Finally, it’s over. You can either be sad or relieved; depending on if you are a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full type person. But let’s make one thing clear criticizing your team does not make you a traitor or a “seasonal” cricket fan. The fact remains that Pakistan cricket has some serious structural flaws and unless they are addressed, we might win an international tournament every now and then but once the rest of the world figures out our ‘newbies’, we are back to the fifth or sixth position in international cricket.
Now let`s go over some facts. As preparations for the World Cup, the team played a series against Australia and England (in England!) and failed to beat them. But more importantly that gave us few ideas of what was not working. However we refused to learn, we were afraid to make last minute changes and make improvements and we stuck with our stubborn choices and eventually paid the price. We couldn’t decide our bowling attack till the last moment. (For the purpose of this article, I have set cut-off dates from January 2018 to April 2019.) Muhammad Amir was (rightly) dropped on the basis of his numbers (five wickets @ 92) but at the same time we selected Wahab Riaz who has not played for the team since June 2017 (also based on the same numbers approach – two wickets @ 130). Once number 1 ranked ODI Bolwer, Hasan Ali was going for 5.48 per over and taking wickets at an average of 36. Going by this approach, it didn’t make any sense to drop Usman Shinwari and Junaid Khan, your two top performing bowlers since the last World Cup and also since the start of 2018. There are reports that our captain wanted Muhammad Irfan in the team, someone who has not played for the country since September 2016. So you can see where this is going. The final bowling line up consisted of two out of form bowlers, someone who had not played for Pakistan since 2017, two rookies whose combined experience was less than two dozen matches. Was this all a recipe of disaster? Not really. Muhammad Amir was always going to make the team on his (though debatable) legacy in England and nostalgia. Hasan Ali too was trusted through the same criteria and the in-form Shaheen was supposed to be our trump card. Wahab, for me, remains a controversial choice. You can justify his numbers now and yes he won you the match against Afghanistan (it wasn’t his job) but for me it comes down to building systems and structures. Something every new management claims to aim for. Without going into the fact that he has the worst economy rate for any Pakistani bowler with more than hundred wickets or the fact that his average is clearly worse than any other strike bowler we ever had, my point is that you cannot include or exclude players just like that.
Cricket South Africa faced a bigger dilemma when their finest ODI player AB de Villers made himself available a week before for the World Cup. This is what the convener of selectors, Linda Zondi had to say about it:
“AB left a big vacuum when he retired. We had a year to find players at franchise level to fill the gap. We had players who put in the hard work, who put up their hands and deserved to be given the opportunity to go to the World Cup. The decision was based on principle; we had to be fair to the team, the selection panel, our franchise system and players.”
Yes it was all about principle! There can be a counter argument that there is no harm in making amends for your mistakes but as we will see in next paragraphs, we only ended up making more mistakes and staying stubborn.
Going into the tournament, Pakistan`s top three had numbers which would outshine any player in the world. But that wasn’t the case when it actually mattered. Fakhar and Imam had an average of above 50 (57.88 and 52.94 respectively) but Imam had only scored 205 runs in first 8 matches and cemented his place for the next series with a hundred in the last match. Fakhar never arrived and ended up with an average 23.25. Both of them failed to read the game and hence ended up putting the rest of the Pakistan batting line up under pressure. Nobody failed to read game more than Hafeez though who gifted his wickets to part timers on full tosses. You expect much more from a veteran of 218 matches, his lack of taking responsibility meant that once Babar or Haris got out, the batting line up was always fragile and shaking. Talking about taking responsibility, the biggest disappointment was our most senior player, the last player in the world to make his debut in the 1990s, the recently retired Shoaib Malik. While he failed to deliver at all in the World Cup, it wasn’t something unexpected. His form has been a matter of concern but we shut our eyes to it focusing on his “experience”. Having experienced players in the team is important but it shouldn’t be the only criteria for team selection and often the “experienced” lot is out of form and that is the time when you give chances to the young blood. Malik was averaging 29 in the last year or so but more importantly in 18 years and 29 matches, his batting average stands at 13.07 in England with one half century and otherwise never even crossing 20. He was clearly out of form and should have been dropped before he cost us important matches (against Australia).
This all leads us to our final and most important question, what was our team management up to? Currently they are showing satisfaction over gaining momentum and winning 4 matches on the trot to end up 5thor blaming rain and the net run rate for missing out. Firstly, they were stubborn enough not to make any changes until it was very late, they didn’t drop Hasan Ali or Malik until every news channel, newspaper and social media account was calling for their head. But now they want us to compliment them on correcting their own mistakes. We made the same mistake in CT 2017 when everyone was screaming about the team selection, we dropped our opener and strike bowler and their replacements won us the trophy. Secondly, we didn’t lose because of rain; almost every team had a washout and gained a point. It is interesting to see that we are so confident about beating Sri Lanka when we failed to beat a team who only won one more match, that too against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka did beat that team. We lost the cup when we started our second match with a negative run rate of 5.082. That brings us to our last point, despite the terrible start and the dire need to improve the NRR, there was no attempt or game plan by team to achieve that. The entire focus was on making 1992 comparisons and other team`s inability to win their own matches. We struggled against teams like Afghanistan; we didn’t bat well or long enough to save some of our run rate against teams like India or Australia. The system is same for everyone; you can make up or believe conspiracy theories that 9 other teams were out there to not let us win the cup, you can read articles based on emotions making you feel that every world up is Pakistan`s win, the fact remains we were not just good enough. We ran out of flukes.
Now wait and watch as we reshuffle the team and management with the standard statement of focus on the World Cup 2023. But until and unless we admit we made wrong calls, we didn’t read the game and we refuse to learn from our mistakes, all we can do is re-watch 1992 or 2017 highlights on the state television.