GLORIOUS. Gratifying. Liberating. Pakistan’s thumping victory over India in their opening fixture of the T20 World Cup on Sunday night was all that, and more. It was the 13th time the arch-rivals clashed at a World Cup with India having won all the previous encounters. This time, though, the scars of the past didn’t matter; the cobwebs were dusted off.
This time, this squad — with eight players making their debut at a T20 World Cup — didn’t show they had been overburdened by the weight of history or expectations. There was a sense of serenity, a sense of calm not generally associated with the Pakistan team, as Babar Azam’s men cruised to a 10-wicket win. It was one of those days when everything came together in the perfect manner. The bowlers, led by the effervescent Shaheen Shah Afridi, the fielders, and the batters, Babar and Mohammad Rizwan, all delivered. The UAE has been a home away from home for the team for long. And it showed.
Pakistan had gone into the tournament knowing that the India clash was a chance to make a statement. A month before, cricket in the country had been dealt a body blow when New Zealand cut short their tour citing security concerns and England followed suit. PCB chief Ramiz Raja had asked the players to channel their anger at the tournament and they responded superbly. Crucially, they didn’t lose their heads for almost the entirety of the match; apart from a few moments late into the Indian innings. More importantly, there remains a sense that this was just one match and not the end of the road. That was evident from what Babar told his team in the dressing room after the victory.
He said that this was just the beginning, that the World Cup wasn’t just about the India-Pakistan clash even if the fixture had overshadowed almost every other thing, every other game. He said the focus shouldn’t shift, that the victory should spur them on to do even better in their second Group-II fixture against New Zealand on Tuesday. A victory against New Zealand would not only increase their chances of making the semi-finals but also burnish Pakistan’s credentials, with the team having already been installed as favourites by Australian spin legend Shane Warne.
That is the tag that Pakistan didn’t have going into the match against India. They were the underdogs then but against New Zealand, it will be a different matter. There is the added pressure of avenging the damage New Zealand caused by leaving without playing their scheduled series in September. Babar was quick to remind his players against excessively dwelling on the victory against India and letting their guard down. He said that the ultimate aim was to win the World Cup. The victory against India has set the tone for that. Now they have to keep that momentum going.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2021