Today was a far more important match for Pakistan than it was for New Zealand, Pakistan needed a win to keep their destiny in their own hands. But by this point in the tournament New Zealand were mainly worried about whether they would top the group or come second on NRR. I was keen to hear what Afridi had done since the disastrous outing against India, what changes he had tried to bring into the way his team was playing and thinking.
After losing the toss Afridi informed us that he had told his players to ignore the last match and to ignore what people were saying about them, Afridi said he had told his team to just carrying on doing what they have been doing. I couldn’t believe my ears, Pakistan were going to pretend that the India game was a bad day at the office and that there were no issues to be addressed.
The team news worried me as well, Wahab being rested for Imad made sense but I felt the loss of Hafeez was going to be a big blow. I often refer to Hafeez as the field general because Pakistani captains have become so used to Hafeez setting the fields that when they lose Hafeez their field placements are all over the place. This is true of Misbah and Azhar as much as it's true of Afridi. People usually say I’m exaggerating but I can only go on what I see and observe. Little did I know that today everyone would notice that something wasn’t right with the fielding.
New Zealand opted to bat first and Amir squared off against Guptill to start proceedings, he bowled tight to start and only 1 run was conceded. Irfan came on and NZ went after him taking 13 runs off his first over. Afridi’s reaction was to remove the slip for the 3rd over when Amir was bowling again. Without a slip in the 3rd over New Zealand batsmen were allowed to free their arms to hit over the infield in the powerplay and they smashed 13 runs off Amir’s second over. The onslaught had begun.
One thing I’ve noticed about Irfan is that he usually comes back strong in his second over and he bowls better if you give him a longer spell but then I’m not an international Captain so what do I know. I would have bowled Irfan out but Afridi brought Sami on instead who went for 8 runs. Things didn’t look any better when Imad came on after Sami and went for 9 runs off his first over as well. By the 7th over I was wondering where Afridi was, he normally comes on to bowl after the 5th over.
Instead as the 7th over started Irfan came on to bowl that second over I was talking about earlier and he took a wicket as well as bowling more tightly. Not a surprise to me but what do I know. Irfan conceded 9 runs in his second over but 4 of those were off an under edge which went past the keeper for 4.
We really could have used this over earlier on and I wrongly hoped the wicket would mean Irfan would be bowled out now that he was looking more dangerous.
Something Wasim Akram said during commentary made me rewind the live game and watch what had happened for myself. Wasim mentioned that it was good to see a slip in but there was no slip, Wasim was confused and said well there was a slip in for the last ball. I went back to look and after Irfan took a wicket, Afridi put a slip in for one ball, then the ball after that he took the slip back out again.
Who puts a slip in for 1 ball in an over? Come back Hafeez all is forgiven!
Scoring usually slows after a wicket falls and as soon as Williamson fell to Irfan I thought to myself Afridi is going to bring himself in for the next over. And there he was, Captain Fantastic coming on in the 8th over in a tournament where spinners were causing havoc. I’ll bet he gets a wicket I thought to myself. On the 5th ball of Afridi's first over Munro tried to switch hit and was caught out. Am I turning into a clairvoyant you ask?
No, I’ve just seen too many Pakistani games and I know the script by now.
Besides I didn’t predict the nonsensical bowling changes and the crazy field placings. For most of the game Pakistan were gifting New Zealand singles and doubles by not covering the infield. I could see it, the commentators could see it, twitter could see it but not the captain on the actual field. One wonders if Hafeez has any hair left whilst watching all of this from the bench
Then came something that I could never predict however many games of cricket I’ve watched. Guptill hit a ball straight at point, we all expected point to pick it up and it would be a dot ball but there was no point. Not only was there no point, there wasn’t a single fielder on the off at point or cover for the right handed batsman. The ball just rolled on to the boundary unhindered by man, blades of grass it's only companions. Even Guptill looked on incredulous, if you don’t believe me look for yourself…
…yes that was the story of todays game. Terrible field placements, nonsensical rapid bowling changes and total lack of any captaincy let New Zealand score a ridiculous 180 runs on a pitch which wasn’t worth more than 140-150 on average. Guptill played an absolute blinder but there’s no way he should have got as many runs as he did at the speed he did on a pitch like this.
I remember going into the interval thinking Pakistan gave away 30 runs too many, in the end it was probably closer to 20 runs too many.
The Pakistani chase started strong with Sharjeel getting Pakistan away to a blazing start. My first reaction to seeing the way Sharjeel was batting was that either Afridi or Imad needed to be sent in at number 3 to do some pinch hitting to keep the momentum going. They had done the same in the games vs India and Bangladesh so surely they would at least do it today when chasing such a huge total?
But what do I know?
When Sharjeel eventually fell just short of his 50 with the score at 65/1 after 5.3 overs, in walked Khalid Latif. Now I like Khalid and think he deserves a run in the team but this wasn’t the time to send Khalid in. This was the one time we did need to see Afridi coming in, unlike in the last game vs India. Predictably Khalid and Shahzad let the tempo of the game slide because they aren’t pinch hitters and they can’t be expected to keep going at the rate Sharjeel was. After a few deliveries Khalid tried to lift the tempo but failed and was out for only 3 runs off 7 balls.
Afridi was coming out now right?
No he wasn't. Instead we saw Umar Akmal come out and play one of the strangest innings I’ve ever seen him play. 26 balls without a single boundary and only 24 runs scored. At the other end Shahzad also appeared to be in the same infectious trance barely scoring 30 runs off 32 balls but at least he'd hit 3 fours. Shahzad fell in the 12th over and finally Afridi strode to the crease but Pakistan had let the game slip so far that even with the noughties Afridi and the noughties Razzaq blazing from both ends this total would have been hard to reach from here.
Afridi’s cameo of 19 runs off 9 balls could have been game changing if he had come in at number 3 after Sharjeel. Pakistan would have been on something like 84/2 after 7 overs needing 97 off 78 balls which could have been knocked off in a run a ball style by guys like Shahzad, Malik and Sarfaraz. But once again those of us watching could clearly see what needed to be done and were shouting about it in commentary threads and to each other. But the experienced international Captain and Coach didn’t have a clue.
A lot of people are bemoaning the lack of boundaries but what Pakistan lacked in this batting innings wasn’t boundaries it was clever cricket. They wasted delivery after delivery trying and failing to hit boundaries and ending up missing and conceding dot balls. Had they moved the ball around more they would have ended up getting a lot closer to the total. After the match even Afridi said that they had tried to hit the ball too hard when working the spinners around the ground would have been a better option but I don’t think it’s fair to blame the batsmen too much. They still scored 158 runs chasing on a wicket that wasn’t a 180 wicket.
It wasn’t the batting today, chasing 180 type scores is a miracle day for any Pakistan side.
Pakistan lost the game in the first half through clueless captaincy, ordinary bowling, nonsensical field placings and through having no coherent bowling plan. Why didn’t Malik bowl a single ball when Imad and the NZ spinners had such a good game? Why did Afridi bowl all 4 overs at over 10 runs an over but not give Malik a chance for at least 1 or 2 overs?
It’s not often that a captain is so woefully bad that you can genuinely lay nearly all the blame at his feet but today was one such day for Pakistan. This team is lacking leadership and their T20 record under their current leader is proof positive of that. What’s the betting we will see a limping Hafeez playing the last game just so Pakistan’s field general can be on the field to avoid another disaster like today.
Pakistan were all over the place, New Zealand took full advantage
Pakistan were all over the place, New Zealand took full advantage