London June 19 (TNS): A man who landed in the UK near the bottom of Pakistan’s pace pecking order has moved past more skilled bowlers to lead the attack through sheer force of will, symbolizing Pakistan’s run to the final
Rumman Raees is holding the ball. An hour earlier, he wasn’t supposed to be playing. Forty-nine days ago, Raees came on second change for Sindh in a List A game. He hadn’t played another game since, but now he was about to open the bowling for Pakistan in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy. Today was very different.
Raees had come from nowhere to appear in this game. Pakistan had done the same.
In Pakistan’s last 14 ODI series – since reaching the final of the 2014 Asia Cup – they have won six times, which sounds acceptable until you look at who they have beaten. There was a win in Sri Lanka, but then they’ve beaten Zimbabwe and the West Indies twice each, and a 1-0 win over Ireland when the second match was abandoned. After their tournament-opening loss to India, they had won 23% of their matches against the teams in this tournament since the previous World Cup. Against good opposition, they were less than a one in four chance.
They were slower than the average runs per over in the first 10, middle overs and at the death, while their bowlers bowled above the average in everything but the middle overs. But it wasn’t just the analytics that haunted them, two stars never made the plane because of the ongoing PSL corruption investigation.
Then there was the game against India, which wasn’t a game. It was a shame. For this match against their arch-rival, and one of the tournament favourites, they selected the wrong team, gave it the wrong strategy, and the players fielded terribly while the bowlers weren’t as good as they can be. It’s best not to mention the batting. India lapped Pakistan without ever needing to take the car out of the garage.
Pakistan came into the tournament ranked No. 8. They played against India like it was 88.
Then they were playing the No. 1 ranked side in South Africa. They bowled amazingly well, but even their most diehard optimistic fan, if such fans indeed exist, was happy when the rain came. Against Sri Lanka, they bossed the game for 61 overs, and then had to rely on the charity of Sri Lankan fielders to steal a win with a near ludicrous unbroken 75-run eighth-wicket partnership.
Hasan Ali had 29 wickets at 26 coming into this tournament. In the last four games, he’s made those numbers look like refried vomit.
Then two days later, having stumbled into the Champions Trophy with what their coach called ugly wins, they were going up against the best team in ODI cricket over the last two years. England average over 300 an innings, they had scored over 300 in 12 of their last 13 attempts. They are playing next generation cricket: they crush the ball until No. 9, they smash the ball at the top, slap it in the middle and destroy it at the death. And then their bowlers take wickets, and even without Chris Woakes they have so many bowling options. They hit sixes, they take wickets.
You want your villain, you want your favourite? Enter the English team of Slogland: arrogant, at home, the team to beat, the team to fear. Pakistan weren’t supposed to stand a chance.
Before the toss Pakistan had lost Mohammad Amir, the leader of their attack, and their leader in the chase against Sri Lanka. That is how Pakistan ended up with their third debutant for the tournament (no other team had one). This is a team that has been forced through form, injury and suspension to rebuild their entire team on the fly. This current team isn’t part of some grand plan. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of the best parts of the PSL and experienced journeymen. If you were fit and hadn’t fallen foul of the cricket authorities, you were an outside chance of getting a game.
That is how they played to start with. The second ball of the match was bowled by their second-choice opening bowler Junaid Khan, who struck Jonny Bairstow with one that looked very out. Pakistan reviewed, and it was hitting, but not enough to overturn the umpire’s call. So two balls into the game Pakistan had lost their only review. In the fourth over Raees had Hales out lbw, a wicket for the debutant, until England reviewed and it was overturned. Bairstow was dropped again in the 10th and then again in the 16th.
Then Hasan Ali bowled the 17th over. When Hasan played in his first PSL season he was brought out to a press conference and one senior journalist said, loud enough for Hasan to hear, something along the lines of, ‘Who is this guy? Why have you brought him out here?’ The first “question” in that presser was, ‘Tell us about yourself.’ At the start of this tournament, Wahab Riaz was still referred to as a strike bowler. Compared to Hasan, he’s a change bowler. Hasan had 29 wickets at 26 coming into this tournament. In the last four games, he’s made those numbers look like refried vomit.
