What is the best way to construct a chase? Let’s widen that out a little. What is the best way to construct a good ODI innings? Because, more often than not, the latter equates to the former.
A few days ago, before the third ODI in Abu Dhabi, Misbah-ul-Haq laid down a template for precisely that: a good ODI team total. Its logic can easily be extended to ODI chases. He was asked specifically how his young batsmen can get out of the rut of scoring 20s, 30s, even nice 50s, but not going beyond that.
“One important thing I always stress, is that whoever is set, whichever batsman, that he plays out the full 50 overs,” he said.
“Whenever one does, even if he makes 100-115, you are in a commanding position. Automatically, the team total crosses 250. So that is our effort, whoever we have, young and old.
“We try to communicate this to them that if you are set, bat till the end. Just keep playing, because if you keep playing from one end, automatically runs will come from the other end as well.”
Post-Twenty20, that may come across as stale, even out-of-vogue advice, but it is not. It is, as with almost everything Misbah says and stands for, eminently rational and realistic.
Pakistan’s batting is a mess – that is no secret. Just how much of a mess is never more evident, though, as when they are chasing. When setting targets, it is invariably their excellent bowlers who can be relied upon to defend almost anything.
The chasing is an old curse but it has begun to feel more acute in this latest modern age. It is in a chase that Pakistan can appear at their most muddled and most lethargic.
Michael Bevan, one of the game’s finest chasers, said in his autobiography that his theory in a chase was “that you always have to do less than you think”. He added: “The most important thing is to take the pressure off yourself. Make the other guys stress.”
The thing with this advice is that it works both ways. Bevan could pull off that kind of bravado because he had nerves of ice. MS Dhoni is another, even more devastating chaser who believes that he has more time to finish than he actually does. He would, though, because he makes Bevan look positively jittery.
The other side of this is where Pakistan find themselves. They do not often burst into a chase, just as they did not last night against South Africa.
Their middle order does not tear through; they let the target build, build and leave it late only for the pressure of that tardiness to eventually do them in.
Misbah, more often than not, ends up not only as the fulcrum of these chases, but also as the scapegoat. He does have some of Bevan and Dhoni’s nervelessness but lacks something, intangibly critical. Sometimes, he has been the problem himself, hoovering up dot balls and increasing the pressure on those around him.
But how much can you blame a man with the performances he has had recently? At least he has practiced what he preaches; that is, to stick around till the very end, to give him and his side the very best chance of a good total or a chase – and it has often been not much of a chance at all.
As much as anything, what he lacks is support and nous around him, the kind Dhoni has and Bevan had.
In that infamous Mohali chase at the 2011 World Cup semi-final, for which he is unfairly pilloried, what he needed was support. What he needed, in fact, was what, in the 1992 World Cup semi-final, Javed Miandad had: a young tyro at the other end, expressing himself.
Sometimes, as he found out Friday night, even that is not enough and it has to fall to him again. In Sohaib Maqsood, he had a wonderful physical and spiritual apparition of Inzamam-ul-Haq; in Umar Akmal he had another explosive batsman to build on what had been a solid chase.
It was not to be. Having shepherded the order through to within touching distance of the finishing line, the pressure got too intense. The calculation suddenly looked a little off. Misbah fell to it, too, nearly there yet again.
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