A trend seems to be developing at the Cricket World Cup and it isn’t great news for Pakistan.
At least in these early days, it looks like being a tournament for fast, aggressive, short-pitched bowling – the kind of stuff the Pakistanis have been known to struggle with.
Just look at how they fared against West Indies in their opening game: All out for 105 on what proved to be a bouncy track at Trent Bridge, with pacemen accounting for all 10 wickets. Pakistan’s batsmen left alone much of the short stuff, and often were ruffled when they looked to take it on.
Next up for Pakistan on the same Nottingham pitch is England, the buoyant host nation who could be about to unleash Mark Wood along with Jofra Archer in a double-pronged pace attack.
And Pakistan knows what to expect on Monday.
“We didn’t handle the short-ball really well so we practice a lot (because) we know it will come,” said Azhar Mahmood, Pakistan’s bowling coach.
“When people come from the subcontinent, other teams will use that sort of tactics. In South Africa (over the winter), we had the same sort of issues.”
Data from the cricinfo website showed that of the 54 wickets that fell in the first three days of the World Cup, 23 of the balls were pitched short or short of a length by fast bowlers. Fast bowlers have bowled 454 balls short or short of a length in four matches, cricinfo says, with a strike rate of a wicket every 19 balls.
Among the most exciting quicks so far is Archer , who took 3-27 against South Africa in England’s opening-day win and bowled at an express pace of up to 93 miles per hour (150 kph).
A late call-up to the England squad, Archer could prove to be the team’s most important bowler given how the tournament is developing.
“It could be a trend,” England captain Eoin Morgan said of the success of the fast bowlers. “Probably over the last couple of the years in the shorter formats of the game, it’s been legspin. This might be a trend for the tournament.
“It might be the nature of the pitches. The pitches look pretty good, cross seam into the wicket might be getting a better reaction than any other bowling.”
It is unlikely to last, though, as pitches get more worn and slower. Pakistan will be among the teams hoping that change comes quickly.
Mahmood isn’t worried. He pointed out the Pakistanis lost their first game at the 1992 World Cup and went on to win it. They lost the first game at the 2017 Champions Trophy staged in England and went on to win that, too.
Certainly, Pakistan should never be counted out in tournament cricket, but the team’s current situation looks grave while it’s on a run of 11 straight completed losses in ODIs. Amid that unwanted run was a 4-0 ODI series loss to England in the weeks running up to the World Cup.
Few would bet against it becoming 12 losses in a row, with top-ranked England having hit the two biggest ODI totals ever and both were at Trent Bridge _ 444 against Pakistan in 2016 and 481 against Australia last year.
“We know they have ability, skill and the best batting lineup,” Mahmood said. “A lot of debate is going on about this 480(-run) pitch being a world-record pitch but they have to play 300 balls to get that, and we have to bowl 10 good balls to get 10 wickets. We have ability and skills to do that.”
Asif Ali might be recalled by Pakistan for his power-hitting down the order, while Wood could come in for Liam Plunkett to give England that extra pace in the attack.
One player going nowhere from the England lineup is Ben Stokes, the allrounder who provided the moment of the tournament so far with his stunning one-handed catch on the dive against South Africa.
It created headlines at home and abroad, and Morgan believes moments like that will bring more fans to the sport.
“Everyone from 5 years old to 75 who watched the game can relate to taking a great catch, taking a wicket and scoring runs, having one of those days where you do nothing wrong,” Morgan said. “For the sport, it is awesome.”