He took the ball for the first time to bowl the 23rd over against South Africa. Two balls later, Faf Du Plessis was out.
And that was nothing. He then worked over JP Duminy like he was an unpaid extra. And his ball to Wayne Parnell should be shot into space so that the aliens can know how vicious we can be as a species. It was fast, angled in, then left. Wayne Parnell wouldn’t have hit it if Hasan had talked him through it. Hasan didn’t finish his overs, he just finished South Africa.
The 15th over was Hasan’s second over against Sri Lanka. He angled one in, at pace, it left Kusal Mendis, it destroyed Kusal Mendis. He came back on later to finish the Sri Lankan innings as well.
So two balls after the last Bairstow drop, Hasan comes on. The game does not start for Pakistan in this tournament until he picks up the ball. Forget the new ball and its lack of swing. When Hasan steps up to the crease, he is the master of the middle overs. You can’t knock the ball around. There are no ropey fifth bowlers to milk. This isn’t about ticking the score over, this is about surviving.
The fourth ball of his second spell, Eoin Morgan runs down the wicket to hit him out of the attack. Morgan edges behind and Hasan has done it again. Englalnd will never be in the game again.
In the middle overs this tournament, Hasan has bowled 144 balls, teams have scored 74 runs off him, and he’s taken six wickets. That’s an average of 12 and an economy rate of 3. That’s it right there. Amidst the chaos, the debacle, the rain, the misfields, that’s the diamond. Not with express pace; he’s quick, but he’s not 90 miles per hour. Not with reverse; he did get the ball to move, but never more than an inch or two. Not on green tops; he’d see as much grass in Dubai. Not with the new ball. He does it by being very accurate, and just nagging away. If you face Hasan Ali, the score and the state of the match fade away, you live in his world of pressure.
Who is Hasan Ali? The man who made Pakistan play even better than they thought possible. Pakistan’s plan according to their captain was, “If we won the toss, elected to bowl first. And if we restrict them 260, 270” and he also said, “I was not expecting we bowl them out”. The only way to beat England is to bowl them out, if you don’t, they slaughter you. The hunters became the hunted.
But it wasn’t just Hasan. Imad Wasim’s five overs went for 16 before he limped off the field. Shadab Khan, a teenager who hasn’t played ten ODIs made England respect him. And then there was Junaid Khan, the former prodigy, now a county cricket battler with a relatively poor record, who not only had to take the new ball last game, but lead the entire attack this game. He took the wicket of Jos Buttler, a wicket that should be worth double in ODI cricket, and then finished up taking Moeen, the only England player who looked like hitting boundaries. Junaid isn’t as quick as he used to be, he doesn’t swing it much either, he’s no longer a killing yorker machine. But he did his job.
It was Junaid’s bowling last game that put the pressure back on Sri Lanka. It was Shadab who took the wicket of Joe Root. It was Imad’s bowling that started the rot against South Africa.
Mohammad Hafeez, who has only taken one wicket this tournament, and was hidden against India, did his job. He is bowling as much to save his career after being called for chucking and taking time to fix his action, but even his one wicket counted. It was of Quinton de Kock. And when he doesn’t take wickets he goes at 4.69.
You put all this attack together and you have pressure, low scoring, and then wickets. To keep that pressure on you have to field, you can’t just run in and bowl gold every ball because even Hasan has to bowl the odd hittable one. So you need your field to be all over the batsmen. You need an extra man in the ring; Sarfraz Ahmed did that often. You need your fields to be athletic, awake and amazing; Pakistan, I repeat, Pakistan, did that. Most of their errors were by them fumbling after showing too much effort.
