By Sarfaraz Ahmed (Pakistan cricket captain)
Its all about execution of your plans and the team that executes their plans better, carries the day. That is the summary of our match against Australia. We implemented our plans partly, but not wholly and made more mistakes and that made the difference in the end.
The match had started off well. Rain stayed away and the forecast changed. Our plan was if we win the toss, we will field first and try to keep Australia under 270 or 280. This was our first competitive experience of Taunton as we had previously only played a warm-up match here on the 2016 tour in which the fast bowlers had played a pivotal role.
The pitch for Wednesday’s match had grass. It had the bounce and carry, and it maintained its behavior till the end. This meant if you bowl in the right areas, then you will be rewarded. That is why we included an extra fast bowler in Shaheen Shah Afridi in place of Shadab Khan. Australia had done the same by leaving out Adam Zampa, so both the teams read the pitch correctly.
I can honestly share with you, it was tough to leave out Shadab, but after much deliberation we took the decision which we thought was in the best interest of the team in the given conditions.
After put Australia into bat, we needed to bowl in the right areas to cash in on the benefit of bowling first.
Unfortunately, apart from Mohammad Amir, no bowler bowled as well as we had expected and the first 30 overs did not go for us as we had planned. We sometimes bowled in the right channels but not consistently enough.
What was the reason for Amir’s success? He pitched the ball up.
A lot of people were questioning about Amir not being in the original ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup squad. We wanted to give him an opportunity in the England series. He played the first game at The Oval, but that match was rained-off and then he contracted chickenpox. But, we never wrote him off.
As far as Wahab Riaz is concerned, he was recalled so that we could utilise his pace and experience in the middle overs.
I am pleased, both have justified their selections.
I think Hasan Ali is bowling well but he has been unlucky not to pick wickets. Shaheen Shah, playing his first match, was off the mark in the first spell, but came back better and got us wickets in the second spell.
Talking about Australia’s batting, their openers hung on and that was the reason for their success. They played and missed, but, to their credit, they did what they had to do in that situation.
We dropped a crucial catch at the score of 67. Although dropping catches is part of the game, had we got a wicket at that stage, we would have applied more pressure on their middle-order.
That brings Asif Ali in the spotlight. Why was he fielding in the slip? It was because we had left out Shadab who fields at point, so we moved Babar Azam to point and brought Asif in the slip. Asif is considered to have bucket hands and is rated as a safe fielder who has previously fielded in slips.
Then, Asif was dismissed off a very good delivery. It was a just a bad and tough day in the office for Asif, which is part and parcel for any athlete.
The same goes for Shoaib Malik. He is our senior player and I am sure a good innings from him is just around the corner, hopefully in the India game.
Fielding has been a constant worry. We work extremely hard in our training sessions but have been unable to translate those drills into performances since the series against England. There is no doubt or argument that we need to improve our fielding in the remaining games.
Reflecting on our run-chase, we were on course at 136 for two. But, a 15-ball spell in which we lost two wickets for 10 runs turned the match on its head. The worst part was both Imam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez fell to soft shots. To complicate matters further, Shoaib Malik and Asif Ali followed soon and we slipped from 136 for two to 160 for six.
Hasan Ali then played very well, took the pressure off and revived our hopes. When Wahab came in, I told him to bat as long as possible. We were going well until Mitchell Starc came on to bowl. I thought that we could achieve the required run-rate of 7.5 if we could see him through that over. I was taking inspiration from the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 match against Sri Lanka in which I batted with the tail to win the match. Unfortunately, a faint edge, which was spotted on the snicko, resulted in Wahab’s dismissal.
I had complete faith in Shaheen Afridi because he could bat properly. That’s why I took the single off the final ball of the 45th over. It was an extraordinary piece of fielding by Glenn Maxwell that ended the match. I thought the ball would go over him, but he was outstanding and ran me out.
After this defeat, we now have three points from four games. From now on, it is sort of a must-win situation for us. All five games are now crucial and we need to win them.
We had the momentum after our win against England, but the gap due to a rained-off game against Sri Lanka contributed to the loss in momentum. But, that is behind us now and we must focus on the future.
All of us know how big the game against India will be at Old Trafford on 16 June. We will do our best preparation for that game. It will be a new game at a new venue, so we have to start it with a clean slate and go for the kill.
I have full faith and confidence in my team and I am sure we will turn this around.