“Perhaps the easiest explanation is to break (the) wins for India down — twice (1992 and 1999) they came up against a Pakistan team going through their mid-tournament slump on the way to the final; twice (1996 and 2011) a Pakistan team missing their pace spearhead failed to deal with the pressure of a knockout game in India, conceding too many before messing up the chase against a team buoyed by their faithful cheering on; and twice (2003 and 2015) Pakistan were beaten by a far superior team.
If that explanation is the one we go to, where we compartmentalize each of those losses, then the match between the two sides at Old Trafford is likely to fall in the last of the categories: India are clearly one of the two elite sides in ODI cricket, Pakistan obviously aren’t even close — and haven’t been so since the turn of the century.”
That’s what I wrote in the preview to the seventh encounter between Pakistan and India in World Cups. It may seem prophetic, but to anyone who has seen these contests in the recent past (the Champions Trophy final aside), this was an obvious outcome. With the win on Sunday, five of the last six matches between Pakistan and India have resulted in India winning by 75+ runs or eight or more wickets. The rivalry is no longer a rivalry — or is about as much a rivalry as it was in the late 80s when Pakistan won 13 of 15 ODIs against India at one stage.
How that turnaround came to be is a discussion for another day: For now, we can summarise it with the fact that the best, most professional side in the competition dominated a confused team from a cricket culture that refuses to believe, even in 2019, that physical fitness is relevant to cricket. It’s not much of a surprise that the four teams that have distinguished themselves in this tournament are the representatives of the three richest cricket boards, and the most efficient, progressive and professional outfit outside the Big Three.
The World Cup has been a lesson and a reminder for Pakistan. They are, despite claims to the contrary, no longer the home of teams that are filled to the brim with talent and are only undone by a lack of professionalism as Pakistani teams in the past were. In the T20 age when other teams have taken over Pakistan in unorthodoxy and combined it with the professionalism that defines the very best, Pakistan are still trying to revive the 90s. As the world passes them by, Pakistan do not aim to emulate the best; they aim to emulate their past.
The match began as the one against Australia did — Sarfaraz Ahmed won the toss and sent the opposition in to bat. In that game Pakistan had made the mistake of not bowling full enough to take advantage of the conditions — Mohammad Amir had bowled well without ever threatening while Shaheen Afridi had made sure that whatever pressure Amir built up was dissipated. Having dropped Shaheen for the India game, it was obvious that Pakistan would, or rather should, aim to learn from their mistakes. By the time the new ball spell was over, 22 percent of balls that Pakistan had bowled had been wide outside off stump — a higher figure than all but one match in this tournament.
51 percent of the balls that Rohit Sharma — an extraordinary player of short bowling — faced in his innings were short of a good length. Short and wide – that was the mantra that Pakistan followed, and the results reflected that process. Pakistan had won the Champions Trophy by pitching the ball up, something they have completely failed to do in this whole tournament.
Then it came time for spin. Despite the fact that the four best Indian batsmen in this XI (Rohit, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, and Hardik Pandya) have faced over 700 balls in the past eight years from Pakistani spinners and have resulted in only two dismissals, Pakistan went into this game with at least 20 overs to be bowled by spin. The state of the Pakistan think-tank can be gauged by the fact that they believed that it was better to fill their team with only pacers against Australia with no frontline spinners, but have two frontline spinners against India.
Shadab came in to bowl at 62 without loss. This is a situation he is almost used to by now. Once this year, he failed to bowl a single over in the match; once he was given the new ball (against England) and struck with it in his second over. In the remaining six ODIs that he’s played in 2019, these have been the scores when he has come in to bowl: 76/0, 79/3, 67/1, 71/2, 57/1 and 62/0. Pakistan succeeded two years ago by taking early wickets and allowing Hassan Ali and Shadab to go after middle orders; the norm now is them having to bowl to set top order batsmen. And their spark has subsequently dimmed.
There were misfields and missed run outs, although thankfully no dropped catches to report this time around. But at the end of it, India had still set them a smaller target than what they had set India just two years ago.
There are four Indians ranked in the top 20 of ICC ODI Bowlers rankings. Against three of them, Pakistan scored 113 runs at 6.4 an over, without giving them a single wicket. Even in their best-laid plans, Pakistan would not have expected that return against Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah and the hobbling Bhuvneshwar Kumar. And yet, it didn’t matter. Pakistan were undone by the medium pace of Hardik Pandya and Vijay Shankar.
Four days on from having their chase derailed by an Aaron Finch full toss, Pakistan were at it again. While Kuldeep Yadav troubled them as he is wont to do against even the very best, Pakistan’s chase spluttered and fell thanks to what would have been defined as the weak links in the Indian bowling unit. Pakistan in this tournament have now gone from 45/2 to 77/6, 136/2 to 160/6 and 111/1 to 129/5. When these numbers are seen in isolation, the automatic response is that Pakistan need experience in the middle order; players who have been through it all and know what’s at stake in the World Cup. Yet the wickets of two men have been the common trait in each of these three collapses. Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, by Sunday, have played a combined total of 499 ODIs. The last thing Pakistan can complain about is a lack of experience in their middle order.
And so Pakistan are where they were in 1992 — with three points from five games finishing with a loss in a chase to India. But in 1992, they had perhaps the best captain in world cricket, one world class experienced batsman, and a left-arm genius at the peak of his power. Over the next few days, as they try to think up a strategy that can turn their fortunes around, they’ll realise they have none of those things anymore — the domestic system no longer produces those elements. There are no reinforcements coming.