batsman for all seasons, probably a batsman for all generations.

Subsequently arrived Mahela Jayawardene and the breathtaking Kumar Sangakkara. Such was their brilliance that another spectacular batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan was lost somewhere in the heap of their greatness. Sri Lanka’s main issue was their bowling with supplies coming from Tony Opatha, Asantha De Mell, Ravi and Rumesh Ratnayake and Champaka Ramanayake. Nonetheless their fast bowling looked depleted. Sri Lanka could post or chase large totals, but they couldn’t ever restrict the top batting line-ups. They had some outstanding spinners to begin with including Somachandra de Silva (right arm leg break & googly), Ajanta de Silva (slow left arm), Roger Wijesuriya, and Ranjit Madurusinghe. However, the advent of Muttiah Muralitharan and to some extent Ajantha Mendis wrecked their opposition. Muralitharan went onto pick 800 wickets in Tests and another 514 in ODIs. Mendis represented Sri Lanka in 87 ODIs and became a great exponent of carrom ball and the one bowled with the tweak of a finger.

Once Jayawardene and Sangakkara went and so did Muralitharan and Dilshan (the originator of Dilscoop), Sri Lanka slithered to oblivion. On the current team, there are only a few comparable to their predecessors, maybe to some extent Dimuth Kurunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Angelo Mathews and Lahiru Thirimanne. Sri Lanka have appeared to be the orthodox weakest team in the ICC World Cup 2019. Afghanistan have that killer’s attitude and never say die approach whilst Bangladesh have some world class batsmen. However, Sri Lanka look out of sorts.

On a green-top, with heavy atmosphere, Kane Williamson won the toss and had the Lankans dancing to the tunes. Kurunaratne stuck out manfully. He batted with orthodoxy and sustained resilience. He didn’t let it go. The one to blame in the Sri Lanka innings was Thisara Perera. He had gotten in and was batting comfortably until a rush of blood had him down. That was it. New Zealand’s reply was a blitz. Martin Guptill with firm base, using his height and wayward bowling from Lasith Malinga had Sri Lanka on the mat. Guptill was brilliant allowing Colin Munro to spring back to form. New Zealand overhauled Sri Lanka’s 136 in 16.1 overs.

I only had to respond to Chief Commercial Officer from Pakistan Television’s dismaying telephone call. He was panicking. In the Pakistan-West Indies match, we had lost 64 overs of play and another 54 plus over were wasted in Sri Lanka versus New Zealand game. PTV Sports had lost 118 overs of bookings, which meant a potential loss of Rs 65 million in lieu of the unattended Commercial Air Time. It needed to be compensated. ICC World Cup 2019 wasn’t auguring well for us as the broadcasters.

Analysing the first five matches leaves the orthodox disheartened. First five up, at least four have been lop-sided. The first match between England and South Africa wasn’t expected to be how it actually panned out. Faf du Plessis, one of the technically better captains, won the toss and instead of batting, he put England in. South Africa’s line-up wasn’t also a little surprising. Preferring JP Duminy and Dwaine Pretorius over David Miller and Chris Morris was surprising. In the process of trying to bat deep, they left their bowling vulnerable. It was a smart move to employ Imran Tahir bowling first-up. Nonetheless, with him providing an early breakthrough and eating up Johnny Bairstow, he should have been taken off and re-introduced in the middle overs. With Jason Roy and Eoin Morgan posting half-centuries still much work needed to be done.

England’s trump card Jos Buttler failed, only Ben Stokes held their innings together. Stokes’ role has to be defined. He used to be an outstanding all-rounder cut in the mould of an Ian Botham or a Freddie Flintoff, recently it seems he has stopped focusing on his bowling. Is it England’s requirement to have him batting or he has been avoiding recurrent heel injury which he has been sustaining while bowling? This needs to be seen. Stretching England to a total of 311 with Stokes getting 89 in 79 balls was a befitting recovery. Faf seemed mediocre with his captaincy. He didn’t pick the eleven appropriately and didn’t ring bowing changes conducive to the situation. He should have remembered circumstance is the handmaiden of need.

That England started the ICC World Cup 2019 as number 1 team on the rankings and South Africa not far behind at 3, the match didn’t reflect the intensity that was expected. England were simply clinical. In the end, South Africa capitulated, losing by 107 runs. It was their own doing. Jofra Archer left them skimmed. He bowled astoundingly. He was fast and tested the batsmen. He has a hyper-mobile wrist, creates a whip after loading or at the point of release, also using his height. He is a tormenter. I feel Archer may well be the bowler to watch during the World Cup. He is my pick.

Watching Pakistan cricket in itself is an art. People resort to optimism, some go overboard adhering to vulgar foolhardiness supporting our team and most, the practical-minded, have a balanced view.

