“Nasty, brutish and short.” That was 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ description, in Leviathan, of the life of man in a state of war. Those words could also have described the West Indies’ bowling during the second match of the 2019 cricket World Cup. They could also have described the Pakistani batsmen’s life at the crease. Nobody made more than Fakhar Zaman’s and Babar Azam’s 22. Nobody lasted longer than the 47 deliveries faced by Azam, and to think he was dropped off the 23rd ball he faced, when just 12.
During their brief stay in the middle they were forced to contend with the fearsome short-pitched missiles that the West Indies fast bowlers fired at them. And as everybody witnessed, they did not handle them at all well.
It is not clear that the Caribbean fast men went into the game with precisely that plan in mind. Sheldon Cottrell and Jason Holder opened the bowling and neither bowled particularly short during the first five overs. Asked, in between innings, if going short was what decided from the beginning, Oshane Thomas revealed that it was Russell that etched out that blueprint with the way he bowled.
Cottrell did capture the wicket of Imam-ul-Haq with a short ball, but that was with a fairly unexceptional delivery, angled down leg. The West Indies were rather fortunate that it managed to brush the batsman’s glove on its way to the wicketkeeper.
It wasn’t until the sixth over that the West Indies’ battle plan took shape, and, as Thomas said, it was the introduction of Andre Russell that set it in motion. He was nasty, short and fast from the very first ball and continued in like manner throughout his entire spell.
Fakhar Zaman was surprised by the venom of the fifth delivery of Russell’s first over. It climbed, slammed into his helmet as he tried to hook and fell to the ground before rolling onto his stumps. An unlucky dismissal you might say, as Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed did after the game, but there can be no denying the quality of the delivery, which was too quick for the batsman.
There were injury concerns for Russell going into the World Cup. Those concerns flared up again as he limped off the field and slumped over the boundary near the end of the Pakistani innings. During his three-over spell however, he never seemed fitter or stronger. He could not have operated with more venom on many previous occasions.
Regularly touching, at times exceeding 145kph, the man dubbed “Superman,” the MVP of just concluded Indian Premier League, showed why many regard him as a player of rare ability. That it is his explosive batting that is mainly responsible for his huge reputation emphasised his value even more.
The fourth ball of his third and final over seemed to leap off the pitch much too quickly for Haris Sohail, who edged a catch through to Shai Hope. It wasn’t as short as his previous deliveries but the batsmen appeared surprised by its pace off the surface.
Rather surprisingly, Russell was then removed from the attack. Perhaps it was a nod to the niggles with his knee that he has long had, or, perhaps, the strategy was to use him in short, sharp bursts. Whatever it was, the batsmen would have breathed a sigh of relief at his departure. Russell ended with figures of 2/4 off three overs, and not having him steaming in was bound to make life easier for the Pakistani batsmen.
Or so they would have thought.
Russell was replaced by Oshane Thomas. And if the big pacer was wayward on occasion he could be just as fast and just as nasty and short. He saw the footsteps carved out by his fellow Jamaican and friend and decided to trod in them. You could say he sometimes stumbled, because he did bowl a few bad deliveries that were put away. yet he regained his footing quickly and sent back four Pakistani batsmen for 27 runs off the 5.4 overs he fired down.
“We know he can be a bit expensive at times,” related captain Jason Holder in a post-game interview, “but he’s a genuine wicket-taker and that’s a gamble we’re willing to take now in the modern format.
“With such high totals in cricket you need to get wickets. That’s one area that we wanted to highlight and pinpoint. We see him as an impact player and he came in today and did an outstanding job for us.”
Like Russell, Thomas bowled nasty and short and the batsmen did not relish facing him. Babar Azam was late on a wide ball that Hope caught spectacularly diving to his right. Afterwards, Thomas accounted for Shadam Khan and Wahab Riaz with much fuller deliveries, and Mohammad Hafeez, who wanted nothing to do with one that climbed at him.
Though a bowler of much gentler, Holder embraced the short delivery as well and with much success. The Barbadian’s height makes the short ball an ever-available option and he bowled it often and well, capturing three wickets.
The only member of the attack that kept a reasonably good length was Carlos Brathwaite. He was steady and tight, however, allowing only 14 runs in four overs. Ashley Nurse, the West Indies’ lone spinner, never even got a chance to bowl.
According to Cricviz, “only once… (2006-present) …have Pakistan lost more wickets to short balls than the six they six they lost today.” Their 105 was their second lowest in the World Cup, and, in terms of balls remaining, this seven-wicket defeat was their biggest in World Cup history. “Well that was quicker than I thought,” tweeted former fast bowling great Ian Bishop, a man not impartial to the short ball in his day. “Excellent from West Indies. Short deliveries have a lot of merit in the tournament. Yesterday from Archer and today from Andre Russell and Ashane Thomas.”
This West Indies-Pakistan encounter was an interesting one for a number of reasons, chief among them being that the venue, Trent Bridge in Nottingham, is renown as a benign surface especially kind to batsmen. The game’s two highest ODI totals were made there: England’s 481/6 against Australia in June 2018 and their 444/3 versus Pakistan in August 2016.
And yet this time round it offered considerable pace and lift, providing the fast bowlers from the Caribbean the support required to fly in and bowl with pace and hostility. It’s as if the curators decided to make things much more intriguing, as if they wanted to depart from the usual run-fests seen there over recent years. If so they have the gratitude of the West Indies team and its fans.
This short and nasty tactic will not always be as effective – pitches will be flatter, batsmen will be more adept against the short ball. But this time it worked and the tournament has been made all the more captivating for it. The viewing audience have much to look forward to.