x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Dramatic dips in form and fortune just part of the game for Pakistan cricket

South Africa’s Wayne Parnell expects Pakistan backlash after their opening night collapse.

Junaid Khan delivers a ball during Pakistan's training session in Dubai on Thursday. Asif Hassan / AFP
Junaid Khan delivers a ball during Pakistan's training session in Dubai on Thursday. Asif Hassan / AFP

DUBAI // Dav Whatmore likes a challenge. He stuck with Bangladesh as coach through thin and thinner.

He was there when Sri Lanka transitioned from pushovers to world champions. He even had a youthful, overweight Andrew Flintoff under his charge during his time coaching Lancashire in county cricket.

And now Pakistan. His toughest test yet? Surely.

Whatmore was in an apocalyptic rage with his players after their abysmal demise late on Wednesday night. Rightly so. They had lost a game against South Africa from a winning position, and not for the first time.

Because of the intimate, antiquated set up of Sharjah Cricket Stadium, the dressing down he gave his players was perhaps more public than he would have liked. It ended up a tongue-lashing as theatre.

He sat at the front of the home dressing room facing his crestfallen players. With darkness outside, the lighting of the dressing room and the floor-to-ceiling windows meant it was easy to see the gory details.

The sound of his fury even drifted through the vents of the air conditioning vents to the room next door.

The fact Wayne Parnell and AB de Villiers were conducting their press conference in there at the time, and talking over the noise, meant Pakistan’s players were spared any great opprobrium. Lucky them.

Happily – or infuriatingly, depending on which way you look at it – for Whatmore, it was just another day in the wacky world of Pakistan cricket.

For any other team, the manner of their dire collapse in the opening one-day international might have been a psychological blow from which they would not recover for the duration of the series.

Pakistan, by contrast, are likely to be emboldened by it. In a cricket nation where a board chairman can be sacked one minute, then reinstated two hours later, chaos seems to be a virtue.

They are just as likely to turn up at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium this afternoon in high spirits as they are to be on a downer.

“We are definitely expecting them to bounce back,” said Parnell, South Africa’s match winner in the opening game.

“Every international side would do that. We have to go back and focus on what we can do.”

It was barely a week since Pakistan had torpedoed their own aspirations of claiming a Test series victory by getting bowled out for 99 on the opening morning of the second game.

Slow starts can be terminal in the long form of the game. At least they get a chance to start over again today after Wednesday’s horror show.

Even Misbah-ul-Haq, the side’s captain, is betraying signs of muddled thinking.

When he and Asad Shafiq were reviving signs of optimism as they tried to save the final Test, he surrendered his wicket with a rash shot against a part-time spinner, Dean Elgar.

Then again, in Sharjah, he could have seen the side home when there were less than 50 runs needed and seven wickets still in the bank.

But he tamely gave away his wicket by scooping up a catch to point off the bowling of Parnell.

“I don’t know what was going through the batsmen’s minds,” Misbah said after seeing his side lose their final six wickets for 17 runs in Sharjah.

“Maybe they just relaxed and gave away their wickets. After that, when you are under pressure it is really difficult.”

Gary Kirsten, the former India and South Africa coach, was at the ground in Sharjah, having been summoned as a batting consultant for the Proteas.

On the evidence of Wednesday, he has his work cut out. The South Africans – still missing Hashim Amla – are unusually run-shy in the one-day format at present, and the opening night success failed to paper over those cracks.

“I can’t put my finger on it,” said De Villiers, South Africa’s captain.

“We are not getting runs, we are not getting partnerships going, we are not playing well together as a batting unit.

“I believe we will get there and we will continue to work hard to do it.

“This is a funny game and sometimes you need a game like [Wednesday’s] to turn things around.”