Saturday, June 22, 2024

Pakistan’s tale of hope, heartbreak and leadership challenges

As the dust settles on the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, the echoes of Pakistan’s campaign resonate with a whirlwind of emotions — from the initial hopes of emulating the 1992 glory to the bitter taste of defeat and leadership struggles.

The Men in Green embarked on a rollercoaster journey that left fans, pundits, and players grappling with a myriad of challenges on and off the field.

A whine marked the end of the Babar-led Pakistan World Cup run as they lost their last league match by 93 runs to a team that had been defeated by all, but Bangladesh and Netherlands, capping an equally pathetic season. Pakistan was viewed as the underdog in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, and with Babar Azam leading from the front, there was hope they would make it to the semifinals.

The Men in Green, however, left it too late due to problems on and off the field. Relying on other teams to produce outcomes is never a good approach, and perhaps the players will pick this up.

With two victories to start the 2023 World Cup, Pakistan’s confidence was much boosted. It was a huge accomplishment to defeat Sri Lanka in a record chase. Babar’s team lost four straight games for the first time in their World Cup history, though, as they swiftly lost steam.

For the second World Cup in a row, Pakistan’s team placed fifth, and there are times when it seems like they are caught in a loop. Morne Morkel, the bowling coach for Pakistan, has left his position. Shan Masood will now wear the captain’s armband in Test cricket and Shaheen Afridi will do so in Twenty20 Internationals, replacing Babar Azam as captain.

The consequences of Pakistan’s early World Cup elimination will never be quantified or commensurate, especially as the board itself is embroiled in a ridiculous power struggle between two rival political factions who have more in mind for themselves than for Pakistani cricket. It was clear from a statement released by the PCB midway through the campaign, which essentially left chief selectors Inzamam-ul-Haq and Babar hanging.

The team was at an especially low position at the time. They would also promise that “looking ahead, the board will make decisions in the best interest of Pakistan cricket” and dissociate itself from any operational decisions made while putting together the squad.

Muteness of Spinners

The spin attack from Pakistan was dire. The homework wasn’t there, even though there was plenty of time after the 2019 World Cup to develop a spin assault suitable for India’s circumstances. Shadab Khan is not a person who takes casualties daily. Mir was inexperienced and sluggish.

Mir had an economy rate of more than seven and only four scalps from four games, all at a pitiful 62.00. Out of six games, Shadab only managed two scalps. He was over six in economy. All-rounder Muhammad Nawaz bowled at 5.89 with his left-arm spin, averaging 111.50.

Forget about wickets; the spin unit did not even have any runs to contain. When other elite teams have at least one key contributor in the spin department, a part-timer like Iftikhar Ahmed won’t make a difference.

Struggling pace attack, sloppy on the field

Pakistan’s bowling was marred by Naseem Shah’s injury, but despite having a formidable pace department, they flattered to deceive. While Shaheen stood out among the rest, taking home eighteen scalps, the department as a whole was disappointing.

As he established the undesirable record of giving up the most runs in a single World Cup, Haris Rauf was pillaged for runs at will. Even with 16 scalps, his 6.74 economy rate was a significant drawback. Although bowling with heart, Mohammad Wasim was a good aspect; yet, his inconsistent inclusion in the line-up proved counterproductive.

With all his experience, Hasan Ali let runs getaway, which upset him. Additionally, Pakistan lost the last two World Cups due to poor fielding in a department that allowed a lot of runs to be leaked. This time, too, Babar and his men were troubled by dropping sitters, failing to cut down singles and twos, and being ineffective while fielding boundaries.

Loss against Afghanistan: The biggest setback

While acknowledging Afghanistan’s impressive World Cup performance, Pakistan was the clear favorite to win. Fans expected a reaction from Pakistan, who entered the game after two poor performances against Australia and India, respectively.

Pakistan had a strong start, but as Afghanistan’s spinners applied brakes and went on the rampage in the middle overs, Pakistan lost the plot. Pakistan needed a batsman mentor, but none of them persevered.

To continue and make a difference in such circumstances, you frequently need to bring out the big guns, and 282 was never a scary number. Before the bowling severely let Pakistan down, they were 25–30 runs short. The low point in Pakistan’s history was their defeat by the Afghans.

Babar didn’t lead well

In addition to his dubious batsmanship, Babar Azam did a poor job leading the team. Despite not hitting a single ton, Babar averaged a pitiful 40.00 and scored 320 runs. He may have seen an opportunity to score large runs and ended up getting dismissed quite lightly in most of his dismissals, which occurred against bad deliveries.

He was removed three times for trying to clear the man positioned at midwicket and was caught at that position. His batting lacked rhythm, according to one. After hitting a fifty, he was removed at pivotal times, except in the NZ match.

Fakhar Zaman only made three appearances after playing the first game against the Netherlands. His dismal score against the Dutch resulted in his benching. In Fakhar’s absence, Pakistan did not have the luxury of an aggressive striker. There was no strategy in place here, but on the other side, you had Quinton de Kock, Warner, or Rohit Sharma.

Babar frequently had to arrive early because Imam-ul-Haq struggled. With his knocks of 82 and 126* in the victories against Bangladesh and New Zealand, Fakhar demonstrated why he can turn things around quickly.

Later, he brought attention to the plot that Pakistan misinterpreted by leaving him out. If Fakhar had been present, Abdullah Shafique and the number three would have had greater flexibility.

Even if you take away everything—the inconsistent bowling, the shoddy batting, the game-by-game squad changes, and some extremely risky fielding—you still have a lot to figure out.

This World Cup has been a waking nightmare, with one domino falling to topple another, rather than a World Cup of collapsing dreams. Pakistan still had a good chance of making it to the semi-finals despite all of that.

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