Independence Cup: Honours even, as attention turns to on-field matters




There was a palpably different feel around the Gaddafi Stadium on Wednesday night, as Pakistan looked to seal the historic series against the World XI. Cricket had come home on Tuesday, the next day was about gauging how the national side fared against an all-star side.

Pakistan might’ve preferred things the other way around. For, while they outlasted the World XI in the first T20, they were completely outplayed in the second, despite the penultimate ball finish.

After winning the toss, captain Sarfraz Ahmed uncharacteristically opted to bat first, as heavy winds seemed to displace pretty much everything but the jam-packed crowd’s overwhelming passion and outpouring emotions at witnessing world class cricket on home turf again.

But once the initial euphoria – carried forward from the previous night – was over, the game was back under the microscope. And so Ahmed Shehzad, whose 34-ball 39 from the first T20 was largely overlooked considering the final total, the end result, and indeed the fact that Tuesday was all about the exotic kickoff, caused unrest in the crowd – and meltdown on social media – with his 34-ball 43.

What didn’t help Shehzad’s – or indeed Pakistan’s – cause was that this time he was joined by Babar Azam in slowing things down. Azam(45 off 38) actually had a lower strike rate than Shehzad. It was the difference in Babar Azam’s strike rate that eventually translated into the gap between the Pakistan scores in the first and second T20. For, everyone else pretty much mirrored their batting performance from Tuesday.

Shoaib Malik left his mark again with 39 off 23, with Imad Wasim hitting a couple of boundaries to finish with 15 off 11 deliveries. Pakistan’s 174/6 was 3 less than what the World XI had managed chasing 198 on Tuesday. And so the visitors fittingly romped home on the 119th delivery of the run chase.

Hashim Amla (72* off 55) anchored the chase right to the end to see the all-stars home. But it was Thisara Perera who hit the winning six with the World XI needing 6 off two deliveries, to finish with a match-deciding 47* off 19 balls that helped the away side win by 7 wickets with a call to spare.

Earlier Perera had led the bowling performance of his side as well with 2-23, dismissing Sarfraz Ahmed and Imad Wasim at the end, further cementing him as the Man of the Match. Meanwhile, Samuel Badri’s 2/23 included the wickets of the dangerous Fakhar Zaman, and the Man of the Match from the first game Babar Azam.

It was Ben Cutting’s spell (1/52) that stood out for the worse, allowing Pakistan to accelerate at the end and pushing the score closer to what the World XI had managed on Tuesday. In reply, barring Imad Wasim – who finished with 1/27 in his four overs – the Pakistani bowlers struggled both in containing the opposition or indeed taking wickets.

Sohail Khan, the pick of the bowlers on Tuesday, conceded 44 the following day, further slashing question marks over his fitness levels and the ability to perform well for a sustained period. Rumman Raees, who was tasked with defending 13 off the final over, finished with 0/36 in 3.5 overs.

Usman Khan Shinwari only bowling a single over was a surprising call by Sarfraz. He conceded 10 runs off the over, and if that meant he couldn’t be trusted with another go one wonders why Shinwari was included in the starting XI to begin with. Pakistan practically went with six full-time bowlers, at least three of them – Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz and Imad Wasim – are designated as all-rounders, or potential all-rounders.

That Pakistan probably played a bowler too many might be considered a bizarre argument since the batting can be barely accused of running out of batsmen, nor indeed can the bowling be credited with anything after failing to defend 174 with 6 front-line bowlers.

These are the questions that Sarfraz would’ve faced had it been any other series, anywhere else. But as the match reached the finish line, everyone was just excited about the decider on Friday – perhaps even the Pakistani squad. Regardless of which team wins, Pakistani cricket fans know that they achieved the revival of international cricket in the country, something that would prove to be bigger than the series win.