“Defend a low total” - that's programmed into the DNA of Pakistan bowlers and again they had were left to restrict Bangladesh under 129 in a must-win match at the Asia Cup in Dhaka. Mohammad Amir, who has already displayed wizardry in this tournament that has kept Pakistan fans at the edge of their seats, was disdainfully dispatched by Tamim Iqbal for a six in his very first over.
Bangladesh managed to play out his first spell without giving him a wicket but he wasn’t going to remain in the shadows. Soumya Sarkar, who was batting brilliantly, without taking many chances, had got Bangladesh into a commanding position before Amir returned into the attack in the 14th, with 48 runs required. Amir ran in, the crowd cheered loudly for Sarkar. Amir unleashed a yorker, it darted back in, Sarkar saved his feet but couldn’t save his leg stump and a pin drop silence in the stadium followed. If ever anyone has revived the image of an archetype Pakistan Fast bowler, it has been Amir in this Asia Cup. He has been angry, he has been fast, but he has been let down by the fielding, he has been hard done by the batsmen and, as a result, Pakistan have been eliminated from the Asia Cup.
Amir was ably supported by Mohammad Irfan, Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Sami. That was before Sami bowled the 19th over. Pakistan had somehow managed to take the match down to the last two overs and with 18 required off 12, Sami bowled two no-balls -- that has been the story of Sami’s international career. Full of potential but he has almost always crumbled under pressure in the big moments. This was Sami's worst nightmare come true. He conceded 15 runs in that over, despite conceding just three runs off the first three balls, as Mahmudullah and Mashrafe Mortaza gleefully accepted the gift. Bangladesh ended up winning the match with five balls to spare.
However, it will be unfair to blame Pakistan’s defeat on the bowlers, it will also be unfair to take anything away from the rise of Bangladesh. The blame lies with the Pakistan batsmen who haven’t exactly glorified themselves. Yet again.
Say this out loud and see how it sounds: Ahead of the Asia Cup and World T20, let's pick a player who was neglected by five domestic franchises in the Pakistan Super League, ie Khurrum Manzoor.
To be honest the selectors deserve more blame than Manzoor, because this is not new. Remember when Pakistan’s selectors sent an out of form Nasir Jamshed to the 2015 World Cup and nullified any chances of him gaining confidence or at a real comeback into the team? Blaming Manzoor alone now, is unfair, as the rest of the top order has been woeful.
Over the last two years, Pakistan have the least percentage of runs added by the top three among all top eight teams in this format. The Asia cup has been no different. Another match and another top order collapse, as for the third time in a row Pakistan lost three wickets in the first six overs.
At least they are consistently bad.
At the end of the sixth over Pakistan were crawling along at 20/3 after winning the toss and electing to bat first on a wicket that had little grass compared to the ones we have seen in the Asia Cup so far. After the top three departed, Umar Akmal was Pakistan’s hope of getting to a par score and once he threw his wicket away, there was little expectation of reaching 140+. Yet again the lower-middle order had the task of resurrecting the innings – Sarfraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik obliged, but were always chasing the game.
After a slow start to the partnership they did increase the tempo. From the 13th over to when Malik got out, the two added 52 runs off 28 balls. In total Sarfraz and Malik added 70 runs off 50 balls before Malik got out for 41 off 30 in an attempt to clear the mid-wicket boundary. Afridi came in and two balls later Afridi went back to the pavilion. Meanwhile, Sarfraz continued on his merry way and brought up a deserved 50 and steered Pakistan to a respectable total and had you told Pakistan they would be setting a target of 130 after the end of the 10th over they would have grabbed it with both hands. Pakistan added 95 runs in the last 10 overs after being 34/4 - their lowest score after 10 overs in T20s.
Bangladesh were a class apart in the field for the majority of Pakistan's innings. Mashrafe Mortaza is regarded as a world-class captain and he displayed why so, with his cunning bowling changes. It wasn’t until the onslaught from Malik and Sarfraz that their plans were thrown out of the window and once they were put under pressure the chinks in the armor became evident, but it was too little too late as it turned out.
Pakistan’s batting has been woeful in the Asia Cup. There is a clear lack of planning and the roles of players in the batting lineup have not been identified. Khurrum Manzoor might well be on his way out of the squad, possibly replaced by Ahmed Shehzad, but will that improve the team considerably heading into the World T20? Can Pakistan somehow come up with a batting plan in the powerplay? Can the current group of bowlers stay fit after so much cricket?
Those are questions that will not be answered until the World T20 in India. There is still hope left in Pakistan fans, people still believe Pakistan can live up to their tag of cornered tigers. While that might seem illogical, logic isn’t really the term you normally associate with Pakistani cricket.