It was billed as potentially the match of the tournament, the clash of the titans, a battle between old foes, a match that could be a nerve-jangler and a match that would enthral thousands in the stadium and over a billion television viewers. However, what ensued at Old Trafford on Sunday was nothing short of a one-sided damp squib and a match that never really was a contest.
The only thing that went Pakistan's way was that they won the toss, after that it soon went downhill. Grey skies, dampness in the air and a wicket that had been under the covers for large parts of the last few days were the reasons why Sarfaraz Ahmed chose to bowl first. But, it was always going to be a gamble against a powerful Indian batting line-up. It was a decision that relied very heavily on the new-ball being a success and therefore putting pressure on the Indian middle-order. Truth be told, the match was over after only 10 overs of the Indian innings when Pakistan failed to make a single breakthrough. Mohammad Amir steamed in, tried hard with the Indian batsmen showing him a lot of respect. The rest of the Pakistani new-ball efforts were mediocre to say the least as Hasan Ali struggled again and Wahab Riaz failed to provide the firepower that he was selected for. A crucial run-out chance was missed and once that opportunity was gone, so were Pakistan's chances in the clash at Old Trafford. There was no coming back for Pakistan against the Indian juggernaut as they eased their way to a total that was always going to be a step too far for Pakistan.
Pakistan teams of yesteryear have always had the ability to fight to the end, show a never-say-die attitude and have fought to the last ball. Aggression has been a pivotal part of the Pakistani cricketer's armoury. However the current side thus far at the World Cup has shown a distinct lack of that fighting spirit Pakistani teams are famous for. Winning and losing is part and parcel of the great sport of cricket, but what will hurt Pakistani cricket followers the most is the lack of effort and desire shown by Sarfaraz Ahmed and his men. If you cannot be pumped-up and in the zone for a match against your arch-rivals then when are you going to be?
Pakistan have looked lacklustre in the field throughout the World Cup apart from some golden moments against England at Trent Bridge. The levels of fitness of some of the players must come into question and the body language currently looks like that of a team who would rather be back in Pakistan than playing in such a high-profile tournament. The leadership has lacked ideas, it has lacked innovation and it has lacked the ability to get the best out of team-mates. The skipper currently looks like a man who doesn't know where to turn, which direction to take his team, his senior colleagues are showing little in terms of support and the younger players are buckling under the pressure of the World Cup without any guidance.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur at his press conference said that he had told his players that it was a chance to become a hero if they performed well against India, a chance to be remembered for years to come and a chance to win the adulation of millions of Pakistani cricket-lovers around the world. Those words were inspirational but seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as his players showed a total lack of fight and application at Old Trafford. Rather than become heroes, several of the current group of players have been mocked by Pakistani fans after the crushing defeat to India.
For Pakistan to have beaten India it would have had to be one of those great days for the Men-in-Green. It would have also required India to have an off-day. However, neither happened. India were professional, well-prepared and with a game-plan where they knew that a score of anything over 300 would put Pakistan's brittle batting line-up under pressure. Pakistan looked a defeated team once the new ball spell had failed to provide any wickets, heads were bowed throughout the day, there were lots of hands on hips, furrowed brows and scratching of heads. It wasn't a pretty picture, in fact, it points to a team lacking direction and a team which looks out of its depth at the World Cup.
There will be lots of questions asked about the defeat to India, questions that this team probably cannot answer. Fifteen defeats out of their last nineteen ODIs have not happened due to bad luck, or by chance; they have happened due to some very poor performances, appalling tactics, some strange team selections and a lack of responsibility from the players.
With 4 games to go, Pakistan have the chance to save face to a certain extent, but given what has been shown by this team at the World Cup so far, don't hold your breath for a turnaround in fortunes.
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