Babar Azam's tactics under the scanner amidst an action-packed innings
While the high-octane game between Pakistan and India was called off due to rain, there was still plenty of action taking place during the first innings. From Pakistani pacers’ breathtaking bowling masterclass to Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya’s remarkable partnership, there were several exciting phases throughout the first innings.
Amidst all the chaos that unfolded, Babar Azam’s bewildering captaincy eventually got the most limelight. Babar’s tactics are always under the scanner, as some of his on-field decisions have let the game slip away when Pakistan could have sealed it in the past. Babar made a similar blunder against India, which could have been costly had the game gone ahead.
Shadab Khan was introduced to the attack in the 14th over when India were reeling at 63/3 and reduced to 66/4 in the next over. By the end of the 17th over, the pace trio of Pakistan had completed their five overs each. Now, Babar decided to attack with the spinners from both ends.
While the surface was more helpful for the pacers, it also had some grip and turn for the slow bowlers. The spinners - Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz - started their spells beautifully. They turned the ball occasionally, and some grip early on seemed to be making life difficult for the batters.
So, the plan to operate with the spinners didn’t look bad initially. However, the Indian batters - Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya - saw them as their run-scoring opportunity. They were proactive in putting every loose ball away, and the two spinners made their job easier by bowling too many freebies.
Shadab has this habit of bowling at least one loose ball every over, and he delivered full tosses and gave width at times. Meanwhile, Nawaz also couldn’t put a leash on the scoring rate. All the pressure exerted by the pacers was released, and the batters were now settled.
Shadab and Nawaz bowled seven consecutive overs between them from over number 18 to 24, and the partnership was 55 by then. After the dismissal of Shubman Gill in the 15th over, the pacer bowled only one over from that end when a few extra overs from the quicks could have easily derailed the Indian innings completely.
Babar then introduced Shaheen for a short two-over spell, but both batters played him out cautiously. While Shaheen could have been introduced a tad earlier, it was still acceptable, given a captain has to think about the slog overs.
However, what transpired later was a major tactical blunder by Babar Azam. After Shaheen’s two-over spell, Agha Salman - a near part-time off-spinner - was called upon. It is where things started to go south for Pakistan. There is a possibility that Salman was brought to cover some of the overs of Shadab and Nawaz, who looked toothless by that point, and a left-hander, Ishan Kishan, was batting.
But Salman never looked threatening with the ball, and his spell allowed Ishan and Hardik to put pressure back on Pakistan. From over 28 to 35, the three spinners kept operating in tandem and gave away 42 runs. Ishan and Hardik made sure not to let any loose ball go away without taking a hit.
Babar Azam had a chance of bringing his pacers back and killing the game by picking up the wickets here. If not from both ends, the fast bowlers should have at least bowled from one end. There was still ample help for the speedsters, as shown by Pakistani quicks later.
When Haris Rauf was again introduced in the 36th over, the game had opened up completely. Additionally, Babar made a miscalculation to give an extra over to his spinner, meaning one of the pacers wouldn’t have bowled his full quota of 10 overs had the innings gone to the 50th over. Babar missed an opportunity to bring in a pacer earlier in the innings on multiple occasions.
The spinners collectively had an economy rate of 6.33 and failed to pick even a single wicket. They kept bowling looseners, but the captain didn’t take them off the attack. Babar wasn’t proactive enough to attack more with the pacers and let India post an above-par total of 266 in the end.
As soon as the pacers were back, the wickets started to fall off again. There was still assistance for the seamers on a deck that surprisingly had significant seam movement throughout the innings. India were soon reduced to 242/8, with all their main batters succumbing to the pacers’ accuracy.
India’s two best batters of the day - Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya - made a majority of their runs against the spinners. Ishan made 75.60% of runs at a strike rate of 112.72, while Hardik accumulated 67.81% of runs at a strike rate of 98.33 against the slow bowlers.
Hardik Pandya has well-known issues against high pace, while Ishan also struggles against hard lengths at a high speed outside the off-stump line. Moreover, the pacers had earlier tasted success by bowling shorter lengths to the top-order batters. The dismissals of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer must have been enough for Babar to continue with pace in the middle overs.
While the two batters batted brilliantly, Babar also helped them by serving favourable matchups. Pakistan escaped tonight, but Babar Azam’s tactics could have led the team to a disappointing defeat.