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Pakistan's strategy was not flawed

A bit of gamble has always been a good game plan for Pak. But it failed to click this time, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 17:55 IST

As Pakistanis were preparing to put on their pads for a chase of 270 at Abu Dhabi, former skipper Imran Khan made an interesting observation. He wanted consolidators like Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf to come early with opener Imran Farhat, and big hitters like Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Malik to come later. 

''If Pakistan lose early wickets, they will surely lose,'' Imran said in a live-link from Islamabad, adding that the key was to keep wickets and get closer to the score before blasters came into the picture.

However, in Inzamam's scheme of things, Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi were supposed to blast the opposition and take Pakistan closer to the winning total before more orthodox players took them home.

In fact, Virender Sehwag too was clear that the old ball was harder to hit on this ground, the reason for India not crossing the 300 run mark even though they were sitting pretty at 210 for one with ten overs to go.

What is then the best strategy when faced with a big total of 270-280? Should one not lose wickets and keep hitters in reserve for the last 10 or 15 overs, or should one ease the pressure by some big hitting, even at the risk of losing wickets, and ensure a manageable total when going for the home run. 

In this clash of two philosophies, probably Inzamam's choice is more valid in today's run-a-ball cricket, especially when facing India. Over the years, Pakistan have used the likes of Shahid Afridi, Ijaz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik to great effect on the top of the order.

In fact, even Imran had deployed swashbuckling Inzamam as an opener or one-down batsman in his first 11 matches as the burly player had the ability to blast the opposition out of the game. And he had the strike-rate on par with the best of those times.

In the last one year, at least three out of six Pakistan victories against India have come from the bats of Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal when they played on top of the order. 

Kanpur ODI, April 15 2005

The six match series was tied at 2-all with Pakistan making a splendid comeback from 0-2 down. Batting first, India did not have the best of starts but did creditably to reach 249 after losing their top three batsmen Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dhoni with just 26 on board. That they managed this total was all thanks to a big 135 run partnership between Dravid and Kaif.

A chase of 250 was a reasonable target even in a high-scoring series, but all Indian hopes were pulverized by the scorching batting display by Shahid Afridi. His knock of 102 in just 46 balls was simply astounding with as many as 94 runs coming in fours and sixes. The match was all but sealed by the time Afridi was out, with Pakistan total reading 131 in less than 15 overs.

Delhi ODI, April 17, 2005

India needed a win to square the series... and the honours. But once again Afridi turned out to be the thorn in the flesh. He compiled only 44 but at a tremendous strike-rate of 191. His knock gave Pakistan an initial thrust, which was ably capitalized by another big hitter Shoaib Malik, who made 72. 

Inazaman, Younis and Mohammad Yousuf, all benefited from that start to play some solid knocks and a target of 304 was always going to be beyond India's reach after they had lost both their openers by the eighth overs. The end result. A massive 159 run win for Pakistan as they lapped up the series 4-2.

And then the most recent, Peshawar 2006.

Before South Africa chased down 435, chasing a total of 328 was almost beyond sreach. Even Pakistan would not have thought it was possible before but they gambled by opening with Kamran Akmal and putting Shoiab Malik as one-down batsman. Akmal's run-a-ball 25 and Malik's 90 at a strike-rate of 134 give them the momentum, which proved decisive in the end.

So against India, when faced with big totals, Pakistan do need an initial thrust. Inzamam gambled on that but on a pitch where 230 to 240 was going to be a competitive total, chasing 270 was always going to be a big ask. The strategy was right, but Pakistan just about failed to implement it.