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Cricket news - How can Pakistan get out of this rut?
The match against South Africa comes as a last ditch effort for Pakistan to stay alive in what has turned out to be a disastrous World Cup for them. Since their 89-run defeat to India on Sunday, the reports of factionalism in the Pakistani dressing room - as it is the case after every major defeat - have been in news headlines back home. There have been striking questions about the team's work ethic and, there seems to be no end in sight to the constant trolling on social media.
The match-up against South Africa promises some respite - if they execute the basics with perfection. After all, it is the lack of it which have them languishing at (almost) the bottom of the points table, inviting the wrath of fans, anchorpersons, ex-cricketers, and even journalists.
The losses have exacerbated the plight to the extent that even Pakistan win all four of their remaining games, their qualification will depend on the results of the other matches.
There hasn't been any facet in which Pakistan haven't disappointed. So bad has been their on-field display that it won't come as a surprise if they create a new facet and let their fan-base down in that too next game. Even their decisions after winning the tosses have drawn ire.
That they find themselves in such a quagmire is because of their inability to jot down the right team. That too at the half-way stage of the tournament. It was, after all, anticipated that this will be an integral part of the discourse when Pakistan announced their preliminary 15. Isn't it how they operate? But, that they still aren't sure of their best possible combinations despite being in England for almost two months now puts serious questions about the capability of Pakistan's think tank. Even the presence of Inzamam ul Haq who is pictured monitoring pitches with team management before every match hasn't done any good.
Too many cooks spoil the broth... ever heard that?
Pakistan is one of the three sides in the tournament (by match# 28) which hasn't played a single lineup in two consecutive matches, which can be a deterrent to attaining the much-needed rhythm - something which they boast of have achieved after only one match in the 2017 Champions Trophy. In their four completed matches, Pakistan have made as many as five changes. It doesn't surprise to see the teams which have better standings on the points table are primarily in the lower-half of the table below.
CUMULATIVE CHANGES IN ICC WORLD CUP 2019
*Teams who haven't played a single lineup in two consecutive matches yet.
Updated till match# 28
Pakistan put India into bat after winning the toss in Manchester. When Sarfraz Ahmed was enquired about the logic, he termed the incessant showers, in the preceding days, and the grey skies to be the reason behind it. Forget how the behaviour of the white Kookaburra has transformed over the years to favour the batsmen. Or how good that wicket was for batting. Even let go of his side's batting fragility and the advice of his prime minister. Just focus on the call for now.
The decision was made to exploit the seam-friendly conditions and scythe into the Indian middle-order earlier in the proceedings. Pakistan entered that game with only three seamers and only one of them was a new-ball specialist. That they had erred was evident from how a new opening pair despite all the jitters put up a 136-run stand thanks to easy runs coming from an end despite Amir exerting pressure from the other.
This went down as the second time on the trot that the opposition went past the hundred-run mark without losing a wicket despite being put into bat by Pakistan, largely because of latter's unknowingness regarding the best candidate to open the bowling with Amir. In four completed matches this tournament, Pakistan have had three different opening pairs - Amir-Hasan against the West Indies and India, Shadab-Amir against England, and Amir-Shaheen against Australia.
The consistent chip-chop has had its bearing on their fielding, which has gone from bad to worse with every game, too. Pakistan dropped Shadab Khan for the Australia game because of the substantial tinge of green on the wicket. Shadab maybe a leg-spinner on paper but his athleticism in the field and level-headed approach with the bat in hand contribute way more to this Pakistan side. And they felt his absence as soon as in the 13th over when Asif Ali put down a regulation catch off Aaron Finch's leading edge in the slip cordon, where he should have never been fielding. That Ali was guarding that area was because their regular slip fielder, Babar Azam, was stationed at backward point - the area which is guarded by Shadab.
Pakistan would feel his absence again during the middle-order meltdown in the run chase. Perhaps, he could've delayed the inevitable, if not turned the match around. What if they had Haris Sohail in the lineup, someone who has weathered storms in the past, in place of Malik who's had a miserable record in England.
It's been demanded from Pakistan to take inspiration from the 1992 World Cup journey, which escalated from nadir to pinnacle to become the most-memorable achievement in the country's sporting history. In their last five matches in that tournament, Pakistan made only one change to their playing XI.
That's the consistency Pakistan should look at when they fill their team sheet ahead of the toss on Sunday.
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