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June 18, 2019

Yawning Sarfraz faces his toughest challenge yet


June 18, 2019

MANCHETER: It’s not that Sarfraz Ahmed hasn’t heard or seen it all before – the memes and the taunts – that now follow every major defeat that Pakistan suffers especially against India.

He was at the centre of criticism as the Indians hammered Pakistan by 124 runs in their group match of the ICC Champions Trophy at Edgbaston in the summer of 2017. Just days later, Sarfraz marshaled his troops and stormed into the final where Pakistan thrashed the Indians by 180 runs to win the coveted title.

Sarfraz was once again the butt of jokes when India, without Virat Kohli in their ranks, cruised to a nine-wicket triumph in an Asia Cup mismatch in Dubai last month. He survived that debacle too as Pakistan continued to place faith in him in the lead up to the World Cup.

A combative character, Sarfraz has shown in the past that he has this rare ability to bounce back from difficult phases. But can he recover from what happened at Old Trafford on Sunday?

Pictures that show him yawning behind the wickets might well define Pakistan’s 89-run defeat against India in the much-anticipated World Cup match. Those photos together with taunts of ‘motay, motay’ from disgruntled Pakistani fans after the match were only the tip of an iceberg of challenges that now face Sarfraz as he looks to save his captaincy and possibly his ODI career in the wake of yet another disappointing World Cup outing.

This is easily the toughest time of Sarfraz’s international career. His team is facing an early exit from the World Cup with its third defeat in five matches. With just three points under their belt, Pakistan are languishing at the ninth spot on the points table, just ahead of minnows Afghanistan. They now need to win all their remaining four matches – against South Africa, New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – to have any realistic chances of qualifying for the last four. Their net run-rate is so poor that even 11 points might not be enough for them to get into the semi-finals.

It seems like a near impossible task for the Pakistanis, who have, barring a surprise win against England, punched below their weight in this ten-nation contest. Such is their precarious situation that Pakistan could be knocked out of the World Cup if they lose their next game penciled in for June 23 at Lord’s against the Proteas.

Most fans and critics believe that Pakistan’s World Cup is over. But the embattled Sarfraz doesn’t agree. He does admit that the team was running low on self-confidence but believes that Pakistan’s World Cup hopes were still alive despite back-to-back losses against Australia and India.

“It’s natural that your morale takes a hit if you lose like this,” Sarfraz said after Sunday’s defeat. “But we have to lift ourselves. We are still not out of the World Cup and need to win all our remaining matches,” he added.

Sarfraz is well aware that most of players have so far performed below their potential. He warned his players that now there was no margin for error. “What we face is a very tough task as we have to win every single game. There is no margin for error.”

Pakistan, who were chasing 337 for their first World Cup win over India, failed to capitalise on a 104-run partnership between opener Fakhar Zaman and Babar Azam.

At 117-1, things were looking good for the Pakistanis but they lost their four wickets within a span of 12 balls to allow India to take complete control of the high stakes encounter. The senior trio of Shoaib Malik (0), Mohammad Hafeez (9) and Sarfraz (12) contributed just 21 runs.

The skipper admitted that the stunning collapse was chiefly responsible for his team’s heavy defeat. “It was definitely a very disappointing and disheartening defeat,” he said. “We were going very well, especially if you talk about our batting.

“Once we lost the first wicket, Fakhar and Babar had a good partnership and we said we just needed to stay at the crease. But then we lost too many wickets afterwards and that is why we lost.”

When asked whether the team’s senior players were responsible for its downfall, Sarfraz said: “You can’t just talk about only the senior players, the whole team is not performing well in all three departments – batting, bowling and fielding.

“If you look at this game, our batsmen made a good start and Fakhar and Babar did really well but unfortunately we lost so many wickets – that was the turning point and why we lost.”

Sarfraz admitted that India was currently a much better team than Pakistan. “If you talk about World Cup matches, definitely,” he said when asked whether the Pakistan-India rivalry has now become one-sided. “We’ve not won a World Cup game against them.

“And with the rivalry in general, in the 1990s Pakistan had the upper hand but India are definitely better at the moment and that’s why they win more matches. “Even in this game, we won a good toss but didn’t capitalise despite having a pitch with a bit of moisture in it.”

Sarfraz also defended his decision to bowl first despite advise from Prime Minister Imran Khan who believed Pakistan would be better off if they opted to bat after winning the toss. “I think we won a good toss. I think we didn’t hit the right areas while they played really well,” he said.

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