Pakistan begin quest for World Cup glory

Published May 31, 2019
Sarfraz Ahmed and his men enter this 12th edition of the World Cup following an unenviable losing streak — 10 ODI defeats on the trot. ─ Photo courtesy PCB Twitter
Sarfraz Ahmed and his men enter this 12th edition of the World Cup following an unenviable losing streak — 10 ODI defeats on the trot. ─ Photo courtesy PCB Twitter

PAKISTAN launch their World Cup campaign against the West Indies at Trent Bridge on Friday (today) as no-hopers, though not for the first time, who can go on to stun the best when on song.

Over the years, Pakistan have indeed acquired the reputation of being ‘mercurial’ and ‘unpredictable’ and for good reason. They have beaten the best in the business with consummate ease one day and have gone down without a whimper to the minnows the next, defying the laws of equilibrium and leaving the pundits scratching their heads.

Although this undoubtedly adds a dash of romance to their cricket, critics feel they are now becoming victims of such stereotyping. In fact, Sarfraz Ahmed and his men enter this 12th edition of the World Cup following an unenviable losing streak — 10 ODI defeats on the trot.

The harsh truth is that they have been guilty of playing thoughtless and unprofessional cricket since that amazing Champions Trophy win in England in 2017. Despite a bevy of coaches and support staff at hand, despite availability of top facilities, despite the required exposure, they have been found woefully wanting in almost all departments, especially bowling which had been Pakistan’s hallmark for decades.

The team has lost 10 one-day matches on the trot

To put it succinctly, they have either been playing to some diabolical game-plan or none at all. The electrifying body language that won hearts and matches in the Champions Trophy has been completely missing. The shoulders have dropped too soon and the players have appeared jaded; desperate for victory may be, but certainly not hungry.

Yes, they have had the handicap of losing some key players such as Mohammad Amir, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Fahim Ashraf and Junaid Khan to injury or lack of form, but that should not have crippled the team the way it has.

So the big question now is: where do they go from here?

The World Cup has not been kind to them since that brilliant 1992 triumph and they know it. The two first round exits in 2003 and 2007 still hurt.

Sarfraz, captaining the side in his first World Cup, is determined to make amends. Just how, even he does not seem to know.

The sole consolation for him is that the batting has shown grit and spine in the run-up to the tournament. Long ridiculed as the side’s Achilles heel, the batting has surprisingly come good thanks to inspiring performances from the top three - Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam. The three have scored hundreds while workhorse Haris Sohail, pinch-hitter Asif Ali and the two veterans – Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez –have all chipped in with useful scores.

The skipper, as indeed millions of Pakistanis, pin a lot of hope on the fit-again duo of Shadab and Amir. The two could hold the key to Pakistan’s campaign in this most competitive event.

Read more: How 20-year-old Shadab Khan went from Mianwali pitches to World Cup cricket

Shadab’s infectious enthusiasm and the ability to channelise his natural aggression purposefully in crucial games is seen as a big plus for the team and is likely to rub on his depressed teammates.

Pakistan are equally counting on Amir’s big match temperament despite his recent chequered form. The fast bowler, who has been grappling with fitness issues, is surely capable of producing a match-winning spell out of nowhere. His devastating spell in the 2017 Champions Trophy final, which famously undid the formidable Indian batting line-up, is still fresh in the minds of his admirers.

The event’s format, similar to the 1992 edition where each team plays the other nine to book a berth in the semifinals, provides Pakistan a greater chance of redemption in case they confront early hiccups.

On Friday, they face the rejuvenated West Indies who are no doubt looking lethal, especially after their mauling of New Zealand in a warm-up game.

The return of some class players such as the destructive Chris Gayle, Andre Russel, Darren Bravo, allied to the talent of young guns like Shai Hope, skipper Jason Holder and Shannon Gabriel, make them a daunting opposition.

England’s Ben Stokes (centre) celebrates the dismissal of the last South African batsman during the first match of the 2019 Cricket World Cup.—AFP
England’s Ben Stokes (centre) celebrates the dismissal of the last South African batsman during the first match of the 2019 Cricket World Cup.—AFP

It is a tough opening game by all counts for Pakistan, who face up to a challenging week where they also meet favourites England and Sri Lanka.

Without any doubt, this should be a make or break week for them.

If the reports from England are anything to go by, the past few days have allowed Pakistan to regroup and reflect on their shortcomings. A handful of selfies uploaded on social media definitely portray better camaraderie among the players, a good augury for the competition.

Whether this Pakistan team is good enough to translate their ebullience into performance on crunch occasions is for time to tell. But all said and done, the string of defeats and the lack of order in the ranks notwithstanding, no one can dare write off Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2019

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