The Twenty20 hangover gone wrong
Wasim Akram dropped by the Gaddafi Stadium this afternoon and wondered how South Africa’s lower order – and it is a long tail – managed to make as many runs as they eventually did. It was rhetorically put of course. In Akram’s days, the tail had run its natural evolutionary course, becoming basically extinct. No need to get fancy, just bring the yorkers on.
In the near-three hours that Mark Boucher and Paul Harris held Pakistan at bay this morning and afternoon, not one of the 20 toes available to target were ever threatened. Harris was hit flush on the helmet early on and that was it; he was thereafter peppered with short balls, both over and round the wicket.
Granted, he looked uncomfortable playing it, but a man with one first-class fifty to his name and a highest Test score previously of 11 probably should look uncomfortable against many types of bowling. And in any case, Steve Waugh was also famously weak against the short ball and it didn’t stop him scoring nearly 11,000 Test runs.
At the ICC World Twenty20, Umar Gul bowled yorkers on demand, at will, and though he hasn’t been quite right here, the absence of even one was particularly baffling. Reverse-swinging yorkers are not Mohammad Asif’s thing; it is one of the few skills he hasn’t yet mastered but how handy even one might have been here.
Instead, Harris mixed some cheek with some heart and played a knock in classic tail-end tradition, not just hanging around, but scoring as well. When he did get out, it was inevitably to one of the few full-pitched deliveries he faced.
But if the bowlers had unfortunately forgotten their Twenty20 script, the batsmen, equally unfortunately, had not. Even before the series began, Shoaib Malik had spotted the pitfalls of so much Twenty20 cricket, reminding his players that it would be a tough change; Pakistan remember didn’t just play the tournament, they had been training for it, through a number of practice games at training camps, throughout the summer.
Possibly only Malik has heeded his own advice, for through the series so far, only he has really grasped the change of format, adjusting his game so smoothly that you wonder if there is any batting situation he can’t cope with.
Pakistan’s blustery start was admittedly due in part to the over-attacking fields South Africa set them, as Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, later admitted. The field had gaps, runs were on offer and in any format they should be taken. And only brisk scoring could put them in a position to win this Test. But the manner of each of the four dismissals suggested they haven’t quite got the World Twenty20 out of their systems.
Well as Paul Harris and Andre Nel bowled, each wicket had more of the batsman’s imprint than the bowler’s. So much so, that even Mohammad Yousuf seemed to have caught the bug despite having not played in the World Twenty20. Mind you, having not even held a bat for as long as he has, general runs undoubtedly played a part.
If they wanted to know what to do, they only had to put on yesterday’s video to know how to go about it. Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince won no prizes for beauty and neither rushed the heartbeats of the spectator as Pakistan’s openers did today. But in contributing 122 runs and spending nearly three hours at the crease each, they’ve put their side within touching distance of a famous and thoroughly deserved series win.
Pakistan are not out of this Test, and series, just yet. But on a day when the spirit of Twenty20 hit the wrong target, it slipped away a little further.