CRICKET: TWO TEAMS, DIFFERENT MINDSETS

Published July 7, 2024
India, the strongest all-round side, emerged the victors at the T20 World Cup | ICC
India, the strongest all-round side, emerged the victors at the T20 World Cup | ICC

After a decade of anticipation, the Indian cricket team has finally captured an ICC trophy, winning their second T20 World Cup.

This victory, led by Rohit Sharma, comes after a painful loss in the 2023 Cricket World Cup final against Australia, where their unbeaten streak ended on home soil. In the 2024 T20 World Cup, however, India remained unstoppable, clinching the trophy in a thrilling final against South Africa in Barbados.

The turning point came after the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia, where India faced a crushing semi-final defeat against England, losing by 10 wickets in a one-sided match. This loss was a catalyst for Rohit Sharma, who took it as a learning experience. Determined to change the game, he identified the gaps and differences between his team and dominant sides such as England. Rohit revolutionised his own play style, embracing a fearless and aggressive approach.

During the 2023 Cricket World Cup, Rohit attacked from the first ball, prioritising the team’s success over personal milestones. He was relentless, sacrificing potential centuries and personal records to maintain pressure on the opposition. This strategic shift and his leadership earned him widespread praise, despite the team’s ultimate loss in the tournament.

India lifting the T20 World Cup under Rohit Sharma has shone a spotlight on the differences between it and Pakistan, which showcased its worst performance ever at a World Cup

Rohit’s transformation fostered a winning mentality within the team, which became evident in the 2024 T20 World Cup. The Indian squad, clear in their roles and united in their goals, exhibited an unyielding determination to win. This environment, cultivated by Rohit’s aggressive mindset and leadership, was instrumental in their victory. Finally, Rohit Sharma and his men lifted the T20 World Cup trophy, marking a triumphant return to the pinnacle of international cricket.

In stark contrast, the Pakistan cricket team, which finished as runners-up in the 2022 T20 World Cup in Melbourne, experienced their worst-ever World Cup campaign in 2024.

Their downfall was epitomised by a shocking loss to the USA, who were playing their first-ever World Cup. Pakistan’s defeat against India was particularly disheartening, as they lost from a winning position, needing just 47 runs off 47 balls. This failure highlighted their outdated playing style and mindset, which lag far behind the modern game.

In an interview with former Pakistan cricketer Rashid Latif on YouTube, USA’s fast bowler Ali Khan remarked that Pakistan did not attack and initially took them too lightly. He noted the lack of intent from Pakistani batters, who failed to play aggressively.

Similarly, in the 2023 Cricket World Cup, speaking to the broadcasters after the match, Hardik Pandya expressed surprise at Pakistan’s passive approach, even when in a good position to take control of the match. These comments from opposition players underscore the concerning state of Pakistan’s strategy and mindset, which do not align with contemporary cricket demands.

Addressing these issues, Mohammad Hafeez, upon becoming team director, promoted Saim Ayub as an opener alongside Mohammad Rizwan, hoping to inject aggression into the line-up. However, following a change in management and Saim’s underwhelming performance, Pakistan reverted to the conservative pairing of Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam, despite their previous failures in the Asia Cup 2022 and T20 World Cup 2022.

One of the main reasons behind Pakistan’s struggles is inconsistency in selection. Mohammad Haris, who made a significant impact in the last T20 World Cup, helping Pakistan win three crucial games — including a semi-final against New Zealand in Sydney — was dropped inexplicably.

His aggressive style, exemplified by back-to-back boundaries off one of the most dangerous fast bowlers, Lockie Ferguson, was a perfect reflection of modern cricket. Despite his contributions, Haris has only played four T20s since the last World Cup, as Pakistan failed to invest in him.

While Rohit Sharma adapted and evolved his game after the 2022 World Cup, Pakistan’s approach remained stagnant. They lost the 2022 World Cup final due to poor batting performances, yet showed no noticeable improvement in their style or strategy in the subsequent World Cup.

The selection issues extend beyond batting. Pakistan faces significant difficulties, especially in the spin bowling department, but stubbornly stick with struggling players such as Shadab Khan, who has been ineffective for the past couple of years.

Despite his poor form, Shadab was continuously selected, while promising players such as Abrar Ahmed were overlooked. Abrar didn’t get a single game during the tour of Ireland and England while preparing for the World Cup, and was not played in the World Cup itself.

It is baffling why Pakistan does not utilise available resources when the current ones are underperforming. Usama Mir, the leading wicket-taker in PSL 9 (the ninth season of the Pakistan Super League), was dropped after one series and not considered for World Cup selection. This reluctance to change and adapt has left Pakistan lagging behind, unable to capitalise on the potential within their squad.

Captaincy has been a perennial issue in Pakistan cricket, often leading to instability within the team. Following their defeat in the 2023 Cricket World Cup, Babar Azam resigned from his captaincy role. The Pakistan Cricket Board then appointed Shaheen Afridi as the new T20 captain, hoping to inject fresh leadership into the squad. However, Afridi’s tenure was short-lived, as Pakistan suffered a 4-1 series defeat against New Zealand. This disappointing performance led to Afridi’s removal from captaincy after just one series, and Babar Azam was reinstated as the white-ball captain.

These constant shifts in leadership have inevitably disrupted team cohesion and performance. The frequent changes create uncertainty and prevent the team from developing a consistent strategy. The players are left adjusting to new leadership styles, which can detract from their focus on the game.

This instability was evident in Pakistan’s World Cup campaigns, where the lack of steady leadership contributed to their inconsistent performances. The revolving door of captains has been a significant factor in Pakistan’s struggles to build a unified and competitive team for the World Cup stage.

In conclusion, Rohit Sharma’s leadership exemplifies a transformative journey both as a captain and player. His ability to redefine his game and instil a champion mindset within the team propelled India to World Cup glory. This success contrasts sharply with Pakistan’s struggles, once known for producing fast bowling talent while Indian cricket excelled in batting.

Today, Indian fast bowlers have brought home the World Cup, showcasing the importance of adaptability and strategic evolution. Pakistan must embrace these leadership lessons, fostering a culture of change and a relentless pursuit of excellence to revive their cricketing fortunes.

The writer is a software engineer who employs data and statistics to dissect intricacies with precision and insight.
X: @abubakartarar_

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 7th, 2024

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