There is one thing to manage the execution of a strategy properly, and completely another to go with a strategy that is a sure shot guarantee for a failure. Pakistan’s current Asia Cup campaign has been a combination of the two, as has been defined by the two poundings against India and the near defeat against Afghanistan.
What that means is that not only have Pakistan approached their matches – especially against India – with a mindset that has failure written all over it, the team has not been able to implement that negative, ancient strategy that has long been abandoned in limited-overs cricket.
It is evident that the Pakistani think tank – which should mean coach Mickey Arthur and captain Sarfraz Ahmed – has asked the batsmen to consume time and deliveries up front and save wickets for an onslaught later on. This used to be a strategy that started to become obsolete following the turn of the millennium, but yes that one Pakistan excelled at in the 90s.
Not only do Pakistan have their combination all wrong given that Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam feature in the top three, with neither of them possessing the ability to take it to a gear that is needed in the modern game against the top sides, but somehow the team management thought best to ask Fakhar Zaman to shun his own game as well.
Given that even if the strategy worked as the management had planned, Pakistan could’ve scored 260-270 at best in their allotted 50 overs. And given the mockery that the Indian opening pair made of the 237 that Pakistan ended up scoring even if Pakistan had scored what they had strived to achieve, it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference in the eventual thumping.
What makes this strategy even more appalling is the fact that Pakistan’s most prominent ODI triumph for two and a half decades – the Champions Trophy win last year – came through a completely contrasting approach, with the same opposition overcome in the final.
If Pakistan do bat first – which they arguably should not have done in either match against India after winning the toss – the aim should be to score well in excess of 300. That absolutely cannot happen with the approach that Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam bring to the table. Their averages and centuries mean nothing if they are completely at odds against sides that are not West Indies, Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe.
Having asked Fakhar to shackle himself, Sarfraz came up with the same approach from himself as well, having chosen to play at four. Sarfraz should actually open the innings with Fakhar, if Babar Azam is supposed to come at number three – so that there isn’t an overkill of anchors in the side.
Even at 36, Shoaib Malik remains by far the player most equipped to dealing with the requirements of ODI cricket. Asif Ali can be groomed into one as well, if he can complement his big hitting with the ability to rotate strike as well. The lack of rotation, even when on the defensive, exhibited by other top order batsmen is mindboggling as well.
Unfortunate Pakistan cricket seems to be stuck in T20 or Test modes, with the management still unsure about approaching modern day ODI cricket. They need to gear up for the virtual semifinal against Bangladesh on Wednesday, where a completely contrasting approach needs to be exhibited to give Pakistan any glimmer in the final against India – should they beat Bangladesh and qualify.