Pakistan flattened Hong Kong by eight wickets in their opening match of the 2018 Asia Cup at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday. Here are the key takeaways from that encounter:
1- Professional Pakistan less susceptible to meltdowns
The expectations were high, the opposition was weak, and the stage just about set for Pakistan to pull a Pakistan. After all, just as it is the standard operating procedure of this team to win when no one is expecting, it is also its habit to fall flat on its face when no one is expecting.
But the unpredictable didn't happen. Instead, Sarfraz Ahmed's men nonchalantly went about their business and humiliated Hong Kong, as they should have.
This coupled with the performances of the past year or so proves that a corner has been turned. This is not the Pakistan of the old. This bunch may only pack a fraction of the talent their previous generations used to have, but this bunch also far less susceptible to meltdowns and a lot less crazier.
They are not world beaters — at least not yet — but Pakistan of 2018 is a much more professional side, and it's beginning to show in their results.
2- Hong Kong not ready for the big leagues
Hong Kong were in the game for all of one over, the opening over, of which they got 10 runs. For the remaining 59.5 overs of the match, they looked every bit an ICC Associate team they are.
One usually looks at the positives rather than results when analysing minnows, but sadly they did very little to warrant any optimism. Between the Associate circuit and the big leagues there comes a massive jump in quality. Anshuman Rath and his men were just not ready.
3- No superstars, no problems
As mentioned earlier, this Pakistan side is unlike any other Pakistan side we've had before. There are no singular, larger-than-life 100mph speedsters and no spin wizards on whom the team can rely on. Sarfraz's options are multiple, balanced, levelheaded and most of all, they know their limitations and strengths.
So instead of expecting a Shoaib Akhtar or a Saeed Ajmal to bail (or ball) the team out of trouble, the Pakistan bowling unit of 2018 makes a combined effort. Of course, Mohammad Amir does bowl the first over but that by no means mean that he is the side's bowling spearhead.
Against Hong Kong too, Amir though economical, eventually went wicketless. But it wasn't a point of concern for the skipper as Usman Shinwari got 3, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan got deuces whereas Faheem Ashraf chipped in with one.
This is no beast of the 90s. This is a machine — a systematic, well-oiled unit that Sarfraz has built. If one bowler doesn't get you, the other one will. If that one doesn't then another will, and so on. It's a refreshing change.
4- Can we please give young Imam his due share?
Imamul Haq is only 22, averages 74 and has a strike rate of 86. Against Hong Kong, he added 50 more to his run tally. What more will he have to do to have people on his back. Isn't it time that we forget who he is related to and start admiring him for who he is?
5- Improved athleticism of Sarfraz's men
Lastly, a shout out for how good the boys look. Gone are the days when our cricketers used to be pot-bellied uncles (see Inzamamul Haq). Gone are also the days when some of our cricketers were more suited for selling shampoos than playing cricket (see Shahid Afridi and Ahmed Shehzad).
The likes of Shadab and Hassan, and in fact almost the entire team, is athletic, agile and in line with how modern day sports stars are supposed to look and move. Kudos to them!
Kumail Zaidi is a cricket aficionado based in Karachi.