I don’t buy the tag of ‘unpredictability’, which many imply as a tool to bail out Pakistan. Travesty it is? Modern cricket is based on scientific principles, systematic training, differentiation between amateur and professional athletes, biomechanical and kinetic developments, sports nutrition, the phenomenal modules, skill, talent, maximization of ability, marginalization of fragilities, situational savviness, mapping, the subliminal and cognitive assessments. If one dwells deep and executes in accordance with the requirements of modern cricket, how could a team be unpredictable?

In developed teams, the roles are well-defined, tier training and having come through infallible pathways make most of the cricketers high on skill. Merit and skill make their self-belief to soar each time they are put in real tests.

Pakistan’s team may well be spiritually apt, high on faith but most of the cricketers employed aren’t high on skills. The batsmen lack technique, method, the psychological and emotional strength. It seems they aren’t cricket savvy. I believe it isn’t completely their fault, some have been handpicked, some selected directly from T20 tournaments and others find it hard to compete and assemble their techniques required at the international level largely because of the first-class cricket, a neglected product in the country. All stakeholders alike do not emphasise on improving the infrastructure therefore first-class cricket has become an awfully neglected part of our system. Corrupt systems can hardly produce champion players. Pakistan batsmen’s fears of failure come to term with the tragedy, a classical representation of how things are diluted.

They haven’t been able to face up to a sequence of losses. Recently, starting their losing spree in South Africa all throughout the series against Australia in the UAE and over to England has been a story of torment. Renaissance, revivification or restoration, even resurrection seems far-fetched. The mere idea of breaking the sequence takes on their most overpoweringly difficult challenge.

Nonetheless, losing humiliatingly the Pakistan players must know even death isn’t the end. If they do not get their acts right, it will surely be their perpetual perishing. They need to look to self-analysis to face the torment. They need to look directly at what is excruciating and come to terms to their own predicament. They should look to their contemporary players from the other teams, even their seniors learning how to take their roles seriously, remembering their achievements than to say adieu. It’s not up to the players but Mickey Arthur and the management to ruminate upon their loss. A kind of despondency has trickled in a sequence of 11 successive defeats.

They need to realise things shall pass, things are ephemeral and experiencing that there are things they’ll never do that they thought they might do. They need to wake up to the reality that it’s not true anymore. They must not be disillusioned about any possibility opening and it’s unwise to profess. Self-belief introduces the transcendent, which isn’t so measurable. It can help them realize, even in a loss that there’s also a sense they are still moving in a direction that has a purpose, and that there’s hope. There is a sense of surrender, it should be eliminated rising to an eternal reality larger than themselves. But there may still be sadness in the next few matches. It’s not just about picking oneself up by one’s own weight even when it’s covered up in devotion. Expecting the indigenous challenges can be exciting, but it doesn’t take away that slight downheartedness that is inevitable in seeing things pass, the loss of chances and possibilities. The two can coexist- there’s that conflict.

Philosophically, part of the tragedy of losing successively is players’ reactions. It seems, they play selfishly and feel alone instead of feeling the unity and energy a team sport brings. Pakistan lost to the Windies and were even fearful. Failure of anyone in a team threatens the extermination of them all.

Bad decisions, a bit of nepotism, random pickings and underserving making the team, the deserving consigned to oblivion becomes an evolutionary process containing unforgiving limitations. The future is relegated to the past; sporadic success for the aggrieved isn’t the ideal of happily after is replaced by the maimed disappointment of plunging into the pit again. They need to revitalize. Reawakening will require the introduction of something new, may it be the renewed confidence. What we have been doing, we must understand the past succumbs as it is the naissance of the present. Yet, in another sense, the past lives on in the present. We didn’t make systems and we see our raw product striving to become brands.

The Pakistan Cricket Board, Head Coach Mickey Arthur, the Chairman of Selectors Inzamam Ul Haq, even their coaches Andrew Flower and Azhar Mahmood may well realise while constant losses mark the way reality is structured. It does not take away from the hurt. Pakistan team’s perpetual perishing has to stop, and this will not come through cosmetic changes or reinforcing the tested and tried. It doesn’t have to be done within the team, it has to be a long-term investment in first-class cricket and restructuring the PCB such that merit supersedes ad hoc systems. We have to understand currently there is a stack of problems and the heap keeps on piling up. Chairman PCB and their Managing Director now have a job at hand and hopefully, they can pull up a few strings. Can they?

While enduring gut-wrenching feelings of consternation, we are still ready to experience the team’s resurgence giving us more than a glimmer of hope that winning or losing is the penultimate experience, not the final experience.

Pakistan has been on a losing spree, 11 in a row. Quality of players out there, to some of the experts, has been questionable nonetheless this what we have and there are still eight matches to be played in the 2019 World Cup. Recovery isn’t just like turning off the switch, but that it’s an entry into a new consciousness. Pakistan can still recover. I believe, they need a bit of tweaking and players have to be given security about their immediate futures. Captain has to stand up and take his charges along. Attitudes have to change. The next six weeks are going to be imperative in terms of some of the players on the Pakistan team to survive. Personal consciousness is not a certainty, but a hope.

