Asif Ali dropped two catches off Wahab Riaz, at first slip in the 13th over and then at third man in the 37th. Australia captain Aaron Finch was the biggest benefactor, going on to score 82 from 26 and raise the biggest opening partnership in the World Cup. And though Warner added only three runs after Ali’s dropped him at third man, giving a reprieve to a centurion can be demoralising for the team, and especially for a pacer who has been bending his back without success.
How did Pakistan fare in the field? According to Cricviz data, Pakistan leaked 14 runs through misfields. Their catch percentage was 72.7 while they could only stop 63.6% of the shots. Three catches were dropped while Ali and Shoaib Malik had two and three misfields to their name. Add the six wides and three no-balls, and Pakistan are looking at extras that potentially tilted the match in Australia’s favour. Barring Ali, Pakistan showed no discomfort with lofted catches. But poor close-in and ground fielding negated that.
Three days before the biggest match of this World Cup, Pakistan look rank sloppy in their fielding. It wouldn’t have mattered as much in another era, against a different Indian team. But this bunch, raised on a strict regimen of diets and workouts that is ultimately put through a complicated ‘yo-yo’ test, is expected to be sharp in the field. Pakistan’s fielding against Australia was anything but, and should cause considerable headache to the team management.
The problem starts from the top, with their captain. Sarfaraz Ahmed, quite a vocal leader behind the stumps, wasn’t half as effective in his glovework. Warner’s first century after his one-year ban was gifted with a boundary that went through Ali at wide first slip and Ahmed. A fielder stands wide only when the wicketkeeper assures him that he will go for the full-bodied lunge to his left. No such pact seemed to have been struck between the two as Ahmed didn’t even move when Warner edged Shaheen Afridi. Ahmed was in the spotlight before that too when he dropped Finch in the 17th over. On 44, Finch tried to cut Mohammed Hafeez’s gentle off-break. It produced a thick edge; a difficult catch, but expected to be taken at this level.
David Warner’s century guides Australia to 41-run win over Pakistan
With boundaries hard to come by, Australia ran better and harder between the wickets. That explains why they got to 307 off 294 deliveries, 134 out which were dot balls. Only 27 boundaries and six sixes were hit—144 runs in total—as Australia scored the rest in 102 singles and 21 twos. Going for a two at a ground with short boundaries like Taunton is a pretty onerous task, but Pakistan made it look easy for Australia due to their poor fielding, particularly at the covers and the mid-wicket region.
Most throws from the deep were off target. On several occasions, neither did the bowler rush back to the stumps to gather a throw, nor was there a backup. Around a fourth of the runs conceded in misfields came through overthrows. In a game that is often decided by the smallest of margins, Pakistan have glaring problems in their fielding. Their previous matches narrate a similar story—allowing West Indies to blaze their way to a 106-run target in under 14 overs for example. Winning against England may have allowed Pakistan to gloss over their fielding problems, but even in that match they conceded 19 runs in seven misfields and had a catch percentage of just 64. It was marginally better against West Indies at 75%.
On Sunday, Pakistan will be up against a side that has a 100% catch percentage after two wins against South Africa and Australia. And even though they have had seven misfields, India saved six runs combining the averages of both matches. Unlike Taunton, Manchester will be expected to be a belter of a pitch. And for all the bowling talent Pakistan possess, without at least reliable fielding to back it, that talent will be wasted. Expect India to exploit this weakness to the hilt.