The Asia Cup disaster

September 24, 2023

Pakistan failed to live up to the billing in the six-nation event, performing poorly in all departments of the game

The Asia Cup disaster

Team India won the Asia Cup title 2023 in the most devastating style when they thrashed Sri Lanka in all departments of the game.

The final was among the shortest completed men’s ODIs — producing a result in just 129 balls. With a devastating spell (6-21) by Mohammad Siraj, Sri Lanka were bowled out for an unfathomable score of 50 and the Men in Blue completed the chase in 6.1 overs. Siraj is the first Indian bowler to take four wickets in an over.

It was India’s 8th Asia Cup title — the highest by any team in the tournament’s history. India had won in 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995, 2010, 2016 and 2018. India’s last title win in the Asia Cup came in 2018, in Dubai. The tournament was held in ODI format and India defeated Bangladesh in the final by 3 wickets.

Before the Asia Cup began, Pakistan were the hot favourites to win the title and in the early matches against Nepal, India, and Bangladesh the Greenshirts proved that they could win the cup.

Pakistan started the tournament with a huge 238-run victory over Nepal in Multan. Later they beat Bangladesh in their first Super Four game but suffered back-to-back losses against India and Sri Lanka in their last two matches which sent Pakistan out of the tournament.

Pakistan finished last in the Super 4s stage of the Asia Cup. Pakistan’s formidable batting lineup faltered during the highly crucial Super 4 clash against Sri Lanka. The match, which held importance for both teams to reach the final, witnessed Pakistan struggling to meet the high expectations placed on them. Their inability to cope with Sri Lanka’s bowling attack resulted in a disappointing performance. The Greenshirts lost the match by two wickets and were eliminated from the tournament.

With less than a month remaining in the 2023 Cricket World Cup, the Pakistan team got a big reality check. Pakistan entered the event as the number one ranked ODI side, but their performance was not up to the mark. Spinners’ poor display, weak fielding and wrong decisions were the main reasons.

Pakistan managed to defeat only Bangladesh and Nepal in the event and lost to India and Sri Lanka. Although they did put up a fight in the virtual semi-final against Sri Lanka, once again they failed to get the job done due to many reasons.

Indian young opener Shubman Gill was the most successful batsman of the tournament with 302 runs, averaging 75.50 including one hundred and two fifties. He scored runs with a high strike rate of 93.49.

From Pakistan, skipper Babazr Azam scored most 207 runs in five matches at an average of 51.75 with one century against weakest Nepal. After that he failed to score even a fifty. Babar kicked off the Asia Cup 2023 with a brilliant 151 run innings against Nepal but against the rest of the three teams Babar scored only 56 runs: against Bangladesh 17 off 22 balls, against India 10(24) and 29(35) against Sri Lanka.

This is not the first time Babar Azam has failed to deliver as per his reputation in mega events. In World T20 2022, Babar scored just 124 runs at an average of 17 while in Asia Cup 2022, Babar managed 68 runs, averaging just 11. It is about time Babar delivered in big matches for Pakistan.

But despite the recent failure, Babar is still one of the best batsmen in the world across all formats. His elegant stroke-making, impeccable technique, and ability to anchor the innings make him a crucial asset for Pakistan. Babar’s ability to score runs in pressure situations has earned him accolades and respect from fans and experts.

Opener Fakhar Zaman failed miserably in the tournament. He managed only 65 runs, averaging only 16.25 with a high score of 27. Fakhar has been out of form for a long time. In the last 15 ODIs he played in 2023, he scored only 190 runs, averaging 13.57.

On the bowling side, Sri Lankan right arm fast bowler Matheesha Pathirana took most 11 wickets in the Asia Cup 2023 at an average of 24.54. India’s Mohammad Siraj, Sri Lankan Wellalage and Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi got 10 wickets each, averaging 12.20, 17.90 and 23.50, respectively.

Leg-spinner Shadab Khan was not successful either. In five matches he played in the Asia Cup, he took only six wickets at a high average of 40.83. Out of his six wickets, four came against Nepal, who were the Asia Cup debutants. His economy rate of 5.88 was also high. Shadab has played 11 One-day Internationals this year so far and taken 11 wickets at a high average of over 39.

On the batting side, too, Shadab failed to deliver. He batted in three innings and scored only 13 runs at a mere average of 4.33.

Pakistan have a good bunch of fast bowlers including Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Haris Rauf, Zaman Khan, Hasan Ali but since the retirement of Saeed Ajmal, Pakistan have failed to produce any world class spinner who can take wickets in the middle overs of the innings.

The upcoming World Cup is being played in India, where mostly pitches support the spinners but Pakistan don’t have a good spin attack to exploit the conditions.

Their spin bowling remains their biggest problem. The lead spinner Shadab Khan has been very mediocre in ODI cricket since the 2019 World Cup. He has averaged 40 with the ball since the 2019 World Cup. Although he is an all-rounder, his primary role as a leggie is to pick wickets which he isn’t doing.

Mohammad Nawaz, the other spinner in the squad, managed just one wicket in three games of the Asia Cup he played. For one wicket he conceded 94 runs. He batted in one inning and scored 12 runs.

Pakistan pace trio of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah picked 26 wickets in the Asia Cup. Injuries of pace duo Haris Rauf and Naseem Shah at crucial moments also dented Pakistan’s progress towards the final. Pakistan must miss the services of pace sensation Naseem Shah who is likely to miss the entire World Cup following a shoulder injury.

We can’t single out any player for poor performances in the event. Mistakes have been made in the Asia Cup. The Greenshirts have to improve their performance as soon as possible. If things do not settle soon, Pakistan’s World Cup dream will be crushed, and it will be more heart breaking for the fans than the last 2 World T20s or Asia Cups defeats.

Despite a disappointing performance in the Asia Cup, anything can happen in a tournament and the underdog status can sometimes work in favour of a team. If Pakistan maintain consistency, adjust to the conditions quickly, they have a genuine chance to qualify for the semi-finals.

Pakistan’s familiarity with Indian pitches, which are similar to those in Pakistan, could work in their favour. Indian conditions are different from Sri Lanka, and may support Pakistani batters. Pakistan would need to assess their options to fix their batting lineup. Abdullah Shafiq and Saud Shakeel who play spin well should be given chances. It can bring stability to the struggling batting.

Pakistan should also focus on the net run rate as sometimes it really matters when two teams have same points. Notably, Pakistan failed to reach the semis of the 2019 World Cup despite winning five out of nine matches due to an inferior net run rate as they finished fifth in the points table.

Pakistan team will play two warm-up games before the start of the tournament against New Zealand and Australia that can be helpful to settle the final XI for the mega event. The Greenshirts will kick off their World Cup 2023 campaign against the Netherlands on October 6 in Hyderabad.

The Asia Cup disaster