Ball one: Mohammad Amir ran in from over the wicket and bowled a fifth-stump line to Rohit Sharma. The slip cordon started chirping.
Ball two: This one was closer to the batsman and came back a little. “Amir!” shouted Ian Bishop in the commentary box. Amir walked up to Sharma and gave him a stare. The crowd erupted.
So often, one wonders what type of Pakistan turn up to a cricket game and the first two balls — in fact the first over — of the match gave every indication that this was the type one wanted to see as a fan.
There was pace, aggression and the right kind of buzz. But then Sarfraz Ahmed brought Imad Wasim to bowl. Not for one or two overs but for six overs. Was Sarfraz looking for wickets up front or was his plan always to restrict India to 300 instead of 320? This, given India’s track record of being circumspect in the first 10-15 overs, was poor planning. It is hard to tell if this was only Sarfraz’s planning or if Arthur was also involved in this. Whoever thought it was a good idea needs to rethink their strategy.
Of course, it doesn’t help that Sarfraz’s X-factor addition to the team – Wahab Riaz – turned out to be the weakest link. An out of sorts Wahab is likely to make way for either Junaid Khan or Faheem Ashraf in the next two games. In 25 games after the 2015 World Cup, Wahab has picked up 25 wickets at an average of 47.08. In his last four matches, he has gone for 260 runs in 33.4 overs with just two wickets to his name. Maybe, he needs some time off?
But then, Sarfraz did not help his own cause either. When Kohli walked in, for example, Sarfraz brought on Imad and gave Kohli four overs of spin to get his eye in. Surely he missed a trick by not bringing on Hassan Ali or Amir earlier against Kohli?
Shadab Khan lived up to his expectations with the ball, troubling the Indian batsmen with the odd wrong one. Who knows what might have happened had Hassan Ali held on to that catch to dismiss Yuvraj in Shadab’s last over? Pakistan cricket is so often a story of what could have been. What transpired on the field, however, should be a concern for the team management.
This brings us to Pakistan’s Achilles' heel: fielding.
I understand that domestic grounds do not encourage young cricketers to focus on fielding the way modern cricket demands but what is the excuse for established cricketers like Shehzad and Imad? An Imad Wasim chase to the boundary would make Mohammad Yousuf look like a top fielder. Not only do these players have enough exposure by now, they also have former Australian fielding coach Steve Rixon working with them. Plus, this was a Pakistan-India game. Where was the added adrenaline rush?
Instead, the catches slipped. Hassan Ali dropped a sitter from Yuvraj Singh and Faheem Ashraf, the substitute fielder, dropped Virat Kohli’s catch. Their combined score after the dropped catches was 83 off 38 balls.
It is unfair if one doesn’t admire the class of Virat Kohli and the clean hitting of Yuvraj Singh. So often, Kohli has shown why he is the best in the business and Sunday's match was no different. That six over cover off Hassan Ali is a shot I will gladly play on repeat.
Although India tried really hard to match Pakistan’s poor fielding, the Indian team is ahead of Pakistan on every possible measure. Their batsmen convert circumspect starts into meaningful contributions – they know how and when to up the ante. Pakistan, meanwhile, were stuck with a top order that batted with a combined strike rate of 73. What’s worse is that they faced 70 percent of the total number of balls. This should be unacceptable from a top level team. There can be no two ways about this.
And this is where Coach Arthur’s repeated press statements about a new brand of cricket need to translate into something tangible as well. They lost an One Day International against the West Indies recently — a game in which they played 141 dot balls. Today, they played 115 in 33.4 overs.
It doesn’t help that Pakistan and India are not playing every second day like they used to in the early mid-2000s. This makes it difficult for some players to process the pressure. Clearly, Pakistan are now the India of the 1990s; unable to overcome that mental barrier of beating their arch-rival. With such a rich history of competition, it is frightening to imagine what might become of this great cricketing rivalry a few years from now.
Pakistan’s last Champions Trophy outing — also in England — saw them lose all three games. They are off to another losing start in this year’s campaign. With a group game against South Africa, there shouldn’t be much hope of advancing into the second round. Then again, we don’t know which Pakistan will turn up in the next two games.