Saturday 25 February 2012

Pakistan vs England - 2nd Twenty20 International

Given the brevity of Twenty20 cricket, I will attempt to sum up my thoughts on today’s fixture, in which England comfortably beat Pakistan by 38 runs, with similar concision.

Shades of D’Artagnan

England opted to bat first today after again winning the toss, a reverse of Stuart Broad’s decision to chase in the first Twenty20 fixture between the sides – a decision which in hindsight looks to have been a very bad one given the travails of the England batsmen in failing to reach an achievable target.

Bairstow - fine half century
After a solid start to the innings from Kevin Pietersen and Craig Kieswetter it was Yorkshire youngster Jonny Bairstow that took the innings by the scruff of the neck and propelled England with a flamboyant unbeaten 60. Success has not been instant for Bairstow in international cricket, but on today’s showing he certainly has a future every bit as bright as his hair. Excellent use of the feet to the Pakistan spinners, a propensity for big-hitting down the ground and blurring hand speed that had shades of D’Artagnan in his pomp about it carried England to a very competitive 150-7 at the culmination of their 20 over innings.

A Faulty Exocet

Jos Buttler, another of England’s middle order youngsters of immense promise and expectation, had a case of déjà vu on the very same track in Dubai today. Many of you will have seen some of his explosive, innovative and sometimes downright outrageous innings for Somerset and England Lions in the limited overs game, but the fuse on this ballistic West Country batsman is yet to be ignited on the international scene. After drilling one exocet through the covers for four off the bowling of the ever impressive Umar Gul, Buttler fell in very similar fashion to his dismissal in the first Twenty20 fixture on Thursday. Attempting a scoop over short fine leg that has become his trademark on the county scene, but a shot that saw him find that man on Thursday, Buttler’s “if at first you don’t succeed” mentality backfired spectacularly, the canny Gul clean bowling the Somerset man.

Buttler will have his day, rest assured of that, but it may be worth Jos remembering that scooping Umar Gul at the death and doing the same to a domestic level bowler are two challenges of vastly differing difficulty.

‘Mini Boom Boom’

Well, not quite sure what to say about this chap Awais Zia! After his fearless, gun-slinging display on Thursday where he managed to raise the hackles of Steven Finn, just about everyone in world cricket was waiting in anticipation for the next innings of this wildcard opening batsman. It took Awais until his 13th ball in international cricket to play a defensive stroke, but any thoughts of a more reserved approach were soon to be banished.

Intent on swinging from the hip, it soon became clear that Awais possesses technique not too dissimilar to that of a pigeon moments after hurtling headlong in to a double glazed window - unbalanced, wild, and likely to perish at any given moment.  Zia’s one scoring shot, a gargantuan maximum marmalised in to the stands off the bowling of Steven Finn, came amidst an 11-ball impression of a man angrily but unsuccessfully swatting at a particularly bothersome fly.

Awais certainly brings entertainment to the table, and it is no mean feat to make Shahid Afridi look like a shrinking violet in comparison, but one has to wonder whether the young man is in above his head at this level.

Treacle Tracks

Perhaps unfairly after his recent successes with the bat, ball and in the field, attention will be focussed upon Samit Patel’s ongoing fitness issues once more today. Sent in ahead of Jos Buttler, probably to separate England’s youngsters with a more experienced campaigner, Patel not for the first time in his career found himself victim of a run-out after making 13.

The direct hit from Saeed Ajmal was a fantastic piece of fielding, but before today I had failed to realise that tracks in the UAE consisted primarily of rather thick treacle, such was Patel’s struggle to make his ground. Without even chancing a full length dive, those that have previously criticised Patel for his rotund appearance may well regain some of their lost voice.

You know you have played a poor shot when…

…Shahid Afridi rolls his eyes at it. That is indeed the fate that befell Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq during an ailing and increasingly desperate run chase today. Attempting a reverse sweep, Misbah made an absolute horlicks of the stroke, tying himself up in knots and looking rather ungainly in doing so. Of course, Shahid has never played an outrageously ineffective stroke, has he?

And Finally: Fielding
Fielding is given greater importance in the modern game than ever before, but Twenty20 cricket in particular is highlighting just how much of a difference it can make. Pakistan were actually much improved in the field today, taking their catches and exhibiting glimpses of individual excellence. England, though, take fielding to a whole new level.

Despite two drops a whole handful of exceptional catches were taken, and it would be interesting to know just how many runs the superb ground fielding of England saves them. In tight games I genuinely believe that fielding can have as much effect on the outcome as the batting and bowling of a side, and England are leaving nothing to chance in that respect. Having three wicket-keepers on the field simultaneously appears to be a sound tactic, given the stunning catches taken by both Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler in the deep that had almost left the Earth’s atmosphere.

On a side note, James Anderson made an appearance as substitute fielder when Jos Buttler briefly left the field. As far as substitute fielders go, that’s not a bad one, is it?

Off we go then to Abu Dhabi for the third, final and decisive Twenty20 fixture of this series. If I was a betting man, I’d get some money down on the side winning the toss winning the match. 

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