World Cup 2023: Another glorious failure likely despite Pakistan finally hitting the right note

With deadwood cast aside against Bangladesh, Babar and Co snap their run of four straight defeats but only a scenario-based miracle can keep them in the hunt for semis.
Published November 1, 2023

For this World Cup, it is almost certainly too late, and failure is inevitable, but Pakistan have finally cast aside their deadwood and have instantly become a better team for it.

Against Bangladesh, Pakistan picked eleven players who could all contribute to the side’s cause — perhaps for the first time this tournament. It is vital that they remember this lesson as they pick up the pieces later on.

Babar Azam’s men had shown some improvements in their last game despite the defeat to South Africa, but then again after the performances against Australia and Afghanistan, the only way was up.

Here, as the changes were wrung, Pakistan suddenly seemed like a team too good to have lost four games on the trot.

There will be the caveat of this being “only Bangladesh” — who came into the game on their own record-equaling runs of World Cup defeats — but there was genuine improvement across both innings.

Muhammad Nawaz has had his moments so it is slightly harsh that his final memory in a Pakistan shirt should be his rank delivery to Keshav Maharaj that lost Pakistan the game. And yet that is what it needs to be, because Nawaz has not contributed with both bat and ball for far too long to be anywhere near the side, let alone in it.

The rankings of his stats in this World Cup sum him up in a cruel but accurate manner. He has the worst bowling average as well as the worst batting average among the ‘recognised’ batsmen. Nawaz has given birth to a philosophical cricketing conundrum about whether a player can be an all-rounder if they can only bat better than the bowlers and only bowl better than the batters.

To compare Nawaz and Shadab Khan’s record to the spinners of the current top four would be rubbing their noses in it but at least Shadab has made some plucky, albeit fruitless, contributions with the bat. Nawaz has been non-existent.

Fakhar Zaman plays a shot during the World Cup match between Pakistan and Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on October 31, 2023. — <em>AFP</em>
Fakhar Zaman plays a shot during the World Cup match between Pakistan and Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on October 31, 2023. — AFP

But perhaps even being non-existent is better than actively hampering the side and so emphatic was Fakhar Zaman’s contribution that it seemed that is exactly what the man he replaced was doing. Fakhar had been dropped after one poor World Cup game and immediately went about showing Pakistan exactly what they had been missing. He smashed seven sixes before being caught in the deep trying to hit his eighth. Had he managed to clear cow corner, Fakhar would have hit as many sixes in an hour as Imam-ul-Haq has managed all year.

To be fair to Imam, this is Fakhar we are talking about — and it is important that the apologies from his doubters should now be as loud as the disrespect was. Only the very best can compete with Fakhar at his belligerent best though, let alone Imam. But surely it must raise a few alarm bells when Haris Rauf and Muhammad Wasim have also hit more sixes than your main opener?

Imam simply is not a modern international white-ball cricketer worth his salt. This should not be seen as a slight but merely as a matter of fact. Imam just cannot do what is required at this level. If you want proof, then the main openers of the probable top three – Rohit Sharma, David Warner, and Quinton de Kock – have hit 20, 19, and 15 sixes respectively in six matches compared to Imam’s zero. All three of them can realistically beat the 30 sixes Imam has hit in his entire six-year ODI career in this tournament alone.

Pakistan may have taken six years longer than they should have to realise this, but they must learn and never forget this lesson now too.

It is almost certainly too late, and failure seems inevitable. And yet an entire generation has grown up on Pakistan’s glorious World Cup failures. In 2019, they were only knocked out on net run-rate. In 2015, Wahab Riaz bowled that spell. In 2011, Shahid Afridi and his men so nearly silenced Mohali. Those of us who remember 2007 know that we do not talk about 2007. And 2023 so nearly threatens to become another 2007. All Babar and his men can do is to not let that happen. If failure is inevitable, then let this too be glorious failure.

Header image: Shaheen Shah Afridi (C) celebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Bangladesh’s Najmul Hossain Shanto during the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup one-day international match between Pakistan and Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India on October 31 — AFP