ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Battered, bruised and rattled, Pakistan panicked and blanked out in face of West Indies fury

Pakistan had gone blank. They didn't know what to do with that short stuff. They didn't have a plan B. It was hit out or get out.

Jigar Mehta, Jun 01, 2019 08:49:33 IST

There we go then. We've spent so much time talking about flat tracks, dry conditions, small boundaries, high scoring games and the prospect of 500-run mark being broken at the World Cup. And here we have it. After just one match, we have a team getting bowled out for 105.

Who would have thought that an entire team will get bounced out on these flat pitches? Who would have thought that of pace bowling attacks, West Indies' would be the one that would spark Pakistan capitulation? Who would have thought that the talk of the town will be West Indies bowling to start off rather than their batting?

Well, if one of the two teams out in the middle is Pakistan, you can dare to think about the unthinkable. The unpredictables have arrived at the World Cup and that too in style (read this with sarcasm).

Andre Russell bounces out Haris Sohail. Reuters

Andre Russell bounces out Haris Sohail. Reuters

A day after belting out a warning that 'all teams are scared' of Pakistan because of their unpredictability, Pakistan themselves were left petrified at the Trent Bridge.

They might even get nightmares of those white kookaburras rocketing towards their chins and noses for a few days.

West Indies pacers found out a weak spot in Pakistan batting. They scratched it. Kept scratching it. Turned it into a bruise. And then kept hammering it. Pakistan were paralysed. Pakistan were knocked out.

The short delivery was that lethal weapon that West Indies employed to destroy Pakistan.

They could have survived. They could have trudged along. They could have stood there and taken it on the chin. But survival was never in Pakistan's minds. They just wanted to run away. If it's not happening why try hard? It's not going to happen anyway! Why waste our precious times?

Pakistan had gotten off to a decent start. They were 17/0 from 2.5 overs. Then Sheldon Cottrell darted in a back of a length delivery down the leg side to Imam ul Haq. It should have been an innocuous one. But Imam made it into a wicket-taking one as he gloved his pull to the keeper. He was late into the shot. Out came that famous Cottrell salute.

Two overs later, Jason Holder introduced Andre Russell. Four balls later, he sent the first shudder down Pakistan's spine. A vicious bouncer that ricocheted onto the stumps off Fakhar Zaman's helmet grill.

Right! The plan is working. Let's go harder.

Russell finishes the over with another zippy bouncer, Haris cautiously ducks under it.

Cottrell joins the party with a back of a length ball which misses Azam's pull and hits his abdomen. Brathwaite is brought on to bowl and he too doesn't shy away from bowling short. But not at the frequency with which Russell is racing though.

Six of Russell's next nine balls are ducked under and one swayed away. His first 15 deliveries are short. Babar Azam ducks/Haris Sohail ducks. Bouncer. Duck. Bouncer. Duck. The Pakistan fans in the stands are grumpy. The umpires don't mind it though.

There is no doubt what length Russell is going to hit off his 16th ball. It's not that short as the previous ones but still well short. It's angled across. Haris is bored now and looks to fiddle with it. But there is sheer venom in that delivery fraught with extra bounce. It kisses Harris' outside edge. Russell sets off in wild celebrations.

Haris could have left it. He should have left it. It was a ripper. But frustration was his biggest decoy. The last 21 balls had yielded just 10 runs.

The 17th ball was...well, a yorker. Dug out safely by new man Sarfaraz Ahned. The 18th ball is...also not a short one. Pushed to point by Sarfaraz. 3-1-4-2. What a first spell. Pakistan are rocked.

"Pressure was built when we lost our first wicket in the fourth over," Sarfaraz said in the post-match conference. "His [Russell's] spell was the turning point. He took two wickets and that put us on the backfoot (immediately)."

The short one would have gobbled another one, in the next over, when Azam slashed it straight to backward point off Brathwaite but Hetmyer couldn't hold on to a simple one.

The frustration was palpable and the panic had set in.

