NOW that the World Cup fever is over for Pakistan fans, it is time to assess what the team did right or wrong in England over the last one month. Despite having the worst possible start to its campaign, Pakistan did what Pakistan does usually, i.e. kept its fans, even the neutrals, on the edge of their seats till the last game it played.
Only Pakistan, given its unpredictable traits, could surrender so meekly as it did in the first game against the West Indies, and then valiantly fight till the end for the last spot of the semi-finals.
Much has been said and written about the Kiwis making it to the last four at the expense of Pakistan. So we are going to skip that part and discuss where Pakistan stands now. Arguably, this was Pakistan’s best World Cup campaign in over 20 years. And even though the team won’t be playing the semi-final this year, if their wins against England, South Africa, Bangladesh and New Zealand are something to go by, it will be playing more of them in the future for sure.
When the World Cup 2011 ended in tears for Pakistan against India at Mohali, there was nothing to write home about in terms of future prospects. Ahmed Shahzad looked promising but very inconsistent. Umar Akmal was already in bad books of many for his knack of getting in trouble and poor outings with the bat. While the trends of batting in limited-overs cricket were changing rapidly, we had Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq and Misbah-ul-Haq in the middle-order and hence moving backwards.
Pakistan’s express pace bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, was forced to announce his retirement from international cricket midway through the tournament. And his new ball partner, Umar Gul, only bowled well when he was in rhythm. For a short period of time, the pace bowling had to take the back seat in a country where it has thrived for decades just because it didn’t have enough resources. In short, while the team had made it to the semis, there was no silver lining for Pakistan.
And the same could be said for the team that played the World Cup 2015.
In a classic Pakistani manner, nobody knew who would captain the side till the very last moment. Ahmed Shahzad and Umar Akmal had become proven failures by then. Even a school kid could tell just by looking at them that their bodies weren’t following the line of the ball. Nasir Jamshed had become the villain overnight for his failures with the bat. Younis Khan, the most senior player in the side, had become a liability in one-day cricket by then while young Sohaib Maqsood was labelled as Inzamam Jr for his elegant wrist work. As it eventually turned out, fielding was the only thing in which he was closest to being Inzamam. Only Wahab Riaz looked good in patches and Sarfraz Ahmed showed what value he brought to the team with the bat.
Now compare those previous two outings with the World Cup 2019 and ask yourself whether the future looks as gloomy as it did after the previous two editions? The answer is ‘no, it doesn’t’. The last time Pakistan had a settled top 3, nobody had even heard of iPhones. The last time Pakistan had such depth in its batting, America hadn’t waged the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the last time Pakistan had the luxury of quality pace bowling, Virat Kohli was playing U-15 club cricket.
That being said, it’s not to say that the players should be satisfied with their performances. Before the game against Bangladesh, Imam-ul-Haq told the media that he had a terrible time dealing with the loss against Australia because Pakistan was in a comfortable position to win the match. He took the blame of the loss on himself and said that it was his duty to see the team through. Such maturity on display by a 23-year old, who is often dubbed as “parchi” because of his uncle being the chief selector, bodes well for the future.
Babar Azam, without any doubt, was the standout player for Pakistan. His innings against New Zealand proved he is destined to become one of the batting greats of Pakistan should he not lose his focus. And it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Shaheen Shah Afridi is, perhaps, the most talented teenager in world cricket right now. He has come a long way in just one year. From wreaking havocs at U-19 World Cup last year to World Cup 2019, he has shown that he has got the ability to win matches on his own any day.
Harris Sohail also made the most of the opportunities he got and showed that he is a more than capable ODI player with that superb knock against South Africa. Imad Wasim has also improved tremendously as an all-rounder. His innings against Afghanistan was as good as any other while chasing in a crucial World Cup game. He is a valuable player at number 8 who, with his late hitting down the order, could make the difference.
And while Fakhar Zaman and Hassan Ali didn’t get much success in the tournament, there is no reason why the management should discard them. Fakhar has a better record against top-8 teams than his scores at the World Cup suggest. And Hassan Ali was the top ODI bowler only a year ago. One bad tournament or season should not be taken into account before making big calls that could affect their careers.
Meanwhile, with Shoaib Malik retiring from ODI cricket, there is a chance for the likes of Mohammad Rizwan who enjoyed great success against Australia in UAE earlier this year.
Sarfraz Ahmed shouldn’t be removed from the captaincy till the World T20 in Australia next year. He has led the side well apart from the West Indies and India games and Pakistan are currently ranked no.1 in T20s so there is no reason why he should be sacked. But, he should be asked to bat up the order since his record suggests that he is a valuable player when he bats at number 4.
Pakistan’s was the second youngest squad to play the World Cup this year. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that these players will only get better with time. Was the exit from the World Cup disappointing? Yes. Does it warrant a knee-jerk reaction? No.
Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2019