Waqar's glittering line-up pay for familiar failings

By Henry Blofeld
Sunday 23 February 2003 01:00
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It can at times be hard enough to write constructively about England's cricket, but it is often nigh on impossible to come to logical conclusions about Pakistan's. They must have come to Newlands confident of their ability to beat England and, to all intents and purposes, knock them out of the competition.

They will not even have considered it much of a blow when England won the toss, although batting second in a one-day match at Newlands has been proven to be a hazardous business. Of the 17 day-nighters which have now been played here, the side batting first has won 13.

The ball moved around in the air all day and Pakistan have a good enough bunch of swing bowlers to have taken advantage. There is no cannier operatorthan Wasim Akram. In a formidable first spell, he was unlucky to take only the wicket of Marcus Trescothick, but he still gave his country just the start they wanted.

No one will have known better than Wasim that the exciting and dramatic confrontation between Shoaib Akhtar and himself and Nick Knight and Michael Vaughan could only be brief. When Knight and Nasser Hussain fell in quick succession, Pakistan had an excellent chance of dismissing England for well under 200. This was even more firmly underlined when Vaughan and Alec Stewart soon followed.

What was it that undermined Pakistan after they had got rid of five front-line England batsmen for 188? A mixture of over-confidence and complacency may sound a pretty odd sort of a mess, but this is what it seemed to be. Waqar Younis is not a captain who can pull his side together when they start to lose their way. Wasim would have done this when he was in charge and so, of course, would Imran Khan.

The game was allowed to drift in the second half of the England innings which centred on the shrewd common sense of Paul Collingwood, who is already a past master at rotating the strike and pushing the ball into the gaps for singles. It was as though Pakistan's captain felt that the hard work had been done and that everything else would fall into place.

A target of 247 was never going to be easy, but Pakistan have enough experienced batsmen to have given England the devil of a fight. But almost from the moment the openers took guard, Pakistan never looked as if they were going to do even that.

Their batsmen are no strangers to the swinging ball. They may not meet it at home, but their top order have all played around the cricketing world and once the ball starts to swing they should know what to do. As it was, one thoughtless and unsuitable stroke followed another.

Shahid Afridi was the first to go with a wild slog that was an insult in the circumstances. Inzamam-ul-Haq, on whom a great deal obviously depended, played a wretched, firm-footed push at his first ball and was picked up at third slip. Then Yousuf Youhana played right across an out-swinger the very next ball and was comprehensively bowled.

Pakistan were then 17 for 3 and one can only guess at the atmosphere and state of mind in the their dressing room. The fight had gone out of them, if it had ever been there. Although England deserved to win, and win well, there is no escaping the fact that this was a humiliating, dreadful performance by the Pakistanis.

If they were not a happy side before this match began, as their form suggested, they will almost certainly not be one now. National honour will surely dictate a much better showing in their match against India next Saturday at Centurion. One can only wonder who will provide the example.

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