Passion and belief: Never, ever, rule Pakistan out
Root’s dismissal broke England’s back, but the curtains came down when Buttler walked back.
Approaching the Nottingham County Ground, a strange sight presented itself. A Pakistan fan – face painted, adorning his national flag – was holding up traffic and dancing. There were others like him – a festive, colourful spirit had engulfed Trent Bridge. It was stunning, and precisely because it was joyous.
Why did the Pakistan fans have reason to be joyous? Well, the whole world might have been scratching its head after their dismal performance against West Indies. But their countrymen know the true nature of its cricket team – blowing hot and cold is their wont, even if they have been frozen for 11 ODIs (consecutive defeats). The next win, if you ask the average Pakistan fan, is one match way.
This passion and belief manifested itself on the field at Trent Bridge on Monday.
Mercurial is the word that comes to mind, of course. World-beaters one day, a pale shadow the next, any and every Pakistan cricket team has exhibited multiple personalities since time immemorial. They had the propensity to go off boil in the blink of an eye, and then, just like that, make a stunning comeback as if regaining life from deep slumber.
Such transformation usually centred around inspirational figures – Javed Miandad, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Younis Khan, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam ul Haq, Saqlain Mushtaq, and so on – the list is endless. Yet, it wasn’t only their cricketing abilities that mattered – it was their very character, an undying spirit, and an attitude that they were very aware of their own capabilities.
In that sense, this Pakistan side was poorer for it lacked such standout players. It isn’t to say that the likes of Mohammed Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz, and the youngsters aren’t good individual players, no. Instead, their ability to exhibit this character trait resident in any Pakistan side wasn’t able to come to the fore for some time now. When you have lost 11 matches on the run, it is almost like you forget to win.
It is why this victory over England belongs not only to their players, but also to the entire Pakistan cricket fraternity. So much so, it is impossible to put a finger on one standout aspect. Their batting clicked – the opening pair setting up a base for Babar Azam to navigate the innings, and later Hafeez to provide the flourish. In bowling, Amir and Riaz turned back the clock to put in controlled spells that also delivered wickets.
England didn’t have an answer to the spin combination of Hafeez and Shoaib Malik that etched out a couple wickets. Targeting the fifth bowler is an obvious ploy in ODI cricket nowadays, especially with two new balls available. Both sets of bowlers tried for reverse swing, albeit only Riaz managed to find some in the latter stage of the English innings.
Regular wickets from their top-order paved the way for Pakistan’s win, albeit Joe Root stood tall. The number three batsman couldn’t have taken his side across the finish line alone, though. And that’s where Jos Buttler’s hundred gains further prominence. England need over 8/over when he came to the crease, yet there is no other lower-order batsman in world cricket capable of overcoming such a situation.
His calm and poise, interspersed with that attacking streak manufacturing shots out of thin air, almost managed the improbable. Buttler, in partnership with Root, brought England to the cusp of victory, but it was a case of too near yet too far. Both were dismissed in similar fashion – trying to manufacture a shot in a quiet over soon after completing their hundreds.
Root’s dismissal broke England’s back, but the curtains came down when Buttler walked back. The hosts, however, shouldn’t rue this loss as a consequence of their batting. No, the game was perhaps lost when they put down a catch, missed another run-out, and put in an ordinary display in the field, replete with unnecessary overthrows. Like Pakistan against West Indies, England perhaps took their opponents a little too lightly.
The biggest example of this was in the number of short balls they bowled to Pakistan batsmen – 88. Their batsman only left 16 and scored 102 runs off the remainder 72 balls. The underlying point is that England hoped to bounce out the same batsmen that the West Indies did. Hell, they even brought in Mark Wood for his extra pace to work out the short stuff.
England chose to ignore their opposition’s mercurial ability to wake up from a slumber and improve in the blink of an eye. They didn’t do much wrong, except underestimating Pakistan.