Start to their campaign in the World Cup seemed falling in a heap. There were plenty of frustrations for the Pakistanis. Their batsmen just refused to gel as a unit, top-order batsmen seemed frail, virtually fearful of straight short-pitched bowling. Windies bowlers had worked them out perfectly. Oshane Thomas and Jason Holder were the knives and Pakistan’s batsmen melting butter. It reflected how frail were Pakistan’s batsmen, shying away from anything pitched-short and kicking up. It looked anything out of their comfort zone was the death rattle.

Jason Holder winning the toss and asking Pakistan to bat ruffled a few feathers. Trent Bridge has been batsmen’s heaven with six scores of over 400 plus posted in the last 18 months. The pitch wasn’t green but produced a steep bounce. An overcast morning, as it looked had complemented Holder’s decision on winning the toss. Imam ul Haq was out freakishly fending one, gloving to Shai Hope. Next, was Fakhar Zaman’s demise not before he had unleashed a few delectable shots. Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hafeez even Sarfraz Ahmad all fell timidly. Babar Azam flirted with a ball that he could have blindingly left alone. Hope flung in the air completing a spectacular catch. Intriguingly, Andre Russell generally referred to as fast medium had Haris hopping and was out to a ball bowled at 146 km/hour. Why did Holder employ himself, though he picked three wickets, his arrival couldn’t justify Russel taken off? Pakistan succumbed to 105 all out, not before Wahab Riaz at number eleven had hit two sixes and a four, making 18. That Pakistan innings lasted only 21.4 overs was abysmal.

It looked a formality; only positive Pakistan could drive from the match was Mohammad Aamir’s return and a handful of wickets he picked up front. Chris Gayle hoisted his sixth successive half-century and taking the tally of sixes to 48 in the last five matches. Nicholas Pooran looked comforted as Windies overhauled the target in 13.4 overs. Pakistan’s batting was overwhelmingly exposed. Short bowling became their nemesis. They need to resurrect quickly otherwise the sun will soon set for them in the west.

The Australia versus Afghanistan match wasn’t anything symbolic. Afghanistan’s grit, aggression, attitude and passion were drooling. They didn’t begin as non-starters. Embattled losing both openers without scoring, their revival came from Najeebullah Zardran’s delectable half-century and the last flourish from bold and mettlesome Rashid Khan. Australia cruised through. Aaron Finch batted as he does nonetheless David Warner’s was a complete contrast to how we see him milk runs. His defence was impenetrable and Hamid Hassan bowled two successive maiden overs. Warner’s was the slowest half-century of his career. However, he wasn’t embattled. He chose the way to test his defence and endurance. He was successful in the end with Australia winning by seven wickets.

Bangladesh were put into bat in the fifth match of the tournament versus South Africa at the Oval. South Africa were handicapped. They couldn’t really get their combination right. They sorely missed Hashim Amla in the top order having been hit and left concussed by Jofra Archer. Dale Steyn’s recurrent elbow injury kept him out whilst Lungi Ngidi flayed conceding 34 runs in 4 overs, also dropped out due to a pulled muscle. Nothing much was left for Faf du Plessis. However, why didn’t he choose to bat first having won the toss showed his confused mindset. Bangladesh openers Tamim Iqbal and Soumaya Sarkar were in business from the start. The two put on 60 runs in 8.2 overs. The bulk of scoring came from Sarkar. He was severe on Ngidi.

Anything short, Sarkar was up for it and balancing himself, execution of the horizontal bat shots were delightful. How he balanced himself statically on length balls and dynamically when he had to hook, pull and cut was inspiring. Next in, Shakib Ul Hassan batting at number three was the mainstay in the innings. Sarkar left scoring 42 in 30 balls with 9 fours. Shakib with Mushfiq Ur Rahim batted maturely and the two hit 16 fours and a six in a partnership of 142 for the third wicket was an epic. Mushfiq batted courageously whilst the South Africa bowlers couldn’t really penetrate. Down the order, there wasn’t any onslaught still Mahmudullah posted 46 in 33 balls. With Shakib scoring 75 and Mushfiq 78, and the best part being the two made runs at 6.00 runs per over was special. They paced the innings outstandingly maintaining the run rate between the 12th and 36th over. That was impeccable.

South Africa batsmen were in the runs individually but couldn’t really make an impact. Aiden Markram scored 45 in 56 balls, Faf du Plessis posted 62 in 53 deliveries, and once he was gone, David Miller 38 in 43 deliveries, Duminy 45 in 37 balls, Van der Dussen 41 in 38 deliveries couldn’t really map out the plan to spur their team to overhaul the 330 target? Bangladesh not only won the match, they swept people off their feat. ICC World Cup 2019, it seemed with Bangladesh has already started.