Pakistan's abject surrender exposes bowlers' limitations
Overpowered and razed to the ground. Pakistan's pitiable capitulation on day two of the series finale at Southampton knew no bounds as the marauding England batters made hay while the sun shone, literally. Deprived of a significant cloud cover on a somewhat flat surface, Pakistan's bowlers were rendered completely ineffective against an unlikely hero with an underwhelming first-class record and a white-ball maestro still establishing his reputation as a Test batsman. Zak Crawley's masterclass was infused with positive intent and minor adjustments that laid bare the rudderless opposition's lack of makeshift plans while Buttler, who was sedate compared to his lofty standards, pressed on with ease to essentially bat Pakistan out of the game.
Three of Pakistan's four frontline bowlers leaked more than 100 runs as England merrily marched to their first 500-plus total in 39 Tests. By the time England had decided to take mercy on Pakistan's suffering and declare their innings, three of their eight wickets had fallen to part-timers depicting how badly the visitors had fared. Barring a silent half-hour of play on either side of a couple of brief rain delays where Crawley took 25 deliveries to score his first run of the day, England accelerated in domineering fashion. Post-lunch, they plundered 209 runs in 46.4 overs as stymying England's steady charge seemed an impossible task to do for the Pakistan bowlers.
Mohammad Abbas, despite all his accuracy and penchant for attacking the stumps, stumbled on his lengths consistently and was forced to bowl short as the day progressed. Although the only paceman who looked threatening enough to beat the bat on multiple occasions, he cruelly returned wicketless with his new-ball skill failing to make the desired incisions. Crawley and Buttler cracked the code of disrupting Abbas' rhythm by regularly strolling down the pitch and working the ball into gaps to eliminate any possibility of the accumulation of dot balls. The calmness and control exuded from Abbas' expertise that Pakistan so heavily rely on went missing from action and the same degree of torment exhibited by him with the fresh cherry vanished when the ball got older. To drive home the point of his impotence against batsmen coming out of the crease, Abbas averages in excess of 90 when bowling to batters standing more than 2.65 metres away from the stumps in contrast to his career average in sub-20s.
Shaheen Afridi appears frustrated ©Getty Images
While Shaheen Afridi has been all over Rory Burns like a rash throughout this series, his one-dimensionality has gradually been exposed. A worrying sign for Pakistan has been the 20-year-old's ineptitude at shaping the ball away from the right-handed batsman, both from around the wicket and over the stumps. Shaheen's sharp incoming delivery has ceased to be a surprise weapon as his predictable line has not brought rewards. Moreover, Crawley's change of guard to middle-stump against Shaheen's bowling further made playing the flick shot, his most productive stroke, easier. When Shaheen eventually tried to resort to short-pitched stuff to counter the banality of proceedings, his fatigued efforts could not unsettle the batsmen.
Naseem Shah appears to have developed the knack of taking wickets off extraordinary deliveries but their occurrence has been too far and few to match his calibre. Compared to his lines in more favourable conditions in the first Test, Naseem's skiddy barrage was devoid of the same accuracy. The embattled teenager winced and growled at every edge travelling through a vacant region, perhaps unintentionally showing his inexperience to handle emotions when things did not go well for him. A total of eight first-class appearances in the domestic circuit, importantly, defies the mantra of player development and fast-tracking him into the team due to the exit of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz has not yielded benefits abroad. Additionally, the existing Covid-19 protocols, which ban the use of saliva on the cricket ball, denied a tearaway speedster like Naseem the opportunity to extract reverse swing.
Pakistan's most experienced candidate Yasir Shah conceded 150-plus runs in an innings for the ninth time in his Test career. Although this might not be a surprising stat given his extensive workload, the veteran leggie was way off-target and gave away runs at an alarming economy rate of 4.43. Having recaptured the spotlight with a lionhearted display in the series opener, he had trouble finding the right length and was put under pressure quickly whenever he was brought into the attack.
Much of the discussion surrounding Saturday's abysmal performance may centre on brazen rejections of the immense talent of Pakistan's pace trio. 'Overhyped' and 'overrated' are already some of the buzzwords circulating on social media describing the promising pacers but the problem runs farther than simplistic generalisations. A team management hell-bent on throwing youngsters in at the deep end without adequately combatting their limitations, as evidence suggests, would perhaps rightfully deserve the brunt of the criticism. A bowling coach in his third stint with the national side and a chief selector's obstinate stance against the induction of a fourth seamer paints a gloomy picture regarding their inability to adapt and excel in yet another away tour.
Fresh from the wounds of David Warner's triple ton at the Adelaide Oval last year, probably the only respite for Pakistan was when Asad Shafiq darted in a wide delivery to stump Crawley 33 runs short of the elusive 300-run landmark.