Pakistan in search of one last miracle

Shoaib Malik has said that Shahid Afridi is like a big brother to the team and they want to give him a happy send-off © AFP

The Pakistan nets have generally been the least coherent in this World T20. In one of them, Grant Flower and Grant Luden gave throwdowns to batsmen trying to simulate fields and asking batsmen to go for imaginary targets. Towards the end of the session, with Shoaib Malik batting, Luden set a field and shouted, “16 off 5 balls”. Malik took one ball from Flower, and walked off with a grimace on his face. Malik didn’t even try.

Sixteen off five is a bit like trying to beat Australia, and then hoping that Australia beat India. That should keep Pakistan in the clear when it comes to net run rate. Just like Malik didn’t go for his imaginary target, the general demeanor, the lack of intensity in their practice and the voices at the press box, Pakistan seem to have given up on semi-final hopes.

It was perhaps best summed up by coach Waqar Younis after the loss to New Zealand. Presented a similar scenario, he said, “If you say we can keep our hopes up, but the way we have been playing is regrettable. Don’t think we deserve…”

A day before facing Australia, Malik mostly answered questions related to rifts within the team. He is seen as someone who would like to be captain again, and Shahid Afridi is on his way out. There have been other reports of batsmen unhappy with their batting positions.

Malik’s answers were about the relationship between the players, and there was a defence of his own selflessness. He said the team was untied, that he is a team man, that he gave up the captaincy of his PSL team, that he quit Test cricket so that youngsters could break through, that Afridi is like a big brother, that the team would love to win this World T20 for Afridi, who is retiring after this.

Coming back to groups within the team, in the 2009 team, six of us were not talking [to each other] during the World Cup, but still we won that World Cup

Shoaib Malik on seemingly stressed relationships between players in the side

There was also an unconvincing reply to whether Pakistan truly believe they can beat Australia and what Malik thought of Waqar’s lack of optimism. “When you lose, you are disappointed,” Malik said. “In the heat of the moment, even wise people can say or do unwise things. I am sure Waqar didn’t mean to say we have no chance of beating Australia. We are professionals; it doesn’t matter if we go to the semi-final or not, our job is to give our 100%. This is our opportunity. This is a big event, yes, but you learn that tomorrow is a new day. There is a day after that. There is a new tournament after that. Our first goal is to win tomorrow.”

In Afridi’s moving up the order, in not sorting out their fielding issues, in looking for boundaries and not for ones and twos, Pakistan have shown in Mohali that they have been looking only for miracles. The thing about Pakistan cricket, though, is that miracles can happen. The 2009 World T20 win was a miraculous one after a slow start. Asked how different this team was to those teams in 2007 and 2009, Malik perhaps summed up Pakistan cricket in his reply.

“If you compare 2009 team with this team, I would say skill wise this team is much better, but the 2009 team was more professional,” he said. “Coming back to groups within the team, in the 2009 team, six of us were not talking [to each other] during the World Cup, but still we won that World Cup. When you lose, a lot of people obviously start talking, ‘this should have happened or that should not have not happened.’ But in 2009, it was so obvious, six of us were not talking [to each other].

“Yes, other teams have improved. They have very strong leagues in their countries and the best thing PCB did was we have PSL. It will take a bit of time to get cricketers from that league, but it is obviously a great sign for Pakistan cricket.”

While it will take time to create those Twenty20 cricketers, the immediate concern for Pakistan in this World T20 is their fielding, their strategies and the lack of intent in their batting when boundaries are not readily available. It is a matter of skills. To pick the ball early, then to trust your batting enough to pick the gaps and finally be confident of being able to hit a boundary in a clutch situation.

These aren’t skills that can be acquired overnight. Perhaps that is why Pakistan seem to have lost all optimism even though their chance of making it to the semi-final is not that outlandish. In their perfect scenario, they beat Australia and Australia beat India. That leaves all three teams on four points. Pakistan currently have the best net run rate, India the worst. So in this scenario, only a big win for Australia over India knocks Pakistan out.

The catch is, Pakistan need to beat Australia first, which is not a small ask for a team in this form. The question is, do they believe they can beat Australia? And even if they do believe they can do it, they will need an overhaul of attitudes, or a miracle through great individual performances. It is not always the best route to success, but Pakistan don’t always take the best route.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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