KARACHI: Excuses after a rout signals a shielding mindset. Very few will buy this justification, particularly during a cut-throat World Cup.

When team director Mickey Arthur, immediately after Pakistan’s loss to India in Ahmedabad, guardedly termed the showpiece “seemed like a BCCI event” due to the absence of Pakistan fans at the packed-to-capacity 130,000-strong Narendra Modi Stadium, it signified a protective approach, at least indirectly.

This defensive posture — it seemed — had permeated the green-shirts’ camp in India. Arthur’s startling word in Ahmedabad was soon followed by the “extra pressure” statement from Saud Shakeel on the same India match.

Though a few encouraging assertions came from other members of the Babar Azam-led squad, the rot had set in. If defeat to Australia in Bengaluru came as a wake-up call, the embarrassing eight-wicket thrashing at the hands of Afghanistan in Chennai brought Pakistan to a grinding halt.

The campaign which had started on quite a positive note with twin wins against the Netherlands and Sri Lanka in Hyderabad, is presently in total disarray. Pakistan’s semi-final chances are now on the line.

Would Babar and company be able to pull off in the remaining must-win four games, which other than out-of-form side of England and Bangladesh includes clashes with high-flying opponents like South Africa and New Zealand? Keep your fingers crossed, calculators are already out as Pakistan – yet again – would be depending on other results too to advance to last four. Perhaps it is engrained in our cricket whose history is replete with such awkward instances. Who can forget 1992, after all!

What has hampered Pakistan most in India, technical reasons or psychological?

Moin-ul-Atiq, the former Pakistan international cricketer, thinks both have affected Pakistan’s campaign.

“I think it’s both technical as well as psychological,” Moin, who worked with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) as psychologist in the past, said while talking to Dawn.

“Pakistan’s team combination in the World Cup does not look strong. Moreover, they are missing frontline pacer Naseem Shah [due to injury] which left our bowling feeble on batting-friendly tracks.

“This ODI [Pakistan] team more or less seems a T20 side having no strategic thinking that is required in 50-overs game. Several of our batters have unnecessarily attempted unorthodox shots at crucial stages in this World Cup where developing the innings is a vital element for success,” the 59-year-old stated.

The psychological side, Moin insisted, required urgent improvement if Pakistan were to make a comeback in the global event.

“It looks that the Pakistan team players are not enjoying the game, rather they are excessively worried about winning. Their body language is signifying anxiety. Getting concerned too much about the [match] result distracts a player’s attention during the course of the game,” he underlined.

“Babar’s shot [trying to guide the ball to third man] on which he was dismissed in the India game and Mohammad Rizwan’s unusual attempt to sweep [from way outside the off stump] against Afghanistan clearly indicated they were overly anxious for runs.

“Whereas success requires focus which enables a player to meticulously go through the process without thinking about the outcome. Success then comes automatically.”

If this is so, then how in this world a team can make a comeback in a sport’s fiercest global event if their director is picking lack of fan support for his team following a loss to their arch-rivals in their backyard. Would the Pakistan players in such an atmosphere be gaining confidence to rise to the occasion in the do-or-die outings or losing it?

Responding on the impact of hostile crowd, Moin emphasises that extra pressure works in one’s favour. “Rather than taking the big-crowd pressure something which is not in the players’ control, [good] professionals concentrate on their job on hand by controlling the things which are in their control; they use the crowd to their advantage,” he detailed.

One would be dearly happy if someone brings it into the knowledge of Arthur and his coaching staff that various Pakistan teams in the past performed admirably in front of huge Indian crowds, particularly at the 90,000-capacity Eden Gardens, Kolkata.

Rather than justifying the slide the Pakistan side have faced in India, Arthur and his coaching staff are better advised to sit down with Babar and sort things out on war footing, and avoid at all costs statements which may signal, directly or indirectly, pessimism.

Pakistan, with some luck, can still qualify for the semi-finals by clinching the remaining games. Embracing a fearless approach and mental toughness would be priceless, as it was for Imran Khan’s Cornered Tigers in 1992.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023

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