Beware of the wounded tigers
Pakistan cricket is bruised and they have some serious talent to bounce back in style from their 2019 World Cup disappointment
While the 2019 World Cup title is a couple of steps away from being clinched by either Australia, England or New Zealand, 1992 champions Pakistan are home, licking their wounds and waiting for their next chance to impress the world.
Doubtless, it is a heart-breaking time for Sarfaraz Ahmed & Co. Not often does a team exit a World Cup despite ending up on the same points as a side which made it to the semi-finals – in this case, New Zealand, whose superior Net Run Rate saw them make it to the Top 4.
Also, it is near unimaginable that a team, which picks itself up to win four games in a row, doesn't qualify for the knockout stage.
Despite not making it to the semi-finals, Pakistan can actually look back fondly on this World Cup. They had a horrendous start to the tournament. They had no business to lose the way they did against the West Indies, but found form at various times to beat England, New Zealand, South Africa, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. They didn't hand Australia an easy win and they had a rained-off game against Sri Lanka – a match that they would have been expected to win considering how poorly the islanders fared at this World Cup.
Naturally, Pakistani fans were gutted. The hopes that were raised through their team's 2017 Champions Trophy triumph on English soil went up in smoke. Sarfaraz, the leader, was a hero then. Two years later, his critics even have a problem with him yawning.
Pakistan's former players have been more than just critical. Fast bowling great-turned-commentator Wasim Akram was livid at the decision to field against India at Old Trafford. There was merit in his angst over not being asked for advice since he knew the conditions like the back of his hand having played county cricket for Lancashire.
Shoaib Akhtar came up with a barrage of bouncers as it were. "I don't understand how can a captain be so brainless, couldn't Sarfaraz think that we don't chase well?" he said on his YouTube channel.
Amidst the turmoil surrounding Pakistan cricket, there is optimism. And at the heart of that optimism, there is talent and promise, youth and passion. Shaheen Afridi was one of the most promising seamers to emerge from this World Cup. He turned in some terrific spells against New Zealand (3-28) and Bangladesh against whom he claimed six for 35. Had Sir Richard Hadlee been watching in New Zealand, he would have been impressed with Shaheen's seam position. At 19, he has shown he can handle pressure even when batsmen get after him.
Is there anyone who doesn't want Mohammad Amir to do well? With 17 scalps, he has been one of the best bowlers in the tournament and displayed superb control throughout. He held his own even when Pakistan were confronted by big-scoring players. It shouldn't be forgotten that of the five wickets India lost at Manchester on June 16, three (Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli) were claimed by Amir.
Haris Sohail…now that's the name which will never be forgotten by the South Africans. It was this exciting batsman's 89 at Lord's that played a big role in them exiting the World Cup. And we must believe Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur when he said, "One of the all-time brilliant innings that I've seen." Wonder what made the Pakistan think-tank ignore him for the initial games, including the clash against India. If Haris doesn't flatter to deceive too often, he'll turn out to be one of Pakistan's most enduring players.
The innings that Babar Azam constructed against New Zealand showed he has truly arrived in international cricket. His unbeaten 101 steered Pakistan through a difficult chase and kept them in the tournament. Babar has been touted as the next great Pakistan batsman - someone who can go on to have the achievements of Misbah-ul-Haq or Younis Khan - and someone with the natural talent of a Mohammad Yousuf or Saeed Anwar. He had shown glimpses of brilliance over the last few years but was yet to come good in a big event. This tournament provided ample proof of his ability and temperament.
Shadab Khan, a leg-spinner with plenty of potential, grabbed some crucial wickets in the tournament. He has good control and impressive variations apart from being capable of delivering with the bat.
Imad Wasim is a player who hasn't performed on a consistent basis. Maybe this World Cup could give him the confidence to turn into a valuable all-rounder. His 49 not out ensured Pakistan didn't succumb to Afghanistan at Leeds on June 29 and deservedly bagged the man of the match award. He followed that up with a 43 against Bangladesh at Lord's. Equally commendable was what Imad said at the press conference on the team's arrival in Islamabad where he was asked about the misfortune of not qualifying for the semi-finals despite winning their last four league games: "I don't believe in luck. We should make our own destiny. We should work hard. Results are not in our hands — the things that are controllable are in our hands."
Pakistan cricket is bruised. But players like Imad are not falling in the valley of self-pity like other whining teams would do had they been in a similar situation. There is hope. And like Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) wrote to his good friend 'Red' Redding (Morgan Freeman) in the film, Shawshank Redemption "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies."
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