Poles apart

Pakistan's defeat against India highlighted the growing distance between the two sides, writes K Shahid

This piece is being written before Wednesday’s match against South Africa. And it would be typically Pakistan to go out and do one over them after the crushing defeat against India. But it’s safe to say a Pakistan win against a top side at an ICC event has never looked unlikelier than right now. It just goes to show how much the team has regressed in recent times.

To be fair to the Pakistani cricket fans, at least those who do not overlap with jingoism, the feeling that Pakistan would beat India had traced its nadir back home. Yes, Pakistan have beaten India while being the clear outsiders in the past. But this time round it just didn’t make sense as to how exactly Pakistan would be able to beat India even at the respective best and worst days for the two sides.

The gulf between the two sides has never been bigger, considering their respective periods of dominance. Even in the 90s when Pakistan had the constant upper hand over India, there was never a time when it was inconceivable that India would beat Pakistan.

Azhar Ali

After all, India did beat Pakistan in three successive world cups in three different continents in the 90s. Not to mention the third final of the Silver Jubilee Independence Cup in 1998, when India chased down the then record score of 314 in 48 overs at Dhaka.

Similarly in the 2000s, when India started to dominate, Pakistan went to India and came from 2-0 down to win the series 4-2 in 2005. As recently as 2013, Pakistan beat India at their home ground in the three-match ODI series. Not to mention the famous win in the 2014 Asia Cup, when Afridi struck back-to-back sixes in the last over.

So what has changed in the last 3-4 years that Pakistan can’t even pretend to compete against India, let alone actually doing it? Sure, India have gone forward:  there is no question about that. But how have Pakistan regressed to this point?

Mohammed Amir injured

Few people seem to give Misbah-ul-Haq credit for his exploits as an ODI captain. Yes, everyone seems to acknowledge him as being at least as good as Imran Khan, in that he was the best Test captain Pakistan has ever seen, but we don’t seem to realise the sheer impossibility keeping Pakistan competitive in ODIs between 2011 and 2015.

That a side similar to the current one became the only Asian side to beat South Africa in South Africa, and won the Asia Cup with India at the peak of their powers – only the second Pakistan team to win that particular tournament – these were all, in many ways, achievements that were more outrageous than many of the superlative Test exploits.

This is not to suggest that Misbah’s departure alone has brought Pakistan down to the current quagmire. In fact many would still blame Misbah for the team’s current struggles. These ‘critics’ might still be blaming him 10-15 years down the line.

The fact of the matter is that Misbah helped Pakistan punch above its weight, by making the most of the bowlers at his disposal. The batting in his era, primarily owing to the personnel deployed, was regressive for its time.

But it wasn’t Misbah’s fault that the batsmen he had to make do with just weren’t good enough. Just like it isn’t Sarfraz’s fault that he has to carry deadwood.

Pakistan need to realise that the strategies that were working 20-30 years ago – conserve wickets and go gung-ho after 40 overs – aren’t working anymore. Even those that might have worked for Pakistan 4-5 years ago won’t work any longer.

300 is par score now. Meaning a century that takes more than 100 balls is below par. As criminal as the lack of big hitting prowess in Pakistan is their inability to rotate strike.

The mindset needed to win modern ODI games is not one that most of our batsmen have. The team needs a major influx of new blood and clear instructions of what’s needed in 50-over cricket. 80-ball fifties and 120-ball hundreds no longer cut it – especially when you do not have the ability to score big and cash in on the start that you’ve given yourself.