Pakistan were lost in a desert. Perhaps T20s most vicious, boundary-less desert. They were taking agreed upon singles, and almost nothing more. New Zealand had let them hit to the leg side, and they were hitting to the leg side. It was polite, and horrible.
There are some who will say this is when Pakistan lost the match. But, as always for Pakistan, that is too simple.
It was not easy to score boundaries in the middle of New Zealand’s innings either. With the hard ball, both teams scored quickly, and then it slowed. The difference was when New Zealand batted they didn’t have a fielding side to contend with. Not an agile one. Not a professional one.
Pakistan never had their fielders in the right spots, perhaps in large because they don’t have the right fielders. But other teams have found a way to either improve the fielding of their duds, or a way to hide them. Too often it felt like Mohammad Irfan was their gun fielder. At one stage, had Sarfraz Ahmed not noticed it, he would have been fielding at point.
The highlight was when Ross Taylor hit one straight up in the air to backward square leg. There were two men behind square, Mohammad Amir at fine leg, and Sharjeel Khan behind square inside the circle. Sharjeel took an age to turn around, Amir just decided it was never his ball to go for. In the end, with two of them in that region, and the ball dropping not that far from either of them, it not only landed safely, New Zealand took three.
But the bigger problem is the angles of the fielders. When it comes to bowling, there are few modern bowlers who understand better how to move around the crease and disrupt a batsman. When it comes to setting a simple field, Shahid Afridi is all but clueless.
At one stage, to his own bowling, he had three men behind square on the offside and a deep cover sweeper. He dropped short an was cut for a four. Not just a four, an effortless four, as all four men on the offside looked around trying to work out why not one of them was anywhere near the ball. Had Afridi just taken the ball to the boundary and thrown it for four, it would have only been 3% easier for New Zealand.
Then there were the simple fielding methods.
With New Zealand it was simple enough to compare the two teams in the field. New Zealand run to the ball, Pakistan run around it. If these were dating techniques, New Zealand would run over and ask the girl out, Pakistan would hope the girl came to them. The amount of times New Zealand got simple twos in the middle section of the innings made it impossible for Pakistan’s bowlers to keep any pressure on. Why take a risk on a boundary when you can hit the ball straight to a sweeper and take two?
At one stage they hit the ball straight to Afridi at cover, hesitated, got confused, and still took the single as Afridi just let it all happen.
Then the fumbles.
Pakistani fielders fumble like its part of their muscle memory. In a restaurant, they must be the noisiest group there as waiters run over with replacement cutlery all the time. The best misfield had to be Afridi when the ball was hit straight to him, he fumbled, it went behind him, and he turned like he wasn’t on the wrong side of 40, but 50, and jogged slowly after the ball while New Zealand flirted with a third.
The last ball of the innings involved the fielder being on the wrong angle, a two that should have never had happened, a poor throw and then Amir flinging wildly at the stumps in what should have been an overthrow.
Of course, that wasn’t the only problem in the field. The other was the bowlers.
It is perhaps unfair to criticise them, as they are the only full member nation at the World T20 bowling over after over without fielders.
But, three of them went for over 40 runs. People were a bit shocked by this, and there is a reason. It is very rare to have three bowlers go for over 40 runs; mostly because they don’t keep getting bowled. Usually, when bowlers are being feasted on the way Irfan was feasted on, the captain does whatever he can to not bowl them out.
A decent part-time off spinner, Shoaib Malik, was not employed as Amir struggled for rhythm, Afridi struggled for line and length and Irfan just struggled. In the last game, Afridi didn’t use some of his best bowlers, this time he used them while they weren’t working.
But then back to that desert. That amazing desert.
Perhaps it is unfair to the batsmen, the ball wasn’t easy to hit, and unlike the Kiwis, they had an actual fielding side to play against. And when they got on top, Kane Williamson used almost all the bowlers at his disposal other than himself to try and wrestle back the momentum.
All this good quality, team cricket and strategy would have been so alien to Pakistan you can understand why they just decided to take simple singles. Why they never tried to manipulate the field. Why Umar Akmal never scored a boundary. Why Ahmed Shehzad’s innings seemed to actually shrink the longer he batted.
Hell, why even question why the man who actually made their team look like a living being in the World Cup, Sarfraz Ahmed, is kept so far down the order all he can do is play valiant knocks in losing games. Or why when you need to manipulate the field and you have a wily old pro like Shoaib Malik you instead send in your captain too early, again. Why worry, Pakistan aren’t.
This tournament means so little, the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman is already talking about getting rid of Afridi, who has claimed he is retiring. When Shaharyar Khan took to the press, Pakistan’s record was 1-1. It was a bizarre time, when qualification to the semis was still possible, to do that. But then why should the off-field of Pakistani cricket be any better than the on-field.
At this stage the most embarrassed team in the tournament is Bangladesh, just for losing to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s T20 cricket is in a desert.
They’ve got batsmen who can’t manipulate the field, or clear it. A batting order dictated by a mad man who is the last believer in his own batting. Bowlers who get under or over bowled. And a non- existing fielding line up.
At the 2015 World Cup they were playing 90s-style ODI cricket, now they are playing 2000s ODI cricket, in T20s.
Pakistan has a reputation for being enigmatic, right now they are simple erroneous.