No Thursday surprises, but Pakistan need to be wary

04 Mar 2011 by Raj in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011

Following Ireland’s massive upset of England, a lot was expected of the South Africa vs Netherlands tie. Sadly, for cricket fans it turned out to be a completely one-sided affair. The only time Netherlands managed to compete in the game was when Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis fell in quick succession. However, what followed was a wonderfully sensible partnership between two of the best batsmen in modern day cricket – Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers. After getting themselves in following the loss of two quick wickets, both stuck to their natural game and managed to put the Proteas in an extremely healthy position.

The feature of the partnership between Amla and de Villiers was that neither looked in any sort of trouble as the duo set about rebuilding the innings. The boundaries came at will, with de Villiers expectedly playing the aggressor. That said, Amla also rotated the strike well, ensuring de Villiers got enough balls to face. The duo wasn’t separated until the 45th over. And even after Amla’s and de Villiers’ dismissal, there was no respite for the Dutchmen. Jean-Paul Duminy came in and blasted a cameo which propelled the South Africans to a highly daunting total considering the bowling attack at their disposal. Duminy slammed as many as four sixes in his 18-ball stay at the crease. Netherlands’ limitations and inexperience with the clearly ball in hand clearly stood exposed.

During the chase, the Netherlands batsmen must surely have taken some heart from the fact that Ireland had managed to chase down England’s mammoth target the previous day. But, this was going to be a doubly difficult task considering that the Proteas attack is much more penetrative and lethal. And that’s exactly what stood out as the major difference between the two sides. Apart from Wesley Barresi, none of the Dutch batsmen could stand up to the South African attack. A lot of hopes rested on Ryan ten Doeschate if Netherlands had to put up a fight. But, he was done in by Dale Steyn and no one among the rest were good enough on the day. Netherlands’ weakness against spin was also evident from the fact that more than half the side succumbed to the tweakers. Imran Tahir and Robin Peterson shared the major spoils even as Duminy chipped in with the ball as well. It was a majorly disappointing effort from the Dutch. But, to be fair, South Africa were a far superior side and there wasn’t a good enough arsenal in Netherlands’ kitty to stop the carnage.

Even as Netherlands and South Africa played a one-sided tune, things were much more intriguing in the other contest of the day. Like the abovementioned match, Pakistan vs Canada was also expected to be a one-sided affair. But with Pakistan, always be ready for a surprise or two. Their batting crumbled in the face of some disciplined but far from threatening bowling. And if not for Shahid Afridi’s deadly spell, his third in three consecutive games, we might well have had another upset post the Ireland-England humdinger.

It was an atrocious batting display from Pakistan and a definite wake up call for them going into the bigger contests. None of their batsmen could register a half-century, with only Umar Akmal getting close. But even he and the in-form Misbah-ul-Haq, the next highest scorer for Pakistan, threw their wickets away as the mercurial side capitulated inexplicably. To their credit, the Canada bowlers stuck to their guns. Harvir Baidwan was the most impressive and also the most successful. But, the others also gave him ample support. Rizwan Cheema, Balaji Rao and Jimmy Hansra all troubled the Pakistan batsmen, who were adamant on committing hara-kiri, and were suitably rewarded. Having bowled out the dangerous Pakistan for a score on under 200 would have given Canada mighty confidence to chase down the target. And they tried the level best to do it. Unfortunately for them, Afridi completed a hat-trick of sorts, standing in the way of a Pakistan defeat for the third game in a row.

While the Pakistan skipper’s batting has gone down by miles, his bowling has risen in an equally steady manner. And he is using it to lethal effect in this World Cup. Nothing changed in the game against Canada. Unlike the earlier matches, Afridi was assisted by the opening bowlers in this game. Not only did Abdul Razzaq and Umar Gul strike early, they also maintained an extremely tight leash on the batsmen during their spell. Even so, with such a meagre total to defend, all the batting side needed was one decent partnership to see their team through. The run-rate wasn’t a concern too, so Canada had everything going for them. And when Zubin Surkari and Hansra joined forced in a sensible partnership, hopes of another upset in the tournament were raised immensely. That was until Afridi took over and turned the game on its head.

After Saeed Ajmal broke the dangerous partnership getting rid of Surkari, Afridi rolled over the rest with his fastish leg-breaks, to which the inexperienced Canadians had just no answer to offer. Three of his five victims were bowled, a clear indication that they were beaten for pace and, from a seemingly safe position, Canada plunged to what at the start of the match was an expected defeat. Despite the loss, Canada can take heart from the fact that they managed to run their much more fancied opponents so close.

In the end, no surprises were reserved for Thursday. But while the South Africans would be buoyed by their thoroughly professional effort, Pakistan have a lot of work to do to ensure that they do not have to depend on Afridi’s bowling in every game to bail them out. After all, even the Pakistan skipper is bound to have a bad day with the ball, and if the rest do not rise to the occasion, it can put Pakistan in serious trouble in the matches ahead.

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