The frustration that Sarfaraz’s team couldn’t win the World Cup or make it to the top four is definitely going to hurt this cricket loving nation but make no mistake - it was a decent effort from the “boys” and they deserve credit for putting a valiant effort in England this summer.
Some people would disagree but Pakistan were flying in the closing stages of their campaign and it was rather unfortunate to see them return without reaching the knockout round. There was plenty to talk about before, during and after Pakistan’s run-in to the mega event. Here we take a look at the factors that hindered Pakistan’s progress to the semis.
To get accustomed with the surroundings, weather and pitch conditions in the UK, Pakistan played a 5-match ODI Series against England just before the start of the World Cup. The selection committee had decided to rule out ace fast bowler Muhammad Amir from the World Cup squad. The public pressure, however, forced Inzamam-ul-Haq to include Amir in the bilateral series against England. Amir couldn’t feature in a single game because of an illness but was still drafted in the final squad for the World Cup.
Then there was Wahab Riaz who was never part of the plan for this year’s event but got the nod over Junaid Khan; a decision that turned out to be a good one for the team. Finally the exclusion of Faheem Ashraf based on his performances in the dreadful bilateral series against England. Faheem Ashraf along with Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan were pivotal in the national team’s plans for the World Cup and beyond, but he was, in my opinion, unlucky not to be a part of this event. Cricket is a team game and Faheem Ashraf could actually have proven very useful with the likes of Amir, Wahab and Shadab around him.
This raises a lot of questions on the sanity of this selection committee. They make plans and invest in one player and then play some other; they exclude the likes of Amir from the team and then under public pressure bring him in for the World Cup. Last but not the least, the work of the selection committee should finish after the squad is announced, but Inzamam-ul-Haq was present in England and apparently was influencing the team management throughout.
Pakistan comprehensively lost the ODI series against England before the World Cup but by the start of the tournament they had spent enough time in the country that they couldn’t be forgiven for what unfolded in their opening game against the West Indies. The team was bundled out for 105 and then allowed the Windies to chase that total down very quickly.
The impact this defeat had on Pakistan’s net run rate eventually cost them a semifinal spot. The very next game they avenged the series loss to England by decimating the English attack and announcing their arrival in the tournament.
If there’s something you can say with conviction about Pakistan cricket team is that they are not very good chasers. In the game against England, their bowlers were given a chance to defend which they did, but then against two of the strongest teams in the tournament, Australia and India, Sarfaraz decided to field first after winning the toss. Against Australia they even benched Shadab Khan, who is a more than useful option in the middle overs. Their decision to bat second in both these games backfired tremendously and they were all set to get dumped out of the tournament.
Team Pakistan play their best cricket when their back is against the wall. That’s exactly what happened as Pakistan pushed hard in the final four games of their campaign. They beat New Zealand, South Africa, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Sarfaraz’s team ended the tournament with 11 points, same as fourth placed New Zealand but their dismal defeat against the West Indies cost them dearly and they failed to pip the Kiwis to the semis.
The last stand
In one of the most exciting games of the event New Zealand faced the West Indies. After an early collapse, captain dependable Kane Williamson along with Ross Taylor steadied the ship for the Kiwis and posted a more than respectable total of 291.
The Windies during the chase were cruising at one stage but all of a sudden they started losing wickets thick and fast and lost their grip on the game totally. At 142 for 4 came in Carlos Braithwaite, remember the name? The team, however, kept on losing wickets and Brathwaite was stranded with tail-enders. It was just a matter of by how much will the Windies lose.
It was then that Carlos Brathwaite singlehandedly staged one of the grandest last stands in ODI history. He was swathing the ball hard and was on the verge of snatching the unlikeliest of victories from the jaws of defeat. It came down to a single hit, a hit which had it been a meter long would eventually have sent Pakistan into the semis... Brathwaite was caught right on the boundary line by Trent Boult and the West Indies lost by 5 runs, giving New Zealand a precious couple of points.
Counting on others
The hosts on the other hand were crumbling under immense pressure after surprising defeats at the hands of Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Their last three games were against the eventual semifinalists Australia, New Zealand and India.
They were humbled by their arch rivals Australia in the first of those three crunch encounters. Another loss against India or NZ and Pakistan would just have to beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh to make it to the last four.
They say never send a monkey to do a man’s job, India lost to England in dubious circumstances and then the Kiwis succumbed, like a helpless antelope in the midst of African Wild Dogs, in their final game against the host to all but extinguish the dwindling hopes for Team Green of making it to the semis.
The team under Sarfaraz is set, they don’t need any major overhauling as some experts are suggesting. It is a nicely assembled machine that needs regular oiling. They have a stable spine; Imam and Fakhar are decent openers and they just need to work on some of their weaknesses. In Babar Azam, Pakistan have finally got a world class operator at the no. 3 spot, Haris Sohail looked solid against New Zealand and South Africa then there is Sarfaraz who should be retained as the captain.
Amir has the ability to lead the bowling attack that is diverse and young. The likes of Shaheen Afridi, Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim along with Wahab Riaz, who doesn’t have age on his side, showed that on their day Pakistan are one of the strongest bowling units in world cricket. On to the World T20 then...