by Faran Razi
Ever since Imran Khan’s famous world cup title win in 1992, Pakistan is yet to win the title a second time. Pakistan team came very close to lifting the trophy in 1999 when the Wasim Akram led side lost to the Kangaroos in a very one sided affair of a game in the final. Since then, Pakistan has been struggling to get across the line in any of the World cup tournaments so far. 2003 and 2007 sides experienced an early exit from the tournaments. In 2011, Pakistan team put up a good show under the leadership of the star all-rounder Shahid Afridi but fell short in the Semifinal against India who then ended up winning the title for the second time.
As far as ICC tournaments are concerned, Pakistan succeeded in bringing the trophy home in 2009 when they were led by Younis Khan to their first title victoryin the twenty over format. Shahid Afridi’s knocks in the semifinal and final played a pivotal role in sealing the deal for Pakistan. In 2017, the Sarfraz Ahmed led young team brought the trophy home by winning the Champions Trophy for the first time beating arch-rivals India comprehensively in the final.
Ever since, the performance graph of our team has dipped significantly. One of the key factors was the lack of wicket taking ability of Pakistan’s left arm skillful pacer Muhammad Amir. After a match winning bowling performance in the Champions trophy final, he lost his wicket taking ability. This was a huge drawback for Pakistan team given their over-dependence on Amir for providing them crucial and upfront break throughs. The rest of the bowling unit also did not perform up to the expectations and Pakistan kept on losing big events as well as bilateral series. Batting has never been our strength but our bowling has always covered up batting failures on innumerous occasions. However, for the first time ever in our cricketing history, our bowlers were not even near to the brilliance we used to produce with the ball in the past which cost us a lot of matches.
The recent couple of series before the commencement of World Cup against Australia in UAE and against England at their home soil did not yield a single victory with one game washed away. Pakistan team management did a lot of experimentation during the series against Australia. They rested almost half of its regular playing XI along with the skipper Sarfraz before flying to England for their series against the hosts followed by the mega event in May 2019.
As the World cup started, Pakistan’s campaign for the tournament began with a disastrous start when they got out cheaply for a total of 105 against the West Indies; their second lowest total in World cup matches. With now 11 consecutive record losses in ODIs for Pakistan, the loss against Windies was a big demoralization for the dugout. However, being predictably unpredictable, out of nowhere Pakistan team came back in the tournament with a close win against the favorites and hosts England ending their losing streak eventually. The hopes of the fans were alive yet again and one could feel a positivity amongst the team regaining their long lost self believe of winning. The next match was against a not so strong Srilankan side and Pakistan were the favorites to win this one comfortably when the rain intervened for Srilanka’s good and washed away the game without a ball being bowled. Pakistan fans were very eager for their team to get out on the field and express themselves the way they did against England. However, the team which took the field against Australia missed their ace leggy Shadab Khan for reasons known only to the team management and Sarfraz. With a tiny bit of grass on the pitch, skipper Sarfraz won the toss and decided to ball first expecting zip and assistance for their quicks early on which was nowhere to be. Australia put up a great batting effort in first half of the innings however, Muhammad Amir’s accuracy and discipline pulled things back for Pakistan and what looked to be an eventual target of somewhere around 375 was restricted to 307. Pakistan went into the dressing room with a sense of confidence and a belief that they have what it takes to chase the target down. Having not a very decent record chasing, Pakistan lived up to that reputation and crumbled during the run chase and lost the match.
Then came the big day, the famous arch-rivalry and the much anticipated India-Pakistan Match. The media on both sides of the border was making a huge deal of the occasion and experts were giving their opinions and predictions regarding who is going to win this contest. Having an upper hand in context of the overall World cup record and the recent encounters between the two teams post Champions trophy final, India was clearly declared the favorite. Having said that anything could happen in an India Pakistan match. Pakistan side this time, over-correcting themselves, included two spinners in their line up despite the fact that Indian batsmen were good players of spin. Winning the toss, Sarfraz yet again put India to bat first. Failing to take early wickets and containing the Indian Batters, Pakistan ended up having a target of 337 to chase with the dark clouds looming over the game’s fate. Yet again living up to their reputation of being bad chasers, Pakistan did not even put up a strong fight and the gap between the skills of the two teams seemed to have widened a lot over the course of the past few years .The media and fans, as expected, did not take this loss well. Heavy criticism came from former cricketers targeting the leadership skills of captain Sarfraz and his bad decision making. Coaching staff also came under the fire so did the lack of any useful contribution from our “experienced” duo Shoaib Malik and Muhammad Hafeez.
