Where Pakistan went wrong and where they have to improve?
After an intriguing 1st test at Old Trafford, England came out on top winning by 3 wickets thanks to an excellent partnership of 139 between Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes that not only led a remarkable recovery from 117-5 but also played the main part in one of the best 4th innings chase for England which was also their 10th highest run chase in test cricket history and 2nd best at Old Trafford. The partnership came at a time when Pakistan were right on top with Yasir Shah spinning his web around the English batsmen and the target looking altogether impossible for the hosts to chase. But as soon as Chris Woakes came to the crease, he looked to be positive. Soon Buttler too cashed in the idea and started playing his shots against Yasir at the other end. Woakes attacked Shaheen and Buttler took on Yasir as quick runs started to flow just before tea on day 4. Pakistan were taken aback by the counter-attack from both the English players.
Right after the tea break, Azhar Ali started the bowling with Mohammad Abbas (to provide control) from one end and the 5th bowling option Shadab Khan with the field well spread out fearing not to leak many runs just as they did before the tea interval. These tactics were surprising to much of the audience and made no sense as both Buttler and Woakes started picking up easy singles and thrashed anything loose to the fence. As both players started to look at ease even after the tea break, Azhar started to look in pressure. It looked as if there were no plans made to dismiss any of the two when both the batsmen were coming into the series with their worst batting form in recent times.
The field placements by Azhar Ali were to be questioned. The absurd tactics of starting with Shadab from the other end right after tea were to be questioned but the main area of concern for me was the inability of the management to not plan against the English lower order batsmen. And if they did plan out on how to bowl against the lower order then nothing of that sort was seen being implemented on the field.
Before departing to England, Azhar had said that “Looking at their batting, their top-order has been fragile for some time since Alastair Cook retired. They have tried a lot of combinations lately and might be looking a bit more settled, but they haven’t been really confident with it. So, there is something for us in it to look at”
Azhar was spot on about England’s fragile looking top order and his statement proved right in both the innings at Old Trafford but where I feel Pakistan lost the match was the lower order of England which was hardly tested with their weaknesses.
in the 1st innings, England were 127-5 at one stage after Ollie Pope got out. their lower order then contributed 92 runs out of a modest total of 219. Buttler looked good for his 38 before a little lapse in concentration right after the lunch break on day 3 had him bowled against Yasir Shah. Woakes got 19 and although Bess got out for 1, Archer, Broad and Anderson combined to get 49 vital runs that left Pakistan with a healthy enough lead of 107. The reason I’ve mentioned these runs accumulated by the lower order is that there seemed to be no definite plan to get them out quickly or target their weak points but rather they all got out to deliveries that were probably unplayable. Furthermore, none of the lower order batsmen was dismissed by the fast bowlers. It was Shadab Khan who took the last 2 wickets of Archer and Anderson, one of which after pitching turned and bounced extravagantly off a full length before Archer gloved it behind to Rizwan who took a fantastic catch.
it didn’t look as if the lower-order batsmen were planned out. they were rather out to either very good deliveries or trying to play some extravagant shots.
come the second innings, this proved to be the downfall of Pakistan. They were looking set to win the 1st test and go to Southampton leading the series 1-0 but that was not to be the case as
Woakes and Buttler counter-attacked them from being 117-5 and took the game by the scruff of the neck. They were helped by some substandard bowling and captaincy by Pakistan. The field placings, the bowling tactics were all over the place. What Pakistan showed was lack of planning against the lower order that cost them the game.
