“Hence, Pakistan will hope that the other Pakistan which was there in the game against South Africa or England turns up game after game”
“That’s Pakistan cricket at it’s very best, one minute down, next minute up!”
These are Nasser Hussain’s words but it’s become clichéd now.
Pakistan are the most predictably unpredictable team. Hence, those words sum up Pakistan cricket. On one day, they will make you stand up and applaud and on another, they will make you pull your hair.
That was very well highlighted in the first two games of this World Cup. They succumbed to the pace and bounce of the Windies pacers and were bowled out for a paltry 105 before they came storming back. They flew high and beat pre-tournament favourites and hosts England by 14 runs in a high-scoring encounter. Hence, the unpredictability steals all the limelight. And every game they play, the question arises, which Pakistan side will turn up?
We’ve seen the crumbling Pakistan in full tilt in two games this World Cup. The first game against the Windies and then again, against arch-rivals India. They just don’t seem to turn up on such days. They just fail to withstand pressure and react to it. Especially against India, they tend to crumble and it’s become 7-0 in World Cups in favour of the ‘Men in Blue’.
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However, they’ve shown that they can bounce back from defeats. They’ve done that as well. They lost 4-0 to England in the bilateral ODI series in the lead-up to this World Cup and then when it mattered the most, they got the better of the hosts.
Same was the case with South Africa. Pakistan lost an ODI series against the Proteas as well earlier this year. However, in a big World Cup game, they delivered. They stood up in a must-win game and kept themselves alive in this tournament.
First things first, Pakistan made a couple of big changes. A couple of big names who were misfiring were axed. Shoaib Malik (Eight runs from three innings) was struggling big time and so was Hasan Ali (two wickets from four innings). Hence, Pakistan seemed to be carrying some baggage in both departments. They dropped them and brought in some fresh energy.
Both Haris Sohail and Shaheen Afridi had played in this World Cup but both of them had played a game each. Yet, it provided them with some fresh breathing space, just like Haris Sohail showed. They’ve had big issues in the middle-order and Sohail came to the party.
Pakistan had a good start but just like the things have gone in this World Cup, they stumbled a touch. 143/3 at the end of the 30th over and things weren’t exactly looking very good. However, Sohail stepped in and changed the complexion of the game. He shifted the momentum drastically and gave Pakistan the impetus they needed through those late middle-overs and towards the death.
The 30-year-old left-hander took on the South African bowling and kept the runs coming. And at the other end, he had a perfect foil in Babar Azam who played second fiddle to perfection. He scored 69 but it was all about Haris Sohail. He scored 89 from just 59 balls as he took Pakistan to a very good score of 308. Sohail simply took the game away from South Africa.
Despite having a good score on the board, Pakistan still needed to bowl well. They’ve faltered before and you never know, which Pakistan side will turn up to bowl, how will they field and can they get some inspiration from somewhere. However, they ticked two of those boxes as the right bowling side turned up which seemed to have great intent throughout the innings.
Mohammad Amir set the tone with the early wicket. Shadab Khan then applied the brakes in the middle and reaped rewards before Wahab Riaz came in and wrapped up the innings. At no stage did it look like South Africa had the upper hand. Pakistan always had the run-rate under control even when Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis stitched a good and a potentially match-turning partnership.
But if Pakistan fielded the way they did in this game, they will have to pay for it, big time. They were lucky that despite numerous drop catches, South Africa didn’t make the most of it.
However, they got two points in the end which keeps them alive in this tournament. The Pakistan team has been facing a lot of flak and has been criticised heavily for their poor show but if this Pakistan side turns up game after game, things could get very interesting.
Pakistan’s poor net run rate has affected their position in the points table. They are now seventh on the table, tied with Bangladesh and one behind Sri Lanka who are fifth. But the net run-rate may well not come into play if Pakistan win their next three games (because of the washout against Sri Lanka).
But can they find the inspiration and do it? They did it in 1992 during the World Cup. They did it in the 2017 Champions Trophy. 2019 World Cup? We will have to wait and watch. However, the road ahead is steep and Pakistan will need to play outstandingly to win all their games.
Hence, Pakistan will hope that the other Pakistan which was there in the game against South Africa or England turns up game after game.