JUST as Pakistan skipper Rohail Nazir won the toss and elected to bat on a wicket that surely did not have any demons for the batsmen, the team coach Ijaz Ahmed sitting in the dugout appeared visibly tense, perhaps more tense than even the players out in the middle.

It was a matter of time before the collapse set in. When Mohammad Hurairah, the hero from the quarter-final win against Afghanistan, mistimed a pull to head back to the pavilion cheaply.

An early wicket of a key batsman against rivals India reminded one of so many times this had happened in the past. It had déjà vu written all over it.

Only the hard-fought third-wicket partnership between opener Haider Ali, who did well in scoring a half-century under pressure, and skipper Nazir — also a half-centurion who hung in there almost till the very end — no other Pakistani batsman could show composure or patience in front of a disciplined Indian bowling attack.

Both Pakistan and India reached the top four without losing any match, but what made team India stand apart from their Pakistani counterparts was confidence and calmness in their approach to the game. May be Pakistan players took too much pressure that they were not able to stick to the basics or the game plan, if there was any.

While Haider and Rohail stood tall in their third-wicket partnership, looking firm in doing the much-required damage control, one of the commentators mentioned how surprised he was to see the Pakistani camp out in the field training for the match very early in morning. In the same breath, he pointed out that it was not the case with team India.

May be the Indian players really meant it when they said before the game that it was just another match for them in their struggle to retain the trophy.

Soon, Haider lost his wicket and from there onward Pakistan never really recovered and kept on losing wickets on regular intervals before bundling up for 172 – a target that turned out to be an easy chase for India.

Was the lead-up to the match created too much hype and pressure for Pakistan’s youngsters to deal with? Their seniors have time and again found it hard to cope with the pressure of high-stakes games and have collapsed on so many occasions that it would take quite a time to make a list of all such contests.

Coach Ijaz was right in saying some weeks back that Pakistan players play with a lot of passion and it was visible in their style of play throughout the tournament. But what this defeat to India in a high-intensity game teaches is that composure and patience are key in not losing nerves.

There are a lot of lessons to take from this defeat, if one looks at it positively. Despite of having a weaker domestic structure than India, Pakistani players showed skills, grit, and raw talent. What they lack in temperament and patience could be worked upon by coaches in academies and that is where Pakistan Cricket Board should invest its energies and resources in.

Coach Ijaz have had such tensed encounters many times during his playing days. His presence in the dugout should have instilled confidence among the players to not let the pressure get better of them.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2020

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