Wash out

With a clean sweep looming, K Shahid discusses what has gone wrong for Pakistan in New Zealand

Wash out
At 16-6, and then 32-8, in the third ODI at Dunedin on Saturday, while chasing 258, Pakistan were on the brink of being bundled out for the lowest ODI score – if not of all-time, at least the lowest that the national side has ever posted.

While Pakistan eventually mustered 74 – thanks in large part to the 14 and 16 scored by Mohammad Amir and Rumman Raees at 10 and 11 – a record defeat for the Champions Trophy might just have been the wakeup call that was needed.

Many of us – including this column – have been talking up the limited-overs form that Pakistan have showed under Sarfraz Ahmed over the last year or so. Of course, the historic Champions Trophy win, and especially the manner in which it was brought about, alone should have been reason enough for us to do that.

Even so, there has been an unwritten concern over that triumph being a case of Pakistan being Pakistan, pulling off the impossible, and then struggling to achieve anything bordering on consistency. Of course, the only other sides that Pakistan beat in ODIs outside of Champions Trophy over the past year were the West Indies and Sri Lanka – that have hardly been setting the cricketing world afire of late.

Haris Sohail

This is precisely why the tour to New Zealand had been built up as a test for Pakistan to prove that they now belong among the elite of ODI cricket. A series win wasn’t necessarily needed to prove this – a competitive series would have presented a positive case. However, as things stand, Pakistan are facing a 5-0 whitewash in today’s final ODI at Wellington.

While rain might have provided an additional angle to the first two matches, they were clearly headed in the direction that they ended up at. The third was a colossal catastrophe, whilst the fourth was the most competitive Pakistan were in the series – and between the 17th and 35th overs of New Zealand’s chase of 262, were the only span that the visitors were ahead in any of the matches so far.

Sarfraz Ahmed and Kane Williamson

So where did it all go wrong?

As discussed in this space during the build up to the New Zealand tour, it was the batting over which most of the question marks have been slashed. Pakistan’s nine-match winning streak, which has come to a crashing halt with four successive defeats – and counting – in New Zealand, was built almost entirely on the bowling, with opposition batting lineups restricted to totals of less than 250 in each of those nine ODIs last year.

The question hence was: while the batting might have won the Champions Trophy final against India – was it an anomaly?

The performances in New Zealand, and even a few exhibits from the matches won by Pakistan, suggest that it was.

The Pakistani batting lineup unfortunately cannot be trusted to score runs in excess of 300, which is now par in ODIs, and the absolute bare minimum to beat the likes of New Zealand on their own turf – on a consistent enough basis.

Trent Boult was a threat throughout

Much of this is derived from the inconsistency of the Pakistani batting lineup, and the inability to accelerate with venom that a few have depicted at the most inopportune of times.

Babar Azam, Pakistan’s top scorer over the past couple of years who only managed 21 runs in the first four ODIs against New Zealand; and Azhar Ali, who only managed 12 in three innings before being dropped for the fourth ODI, are often guilty of the latter.

Fakhar Zaman’s two half-centuries in three innings, and Hafeez’s two in four, are the only tallies consistent enough to be mentioned.

Shoaib Malik

With Azhar Ali, Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik all going AWOL and Sarfraz only managing to show up in the fourth ODI, Pakistan were never going to be a match for New Zealand.

Even so, it’s not like the bowling has been at its absolute best in the series.

Mohammad Amir has taken two wickets in four matches. Hasan Ali with six wickets has showed some potency, but he too has gone wicket-less in two ODIs. Shadab Khan and Rumman Raees have impressed in spells, but just like the batting, the bowling has never clicked together for there to be any danger to the New Zealand side.

A win today could help Pakistan go into the T20 series, starting from Monday, with confidence. Wrong results in both formats could dent the momentum that the team had built under Sarfraz.