As per our reputation in every ICC event, we were again in a situation where a lot of ifs and buts got associated with the chances of our cricket team reserving a spot in the final four. According to the points table, Pakistan not only needed to win its remaining four fixtures against South Africa, New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh but England was also supposed to lose at least two of its remaining three matches. Pakistan team, down and out, was looking too ordinary to make this proposition work in its favor. But then came the day when Lords cricket ground was indistinguishable from Gaddafi Stadium Lahore. The diehard fans of Pakistan cricket, in spite of broken hearts after the loss against India, turned out in huge numbers to support their team. The atmosphere was electrifying and the stands were showing green and white in a large number. Pakistan won a good toss and batted first giving South Africa a very competitive target of 308 runs. Pakistan team made two changes bringing in Haris Sohail in place of Shoaib Malik and Shaheen Shah Afridi replaced Hassan Aligiven the performance of the two so far in the tournament. Haris’s bat spoke for itself who came out with a lot of conviction and scored a blistering knock of 89 in just 59 balls. It was his innings which turned the odds in the favor of Pakistan. South African players, who had a terrible world cup so far, could not spell any magic yet again and never looked to chase the target down. Pakistan gave a very thorough performance with both bat and ball and defeated its opponent very convincingly. Pakistan team got a very important victory in a must-win situation and gained plenty of confidence with immense support from the crowd.
With the semi-final spot still at some distance, there was no room for complacency and no margin of relaxation for the men in green as they were to face the unbeaten New Zealand side who were oozing with confidence. They were clearly the favorites against the not-so-consistent Pakistan team. However, as it is rightly said about the green shirts that they come up with their best performances when it is least expected of them. The stage was set at Edgbaston, Birmingham for the cornered tigers to roar. The fans turned out again in huge numbers. A lot of spooky comparisons were being made on TV channels and social media between how it all matched up until then with 1992 World cup. New Zealand had been extremely consistent in their performances throughout this tournament. Having said that, their record against Pakistan during World Cups was not impressive at all. Pakistan, at this occasion, lost a good toss and were asked to bowl first. It looked to be a good wicket to bat early on but in actual it was not. Pakistan bowlers bagged first five wickets in very quick succession for a score of 83 but the late middle order of the Kiwis showed some great resistance and pushed the score to 237 in 50 overs . Shaheen Shah Afridi was the pick of the bowlers getting three scalps conceding just 28 runs in his full quota of 10 overs.Now it was a crunch time for Pakistan batters as they had to prove a point since they failed to chase the two times so far in this tournament when they were asked to do so. Pakistan did not get a very good start with both the openers dismissed cheaply at a team total of less than 50 on the board. Babar Azam, Pakistan’s star performer, and the experienced Muhammad Hafeez stood together for some time before Hafeez lofted one straight to Lockie Ferguson on the leg side boundary. Haris Sohail, having a good outing in the previous game, came to the middle. It was a testing phase for both the youngsters with the ball gripping a lot for the spinners. However, the two young guns having a cool head on their shoulders held their ground. They played with patience and maturity and took their side home comfortably at the end. It was a very clinical performance by the men in green. Babar scored his 10th ODI ton and a match winning one. Haris’s innings yet again proved to be immensely crucial as he took the pressure off of Babar and both the batsmen complimented each other. Babar received man-of-the-match award for his match winning knock and a much needed hundred came from him when it was needed the most.
After this win, there is a lot of hope and belief in the players as well as the fans to qualify for Semi-finals. With two more games to go for Pakistan, we all have our fingers crossed. Let us hope that we can see our team in the final four and from their onwards bring the trophy home for the second time.