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India vs Pakistan, ICC World Cup 2019: Sarfaraz Ahmed ignores Imran Khan, faces heat

Sarfaraz Ahmed, captain of the current side, too can claim success in an ICC tournament, having won the 2017 Champions Trophy, beating India in the final.

cricket Updated: Jun 18, 2019 16:40 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, London
India vs Pakistan,ICC World Cup 2019,Sarfaraz Ahmed
File image of Sarfaraz Ahmed(Action Images via Reuters)

Leading Pakistan on the cricket field had always called for a balancing act. But it probably was never as hazardous as it is now with the Prime Minister a World Cup winning captain, one of the finest all-rounders the game has seen, a legend who had backed talent like Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul Haq. (Complete coverage of ICC Cricket World Cup 2019)

Sarfaraz Ahmed, captain of the current side, too can claim success in an ICC tournament, having won the 2017 Champions Trophy, beating India in the final. A chirpy wicket-keeper, Ahmed is perceived as a bold leader who doesn’t back out easily. But this time, he may have crossed a line.

Ahmed’s decision to bowl on winning the toss against India was baffling. Chasing isn’t, and probably never was, Pakistan’s forte. Case in point is last week’s match against Australia in Taunton. Set 308 to win, Pakistan were 136/2 before they lost three wickets for 11 runs and slid to defeat. Repeating the mistake against the best Indian bowling attack they have faced in a long while defied logic, especially when they had beaten England batting first at the start of the tournament.

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Imran Khan has been busy since he assumed office last August. But he hasn’t taken his eyes off cricket, be it inviting the team to his home before the World Cup or reportedly admonishing Inzamam, now the chief selector, for not including Mohammad Amir (he was included later).

Having spent decades in the county circuit, no Pakistani cricketer knows about English conditions better than Khan. So, when he takes to Twitter to advise the team how to deal with a superior India—something he has been doing often in this World Cup—it’s best to heed that advice.

Khan had two firm suggestions for Ahmed: “To have a winning offensive strategy, Sarfaraz must go in with specialist batsmen and bowlers because “Raillu Kattas” rarely perform under pressure — especially the intense kind that will be generated today. 2. Unless pitch is damp, Sarfaraz must win the toss & bat.”

‘Raillu Kattas’ means a ‘wandering calf’ in Pakistani street cricket lingo—someone who has no specific skill and doesn’t contribute to the team. Khan could have been hinting at Shoaib Malik, who has had a horrendous tour so far with scores of 8, 0 and 0. Not many would mind the expression though. To rely on spin-bowling all-rounders in a team with a legacy of fast bowling all-rounders can be a bitter pill to swallow.

READ: India vs Pakistan: Akhtar slams Ahmed’s ‘brainless captaincy’

Knowing how well India bat, this was a match where Pakistan should have added Haris Sohail and gone in with six specialist batsmen. And to bowl first assuming they could exploit the morning conditions seemed tunnel vision from Ahmed. Pakistan have better bowlers who can be relied upon to defend 250. What they don’t have is a batting line-up that can be trusted to score 300. Ahmed, however, believes he was right.

“I think we won a good toss. We didn’t capitalise on that—when we saw the pitch, a little bit of moisture on it, we used the conditions. I think we didn’t hit the right areas and created width for the hitters while they played really well through that,” Ahmed said after the loss to India at Old Trafford on Sunday. He was unmoved on team selection as well. “It was right. We were going with five bowlers and six batters. So, I think our decision was right.”

If it’s the World Cup, then Pakistan better beat India. That has been the narrative, at least for Pakistan. With their seventh World Cup loss to India —Pakistan have little choice but to drop the ‘raillu kattas’. With the prime minister watching, Ahmed can’t afford another brain freeze if he wants to remain captain

First Published: Jun 17, 2019 22:27 IST