Pakistan vs. India, World T20: Why Did Mohammad Hafeez's Men Bat so Brainlessly?

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Pakistan vs. India, World T20: Why Did Mohammad Hafeez's Men Bat so Brainlessly?
Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

If orchestrating one's own demise is sport's cardinal sin, then Pakistan's national cricket team commits sporting sacrilege like no other.

Pakistan, of course, will lament the stigma of volatility that follows them to each international series and tournament, but after their frenzied showing against India in the opening Super 10's clash of the ICC World Twenty20, they only have themselves to blame for such an unwanted reputation.

Coming into the encounter in Mirpur, the narrative had Pakistan well-placed to conquer their bitter rivals, with momentum built from the concluded Asia Cup giving them the edge over a beleaguered Indian side.

Quite ironically—with the benefit of hindsight, of course—it was the team's newly found top-order strength in limited-overs cricket that led many to believe that Pakistan finally possessed the batting power to complement the threat posed by the side's bowling stocks.

Only Pakistan could reverse the plot so comically.

Within minutes of Kamran Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad taking to the crease to begin Pakistan's innings, it was painfully obvious to all that Mohammad Hafeez's team remain their own worst enemy. India simply stood by and watched their opponents unravel themselves.

Akmal, who generally saves blunders for his wicket-keeping, found himself ridiculously run out after just 11 balls had passed, when he and Shehzad communicated like an English tourist and a Parisian in the middle of the wicket. The very next delivery, Shehzad reinforced his capacity—or lack thereoffor such skills, doing his best to seal a similar fate for himself by running halfway down the pitch to the bewilderment of his captain.

Hafeez, who would have hoped to bring a sense of calm to his chargers, did little to ease the tension, prodding along slowly before he and Shehzad made it a hat-trick of misunderstandings—or brainless acts of idiocy, depending on your outlook—just 12 deliveries later.

Ridiculed for his leadership in New Zealand, MS Dhoni's decision to send Pakistan in immediately looked like an astute judgement from the Indian captain. Opening encounters of tournaments regularly embody a frenetic pressure. A clash between the sport's two fiercest adversaries only adds to that.

While India's preference for chasing would have factored into the decision, it's likely that Dhoni felt Pakistan were susceptible to imploding amid their own hysteria in the game's opening stages. 

He was proved correct.

Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

Yet, communication mix-ups were just one component of Pakistan's mindless display. On a sluggish wicket that offered grip for the likes of India's Ravichandran AshwinAmit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja, it was critical for Hafeez and Co. to quickly evaluate what constituted a competitive total.

On such a surface, and given the strength of Pakistan's attack, a target of 150 would have presented a genuine challenge for their opponents. Anything more would have made the men in green firm favourites. A calculated approach would have ensured just that.

Instead, Pakistan threw sense—not caution—to the wind, flailing away as though trying to set their counterparts something in excess of 200. 

Hafeez, going nowhere through his own indecision, charged at a ball from Jadeja short enough to pull and dreadfully holed out to Bhuvneshwar Kumar well inside the cover boundary. Shehzad, seemingly intent on completing a laughable exhibition, did the same to Mishra and was stumped—left standing at the same spot on the pitch where he'd aborted a single three times prior. 

Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik admirably attempted to set an example for their teammates, scampering between wickets to pinch singles and twos in between the occasional boundary. It felt like a defining performance for Mailk, fighting for his career after earning a surprise recall prior to the tournament. 

But thanks to a career that has seen him fulfil almost every conceivable role in Pakistan's side, Malik's game lacks a clarity of purpose. In Mirpur on Friday, the former captain appeared caught between instincts and intellect, unsure of when to fully attack and when to manoeuvre the field.

The end result was an ugly, mis-timed slog that ended up in Suresh Raina's hands three-quarters of the way to the long-off fence.

Left isolated after the partnership, Akmal politely found the same fielder in the very same spot two overs later—the chubby-faced Raina appreciating Akmal's consideration for not forcing him to venture too far.

By the time Shahid Afridi reached the crease, the damage had already been done. Even the magic of Pakistan's breathtaking all-rounder will struggle when arriving with 16 balls to spare and the score at 103.

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And that was essentially the crux of it all: In just 17.2 overs, Pakistan had managed to chaotically dispose of the assurance that had been built over the previous six months in the limited-overs arenas. Somehow, a team that had competed in 15 T20Is (compared to India's five) since the last World T20 in 2012 were made to look like an outfit completely foreign to the format.

In doing so, they handed a grateful Indian side a ticket to blissful respite.

Now, already a game down and the powerful-looking Australia and West Indies' units to come, Pakistan's journey out of Group 2 looks daunting already.

Worse, the perception of the team's potential threat and batting ability has completed a quicker U-turn than those seen at mid-pitch by Shehzad, Akmal and Hafeez.

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