Oshane Thomas, the new bowler, too had started banging in short.

Thomas is someone who can ramp up the pace more than the others. Two overs later, Azam, uncharacteristically slashed at an outswinger off a good length and was caught brilliantly by Hope. The short ball strategy also instilled tentativeness. The Pakistan batsmen were unsure about their footwork, whether to come forward or stay back in the crease and tackle the short stuff. Azam became a victim of that tentativeness. With absolutely no foot movement, Azam hit a lazy shot. Sarfaraz was strangled down the leg side by Holder two overs later, again, being late into his shot.

Imad Wasim was walloped by a short one as well, caught in multiple minds, whether to pull, duck or leave it alone. He ended up gloving it to first slip.

Pakistan had gone blank. They didn't know what to do with that short stuff. They didn't have a plan B. It was either hit out or get out. Even the length and full deliveries were getting wickets now as Thomas trapped a clueless Shadab Khan in front.

Three balls into his innings, Hasan Ali suddenly thought he was a superhero and could conjure what the rest seven couldn't, as he went for a heroic, forehand smash off a short one from Holder, only to gift a dolly to Cottrell at mid off. Out came the salute again.

Hafeez became another victim of 'I don't know what to do with that short ball' as he looked to pull then sway away and then ended up top-edging a bouncer from Thomas handing Cottrell another catch and a chance to salute.

Wahab, like his teammates, took a hit out or get out approach, brought a little bit of cheer amid the gloom but then backed away so far that his one foot was in London and other one in Cardiff as he missed a full and fast one from Thomas to hear the sound of timber. 105 all out in 21.4 overs.

Eight out of the 10 wickets fallen were due to short deliveries. According to Cricviz, 53 percent of the balls bowled to Pakistan were short balls. They were battered, bruised and blanked.

The batsmen could have tried to ride the bounce and hit the short ones along the ground. Or could have shown more patience and waited for the bad balls to be punished. But they couldn't think of anything once they were rattled and peppered with the short ball barrage.

Pakistan have struggled a bit against pace in the last two years. They have averaged 34.28 against pace, 15 runs per wicket less than 49.02 against spin. Seven of the top 10 wicket takers against Pakistan have been pacers. West Indies had done their homework. They didn't bowl a single over of spin and unleashed fast bowlers and medium pacers to build unrelenting pressure.

"Andre Russell led the way, bowling aggressive and fast," Thomas said after the match. "The Pakistani guys didn't like it. So I just picked up where he left off really - [the rules allow] two short balls every over, so use them."

"The guys were sitting back. Russell was bowling short so I think the short ball - we had a good plan and executed well. It's a good move going forward for us."

In an analytics-driven era of microscopic study, you can't afford to have glaring weaknesses. It could have been a one odd off day. However, in the past, Pakistan have let the mistakes develop into a trope and they can't afford to develop one more. The opposition will no doubt adapt that short-ball strategy moving ahead in the tournament and Pakistan can't afford to look like that engineering student with a clueless look on his face when peppered with out of syllabus questions by the external examiner in the viva.

On a gloomy day in Nottingham, there were four salutes. Three to West Indies players (from Cottrell) and one to Pakistan's quintessential madness.

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Updated Date: Jun 01, 2019 08:49:33 IST

World Cup 2019 Points Table

Team p w l nr pts
Australia 5 4 1 0 8
New Zealand 4 3 0 1 7
India 4 3 0 1 7
England 4 3 1 0 6
Bangladesh 5 2 2 1 5
Sri Lanka 5 1 2 2 4
West Indies 5 1 3 1 3
South Africa 5 1 3 1 3
Pakistan 5 1 3 1 3
Afghanistan 4 0 4 0 0

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
6 Sri Lanka 3462 94
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 5720 124
2 India 5990 122
3 New Zealand 4121 114
4 South Africa 4647 111
5 Australia 4805 109
6 Pakistan 4107 93
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
6 New Zealand 4056 254