World Cup warm-up: Pakistan beat England by 4 wickets
SYDNEY (Web Desk): It was, in the end, a tale of two captains. And while Pakistan’s Misbah-ul-Haq enjoyed the best of times, Eoin Morgan continues to endure the worst.
Misbah may never win over all his doubters. A nation that wants its cricketers to look like film stars and sound like rock stars may never entirely warm to his cautious words and dour voice. He could invent time travel and his critics would say Shahid Afridi would have done it quicker and with better hair.
But as a batsman and captain his record is exceptional. After taking command of a disgraced team, he has rebuilt – despite many setbacks out of his control – and remained while others have fallen away. Here he proved, yet again, his worth with an innings of class, composure and skill that saw his depleted side gain a confidence-boosting win over an improving opposition. His willingness to embrace responsibility is what renders him a special player.
Encouragingly for Pakistan, Umar Akmal lent him mature support. Moderating his undoubted talent with some of the calm of his captain, he helped Misbah add 133 runs in 22 overs for Pakistan’s fifth wicket in a stand that all but sealed the game. Akmal’s talent has never been in doubt and if he can learn to harness it like this, his side will have developed a world-class player.
When the pair game together, it seemed England had the game under control. Pakistan were 78 for 4 and almost half the overs had gone.
But Misbah had the chase under control from the start. Content to pat back the good balls, he waited for the deliveries in his area and simply walloped them over the top. Both his sixes came when carting England’s offspinners over midwicket, while three of his five fours went in the same direction. It was not pretty, but it was hugely effective.
That Afridi, with a brace of boundaries, finished off the game just gave the large and good-humoured contingent of Pakistan supporters more cause for joy.
This was not a completely assured performance, though. While their relatively inexperienced bowling attack looks pretty well equipped to cope with the challenges ahead, the top-order batting retains a brittle look. Here Nasir Jamshed and Ahmad Shehzad paid for a lack of foot movement and Younis Khan, frustrated by his slow progress, snatched at a hook and top-edged a catch to long leg, whereGary Ballance took the first of two perfectly judged catches.
Pakistan’s ability to develop bowlers is remarkable, though. Sohail Khan and Ehsan Adil, with just nine ODIs between them, hit the pitch hard and, in Sohail’s case, produced a perfect yorker to account for Jos Buttler, while Yasir Shah continued England’s struggles against legspin; his googly was too good for Ravi Bopara. It would still be a surprise if Pakistan won this World Cup, but for a country starved of home internationals to remain as dangerous as this is testament to the passion and talent that remains.
Equally, England will not be too distraught by this result. After resting Ian Bell, Chris Woakes, James Taylor and Steven Finn, all of whom are fit and likely to play on Saturday, they saw their leading seamers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, return impressively, Joe Root play a fine innings and a few of their reserve players – Ballance, in particular – prove their readiness if required. These warm-up games are not, after all, about the result as much as the performance.
But the continuing travails of Morgan will concern England. It is an irony unlikely to be lost on Alastair Cook that England dropped one captain due to his poor form with the bat only to replace him with a man in even more wretched form.
Yes, Morgan scored a century only four ODI innings ago. But his scores since then read 0, 2, 0 and 0, and he has been dismissed five times from the last 19 balls he has faced. He has passed 5 only once in his last seven ODI innings.
This was not an ODI, of course. It was not even a List A game. But his dismissal, somehow managing to guide a full toss to slip as he attempted a lap, suggested a man who was pushing a bit much and thinking a bit hard about his game. Is it coincidence that he has hardly scored a run since the absurdity of the blackmail incident? He says not. But a World Cup match against the hosts at a full MCG does not appear the ideal place to relax and rediscover his form.
The contributions of Root and Ballance were far more encouraging. While Root hit only four fours and one six – a slog-sweep off Yasir – he produced a busy innings, running quickly and playing spin unusually well for an England batsman. And while Ballance took 10 balls to get off the mark and, after 15 deliveries, had scored only 1, he did not panic. Gradually he settled to play the cuts and drives that will become familiar to cricket watchers around the world over the next decade. He must be close to displacing Bopara in this side.
Some late hitting from Chris Jordan took England to a total that was, on this tired and two-paced pitch, perhaps slightly better than par. But they missed another frontline seamer in Pakistan’s reply and, after improved discipline in the tri-series, conceded nine in wides or no-balls.
They will also reflect that several of their dismissals were pretty soft. Alex Hales failed to capitalise on the investment he had made in the start of his innings by turning a delivery to midwicket, Ballance picked out the fielder on the midwicket fence and, if Morgan had only allowed the ball to come to him rather than attempt something premeditated, he could have driven it with ease. Root, too, fell trying to reverse scoop the pace of Sohail, though only eight deliveries remained by that stage.