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Why England And Pakistan Are Down And Out Down Under

02/03/2015 12:26 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Zimbabwe's Tawanda Mupariwa, left, celebrates the wicket of Pakistan's Sohaib Maqsood during the Pool B Cricket World Cup match in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, March 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

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The worst performing in the World Cup among the major cricket nations - and I am keeping Bangladesh and Zimbabwe out of the ambit of discussion here for obvious reasons - have been England and Pakistan.

With just a solitary win each in their respective pools and a dismal run rate these countries have surprised experts and dismayed their fans. True, both teams are alive for a place in the quarter-final, but only just; one more bad day could mean a premature exit from the tournament.

England and Pakistan were not considered highly to win the title, of course, but neither were they expected to flop so badly. Both teams have a rich history in one-day cricket which, despite some recent travails, was expected to see them be competitive at least.

But apart from a facile win over Scotland, England have been roundly hammered by Australia, New Zealand and on Sunday even by Sri Lanka. In fact, so poor has been the form and performances that the English players have become the butt of anger and ridicule.

In fact, so poor has been the form and performances that the English players have become the butt of anger and ridicule

The more earnest fans have clamoured for the team to return home; those with a sense of irony have inundated social media with jokes about the frailties of the players. Taken together, this defines how low England have sunk in the esteem of cricket aficionados.

Pakistan's only win yet came against Zimbabwe on Sunday, and with great struggle. Beaten badly by India and West Indies, it was expected that Pakistan would steamroll over Zimbabwe, who had been recently pulverized by Chris Gayle. But Pakistan played without élan and just about scraped through.

So what's going wrong with both these two teams? From a cricketing point of view, the fundamental issue appears to be that what was considered each team's strength has, in fact, turned out to be its weakness.

England's bowling, for instance, which was the stronger suit, has looked astonishingly flat. An attack comprising James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn and Chris Woakes with James Tredwell and Moeen Ali to provide spin support reads as amongst the best in the tournament on paper - rich in experience and past success.

What's been seen so far, however, is quite to the contrary. The bowling has not only lacked penetration - Sri Lanka chased down 312 on Sunday losing only one wicket - but has also flopped in stopping the opponents from scoring freely.

That Anderson, widely regarded as the best swing bowler in the world, has taken only two wickets in 29 overs, and that at the astronomical cost of 91 runs per wicket tells the story of England's bowling woes. Add to that a batting line-up that has been inconsistent and it becomes a clear basket case.

Pakistan, on the other hand, have been let down essentially by the batting. Normally, bowling is Pakistan's strength too, but without Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Junaid Khan and Mohammed Hafeez, the onus for keeping the team's winning prospects high was on the batting.

Indeed, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Ahmed Shahzad and Umar Akmal, all in good form in the lead up to the World Cup -- and the mercurial Shahid Afridi represent an exciting and dangerous batting order that no team would have undermined.

But barring the resilient Misbah - who unfortunately has come under flak for showing the desire to even stay at the wicket -- and the plucky half-century by Wahab Riaz in Sunday's win over Zimbabwe, the Pakistan batting has looked hopelessly brittle.

The predicament faced by England and Pakistan has its origins in two vastly different causes

In hindsight, poor squad selection has obviously been detrimental to the performances of both teams. Interestingly, however, the predicament faced by England and Pakistan has its origins in two vastly different causes.

The English cricket establishment over the years, has looked askance at limited overs cricket, despite both ODIs and T20 having been introduced in that country.

So, while Test cricket is upheld with strong conservatism - which is very good - limited overs cricket has been treated as not much more than an obligation for financial compulsions.

Half-baked planning (imagine Eoin Morgan getting the captaincy only a few weeks before the World Cup!) has been accompanied by excessive theorizing about the whys and hows of ODI cricket. This has meant more talk than passion and inevitably led to confused thinking and confounded performances.

Pakistan's plight, on the other hand, primarily comes not so much from the absence of passion, rather how this has not been gainfully channelized. Unlike the England Cricket Board, the Pakistan establishment is not cash-rich.

Pakistan's domestic cricket structure - which should be the supply chain of young talent -- has been under fire as long as I can remember. Imran Khan was critical of it in the 1980s, and by all accounts, it has become even worse.

Morever, no home international matches have been possible in Pakistan since 2009 because of the terror threat which means that the current young generation hardly ever sees their heroes in `live' action.

All told, the rising danger is that the Pakistan cricket supporter is becoming more and more removed from the game. There is only so much that raw passion can achieve without systems and processes that look at development and sustenance are in place.

Mind you, given the vicissitudes of sport either England or Pakistan might still go the full distance, who knows? How Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup through a stroke of luck after being on the brink of ouster is the classic story that fits the cliché that cricket is a `game of glorious uncertainties.'

Yet, that should not remove the concern of administrators. There are very few countries that play cricket and when two major teams fare so poorly on the biggest stage, it shows how impoverished the sport itself actually is.

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