Pakistan’s defeat against Bangladesh was an emphatic end to a terrible tournament for Sarfraz Ahmed’s side. Ben Jones examines the key areas where they went wrong.
Pakistan have had a disappointing Asia Cup. They reached the Second Group Stage, the bare minimum in terms of expectations at the start of the competition, and the manner of their progress through the tournament has been significantly below par. They could very easily have lost to Afghanistan, and the margin of their defeats to India was embarrassing, even just considering the relative standings of the two sides, without even considering the heated nature of the rivalry. So what went wrong?
Since the Champions Trophy, the opening partnership has been one of Pakistan’s strengths. From that tournament to the start of this one, Pakistani openers have had the highest average, the highest dismissal rate, and the fourth highest scoring rate of any ODI team in the world. The opening pair of Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq scored 878 runs together in that time, the second most prolific of any opening pair after Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy – but the England pair batted together more than twice as often as Imam and Fakhar. Pakistan’s success has been built on that partnership, then backed up by Babar Azam.
However, at this competition Pakistan’s openers have just the fourth highest average for the opening pair, the fourth highest dismissal rate and the fifth highest scoring rate. Their Batting Impact in the first ten overs is -9.2, joining Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with a negative Impact at the start of the innings. As such, Babar Azam hasn’t had the platform to build from, and has been burdened with too much responsibility; as such he’s scored at the slowest rate that he ever has in an ODI tournament/series where he’s scored at least 100 runs, the impact of his his 39.00 average limited by his slow scoring rate.
Contrary to the cliche, Pakistan’s fielding has been much-improved in recent times. Fielding coach Steve Rixon, perhaps given increased jurisdiction by Mickey Arthur, had built them into a very tidy fielding unit. Since the start of 2017 to the start of the Asia Cup, no side to play 20 matches has a higher catch success rate than Pakistan.
However, Rixon left his post at the start of the competition, and Pakistan’s returns have fallen off a cliff since then. Their catch success at this competition has been 61.3%, the worst of any team, and the sense of the ‘old’ Pakistan fielding creeping back into their game has been all too palpable. In key moments, they’ve made errors to reprieve batsmen who’ve gone on to make key contributions; they’ve dropped Rohit Sharma three times in two innings, twice in the first six overs, and the Indian opener passed fifty on both occasions. In a low scoring tournament, the value of fielding surely goes up – Pakistan let themselves down when they needed to step up.
The squad was also selected with a significant imbalance. This Asia Cup has seen the seamers concede runs at 5.06rpo, whilst the spinners have been a more frugal 4.26rpo. This wasn’t unexpected; since the last World Cup, of countries to host more than five ODIs, matches in the UAE have the lowest spin economy rate of anywhere in the world, barring Zimbabwe.
Despite this, and their knowledge of conditions which have been their adopted home for much of that time, Pakistan selected a squad including six seamers. The only frontline spinners selected were Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz, which has meant that in a spin-dominated tournament, Pakistan have bowled just 40% of their deliveries with spin – no team has bowled a lower proportion of their overs with spinners.
AMIR’S DOWNTURN IN FORM
Mohammad Amir’s performance against India in the final of the Champions Trophy has distorted expectations of him. A memorable, match-winning performance in the biggest game of his career perhaps left Pakistan selectors too eager to recapture the glory of that day, in the face of Amir’s pretty woeful form ever since. Since then, he has bowled 252 balls in Powerplay 1, and has taken just one wicket. That’s the worst strike rate of anyone to bowl in 10 matches during that time.
On short-medium term form, he is not worthy of a place in Pakistan’s ODI side, particularly when they have such excellent bowling depth. Even with Amir’s troubles, bowling in P1 has still been a strength for Pakistan in that time. They take a wicket every 40 balls, the fourth best of any ODI side, even with a bowler who essentially never takes a wicket in the Powerplay. They have the depth to do without him.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.