Almost none of their errors were by jogging to the ball, not diving, or standing on their heels. The jalebi fielding arc was barely seen. It wasn’t a perfect fielding effort, but they were about as good as Pakistan can be, or have ever been. The middle overs would have been far better for England if they could have done what they use to do, drop the ball at their feet and run at will.
The lowest-ranked team, with a losing record, somehow managed to reimagine and rehabilitate their cricket while a global tournament was on. And after all their ugly wins, they had a beautiful victory.
When Rashid was taken on the pad, the ball went out on the offside, and he was a bit slow to take off for the run. The fielder at cover was Ahmed Shehzad, a player who had been incredibly hopeless in the field in the first game. Shehzad had been mocked all tournament, and now he was racing in, picking up the ball and running out Rashid with a direct hit. So the bowling was better than it’s normal high standard and the fielding had become full of athletic vigour: But what of the batting?
The batting hadn’t just been bad, it had been unendingly awful. The one game they batted well, against South Africa, it was like watching a flight attendant try and land a 747 in a thunder storm. Most of their top order is out of form, too slow to start with, incapable of boundaries, averse to smart running, and when they play a big shot it’s a mixture of bad life choices and terrible technique.
Against England, they only had to chase 212, but last game they were 162 for 7. That was a knockout game, but not a final. That was against the only team as weak in overall form as they have been. A team that was shipping players in and playing them for almost every game. And most crucially, a team with three frontline bowlers, one handy bowler, and a bunch of part timers sticky-taped together. That wasn’t against the best team over the last two years, with two proper fast bowling options, a golden armed allrounder and Adil Rashid who has taken over 60 wickets since the last World Cup.
Forget all that, Pakistan smashed them, Ben Stokes – IPL’s Player-of-the-Tournament and the destroyer of Australia – bowled 3.1 overs for 38. Fakhar Zaman has been smashing the ball in List A cricket for years. He wasn’t the first choice opener, or the second, but from the moment he has come in he’s made their top-order look superfly. You put him together with Babar Azam, and you have the sort of top order than looks positively un-Pakistani. Azhar Ali’s dot balls don’t bother you as much when Fakhar is flat-batting the ball back over the bowler’s head. When he’s charging the quicks and slogging to leg. When his intent is so obvious that can’t help be off put by it.
Since being seven wickets down against Sri Lanka, Pakistan made 192 runs without losing a wicket over two games, and in the process they won both of them.
By the time Fakhar was out, it was pretty much all over, but just to make sure, Babar charged down the wicket and hit the third six of the innings over Adil Rashid’s head. England hit no sixes. Pakistan out hit them, out bowled them, out batted them, out thought them, and even at times out fielded them.
It was a Pakistan fantasy XI. They were batting like they were England, and this wasn’t a knockout game, but a warm-up game against a university team. They were batting on clouds, laughing down at the mortals – the man-players that were mocked and embarrassed only days ago – and were now the men to bring home the win in Cardiff like giggling schoolkids running to the local shop to pick up some lollies.
Look at this team. Slow coaches, third choices, embittered franchise players, an impetuous captain, teenagers, debutants, medium pacers, former chuckers, reformed fixers and surprise players. It’s more a game of Pakistani bingo than a real side.
And Raees, a second change bowler from Sindh opened the bowling for his country, in their most important game of ODI cricket in over two years, and took the first wicket. None of this was supposed to happen, Raees wasn’t supposed to play, Pakistan wasn’t supposed to win. The greatest days in Pakistan cricket are the most surprising.
This is a team which put off a bilateral series to ensure they could qualify for this tournament. The lowest-ranked team, with a losing record, somehow managed to reimagine and rehabilitate their cricket while a global tournament was on. And after all their ugly wins, they had a beautiful victory.
We know that Raees might never be important again. He might disappear back into the void that sucks in unnecessary Pakistan players. But today, as he walked around on his team’s unlikely victory lap, his face was of shock and happiness. He may be new, but you’ve seen this face before. It’s the face of Pakistan cricket.