Pakistan allowed both Buttler and Woakes to take the game away from them. Both players brought the best out of their batting abilities just when England needed them the most but the bigger question is: did Pakistan planned to get them out? Did Pakistan target their weaknesses?
with the criticism and pressure mounting over Buttler’s performances in test cricket with the bat and the gloves in the recent past, I feel Pakistan made a huge mistake by overlooking his technical issues that he has faced in the recent times which have led to his downfall in test cricket.
where Buttler struggled against the West indies in the recently concluded series was the one that “nips back in”. Roach, Gabriel, Holder & Joseph consistently kept dragging him outside the off stump before bringing one back in that had him in all sorts of trouble. What I feel Pakistan did not plan was to set the lower order up just as they did against the top order of England. The lack of seam and swing may well be a big debating point in this case but it never looked as if Pakistan were looking to set him up in either of the innings just as the West indies did. This may well be because they were probably heavily relying on Yasir Shah to spin them out with his lethal leg spin but even if it was the case, Pakistan still should have had their fast bowlers well planned up for the battle.
on the other hand, Yasir kept on bowling around the wicket to Buttler as he looked to attack every ball and get quick runs. Yasir seemed reluctant to bowl over the wicket to Buttler after he was hit for a couple of boundaries. with Buttler playing so many reverse sweeps and attacking shots it would’ve been an attacking option to bowl over the wicket rather than implying a defensive tactic by bowling around the stumps against him.
while Buttler started to play his shots, Pakistan even choked against Chris Woakes. A batsmen who averaged just over 5 in his last five test matches should have had some serious issues that he was unable to answer and hence that struggle but Pakistan dished him out freebies outside his off stump where he loves them the most and forgot the issues he has faced with short-pitched bowling. It is the area where Chris Woakes has been the most vulnerable since the touring Aussies found him wanting with that short ball during the Ashes. Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood kept on bowling short stuff directed at his ribcage and Woakes struggled to get bat on ball.
He was twice out caught down the leg side off a short ball during the ashes while on rest of the occasions he was out playing his drives with his feet going nowhere after being served several short balls. It was quite evident that Woakes struggles against the short ball, especially the ones directed towards his ribcage and hence he also throws away his wicket to the fuller deliveries with his feet moving reluctantly due to that short ball ploy in the back of his mind.
It seemed as if the Pakistani Management did not plan it out. the reason I say that is because Misbah and Co were surely involved in the on-field tactics along with the Captain. At one occasion when Buttler and Woakes looked hard to be dismissed, Misbah was seen passing some instructions from the Balcony which were perhaps to bring back the premier spinner Yasir Shah back into the attack. Azhar obliged to that as Yasir was brought back into the attack instantly.
when things got tense, Azhar finally thought of the short-ball ploy against Woakes with Naseem Shah bowling around the wicket to him and the field well set on the leg side. the first ball was short and Woakes flapped it in the air but the ball luckily just landed away from the diving Yasir Shah who was placed at short midwicket. The strategy seemed alright but the next over when Naseem bowled to Woakes again, he backed away showing all his three stumps assuming a short ball, which it was and smacked it over the cover-point region for a boundary and just like that, that was it for the short-ball ploy against Woakes. it lasted only 2 balls as Azhar and Naseem reverted back to over the wicket looking to get the all-rounder out.
Pakistan never again looked in control of the game as Buttler and Woakes kept nudging the total down before Buttler got out playing a reverse sweep off Yasir which he had effectively done up until that point but it was all too late for Pakistan by then.
with Ben Stokes missing the next two tests of the series due to his family issues, Pakistan may still feel that there is a lot to play for as England will be missing their star all-rounder who had a rare bad game by his standards in the last year or so and hence, will be looking to level the series up at Southampton. if they are to do so, they have to plan out the English lower order just like their top-order because that is where England took the game away from Pakistan. Buttler, Woakes, Bess, Broad, Archer or if they do play Sam Curran are all decent enough with the bat and have their strong and weak zones that are there to be identified by the coaching staff. Many of their weaknesses are well worked out already by opposing teams and they have struggled to get runs due to that. So, I feel if Pakistan are to do well in the remaining tests, they have to work them out. for now the coaching staff has a lot of work to do with the young pacers like Shaheen and Naseem but if we are to win the series then not only they have to lift an under-performing captain in Azhar Ali but also look to attack the weaker zones of the English lower order because with their confidence restored, players like Buttler, Woakes, Broad, Curran and Archer will never back away from playing the reverse sweeps or sway away showing all the three stumps to play their shots. It is all up to the Coaching staff now to analyze and work them out so that team Pakistan can make a strong comeback before it’s all too late.