Pakistan’s upcoming Champions Trophy match against South Africa could determine its future in the tournament
Mickey Arthur has no doubt Pakistan will be “up for the fight” when they face his native South Africa in the Champions Trophy after a humiliating defeat by rivals India.
Pakistan’s crushing 124-run loss to title-holders India in their tournament opener at Edgbaston on Sunday was labeled the “Mother of all mismatches” by the Indian Express newspaper. Yet, worryingly for Pakistan coach Arthur, there is the potential for an even more lopsided match when they return to Edgbaston on Wednesday—and that’s not simply because South Africa are top of the International Cricket Council (ICC) one-day international rankings while Pakistan are eighth.
Pakistan were outplayed in every department by an India side who were nowhere near their best. Having conceded 319 for three as India’s top order ran riot, Pakistan were dismissed for just 164, having never once threatened a rain-adjusted target of 289 in 41 overs.
It led former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi, to slam the current team’s “clueless” batting and “abysmal fielding.”
Now, in the space of just a few days, Pakistan must somehow raise their game to beat a South Africa side who defeated Sri Lanka by 96 runs at the Oval on Saturday in their opening Group B fixture if they are to have any chance of reaching the semi-finals.
Arthur suggested too many Pakistan players had suffered ‘stage fright’ against India in front of a capacity crowd of more than 24,000. “My issue is fear,” he said. “My issue is getting out there and really looking to take the game on. The worrying thing for me … is we just do the basics wrong. We drop simple catches. We don’t run well enough between wickets. We don’t understand when to bowl our variations.”
But Arthur, a former coach of both South Africa and Australia, was adamant all was far from lost. “We’ll be thinking firmly of coming back and beating South Africa,” he said. “Because that’s what I think our players can do. So, we’re going to be up for the fight.”
Pakistan will be without Wahab Riaz after he was ruled out of the rest of the tournament on Monday with an ankle injury sustained when falling in his delivery stride against India. But given by that stage the left-arm paceman had conceded a whopping 87 runs in 8.4 wicket-less overs, his absence may not be that big a blow.
Pakistan have applied to the ICC for an injury replacement, but they appear to have a stand-in already with them in Junaid Khan, who took four for 73 in a warm-up match against Bangladesh. Mohammad Amir provided rare moments of respite amid the India run-spree with a return of none for 32 in 8.1 overs.
Yet the left-arm fast bowler was unable to complete his full allocation of overs because of cramp, despite being repeatedly on and off the field on what was a cool day.
If Arthur has some ‘inside knowledge’ on South Africa, the Proteas’ have a ‘spy’ of their own in Pakistan-born Imran Tahir. The leg-spinner, who changed allegiance after falling in love with his South African wife, played a key role in Saturday’s match.
Despite a fine hundred by South Africa’s Hashim Amla, Sri Lanka were well-placed to chase down a target of 300 at 116 for two. But man-of-the-match Tahir’s return of four for 27 turned the tide. “It was close to 10 out of 10,” said South Africa captain AB de Villiers of Tahir’s performance, which also included a run-out. “He takes wickets and he is also economical most of the time,” added the skipper, who was equally delighted by Amla’s “amazing innings.”
The cliché of Pakistani ‘unpredictability’ may be wearing thin, at least in ODI cricket. South Africa, however, have a nasty habit of not playing to their potential in ICC tournaments and de Villiers promised they were not about to “get ahead of ourselves.”