By: |Syed Ahad Hussain|
Now that the World Cup zeal is over for Pakistan fans, it is time to evaluate what the team did right or wrong in England over the last one month. Despite having the most terrible possible start to its campaign, Pakistan did what Pakistan does usually, i.e. kept its fans, even the neutrals, on the edge of their seats till the last match it played.
Only Pakistan, given its unpredictable traits, could surrender so submissively as it did in the first game against the West Indies, and then fearlessly fight till the end for the last slot of the semi-finals.
Arguably, this was Pakistan’s finest World Cup campaign in over 20 years. And even though the team won’t be part of the semi-final this year, if their triumphs against England, South Africa, Bangladesh, and New Zealand are something to go by, it will be playing more of them in the future for sure.
When the World Cup 2011 saw tearjerking conclusion for Pakistan against India at Mohali, there was nothing to write home about in terms of future scenario. Ahmed Shahzad seemed capable but very incoherent. Umar Akmal was already viewed negatively by many for his habit of getting in trouble and meager outings with the bat. While the inclinations of batting in limited-overs cricket were changing hastily, we had Younis Khan, Asad Shafiq and Misbah-ul-Haq in the middle-order and hence moving backward.
Pakistan’s express pacer, Shoaib Akhtar, was forced to announce his retirement from international cricket halfway through the tournament. And his new-ball partner, Umar Gul, only bowled well when he was in rhythm. For a brief time period, the pace bowling had to lose significance in a country where it has flourished for decades just because it didn’t have enough resources. In short, while the team had made it to the semis, there were no hopeful prospects for Pakistan.
And the same could be said for the squad that played the World Cup 2015.
In a classic Pakistani manner, nobody knew who would be the skipper till the very last moment. Ahmed Shahzad and Umar Akmal had began malfunctioning by then. Even a school kid could tell just by looking at them that their bodies weren’t following the line of the ball. Nasir Jamshed had become the antagonist overnight for his letdowns with the bat. Younis Khan, the most senior player in the side, had become a burden in one-day cricket by then while young Sohaib Maqsood was tagged as Inzamam Jr for his well-choreographed wrist work. In the long run, fielding was the only thing in which he was matching to being Inzamam. Only Wahab Riaz looked first-rate in patches and Sarfraz Ahmed showed what value he brought to the squad with the bat.
Now compare those previous two journeys with the World Cup 2019 and ask yourself whether the future looks as murky as it did after the previous two editions? The answer is ‘no, it doesn’t’.
That being said, it’s not to say that the players should be satisfied with their performances. Before the match against Bangladesh, Imamul-Haq told the media that he had a appalling time dealing with the defeat against Australia because Pakistan was in a contented position to win the battle. He took the blame of the loss on himself and said that it was his obligation to see the team through. Such depth on display by a 23-year old, who is often called “parchi” because of his uncle being the chief selector, foretells well for the future.
Babar Azam, without any doubt, was the most prominent performer for Pakistan. His innings against New Zealand proved he is fated to become one of the batting greats of Pakistan should he not lose his focus. And it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Shaheen Shah Afridi is, perhaps, the most talented teenager in world cricket right now. He has come a long way in just one year. From inflicting destructions at U-19 World Cup last year to World Cup 2019, he has shown that he has got the capability to win matches on his own any day.
Harris Sohail also made the most of the opportunities he got and showed that he is a more than capable ODI player with that splendid stroke against South Africa. Imad Wasim has also improved immensely as an all-rounder. His innings against Afghanistan was intensely well-calculated while chasing in a key World Cup game. He is a valuable player at number 8 who, with his late hitting down the order, could turn a losing game into victorious.
And while Fakhar Zaman and Hassan Ali didn’t get to shine in the tournament, there is no reason why the management should thrust them aside. Fakhar has a healthier record against top-8 teams than his scores at the World Cup suggest. And Hassan Ali was the top ODI bowler only a year ago. One dire tournament or season should not be taken into account before making big calls that could influence their careers.
Meanwhile, with Shoaib Malik retiring from ODI cricket, there is a chance for the likes of Mohammad Rizwan who had shown promise against Australia in UAE earlier this year.
Sarfraz Ahmed shouldn’t be detached from the captaincy till the World T20 in Australia next year. He has led the squad well apart from the West Indies and India games and Pakistan are currently ranked no.1 in T20s so there is no reason why he should be kicked out but, he should be asked to bat up the order since his record implies that he is a valuable player when he bats at number 4.
Pakistan was the second youngest XI to play the World Cup this year. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that these players will only get enhanced with time. Was the exit from the World Cup unacceptable? Yes. Does it call for an involuntary impulse? No.