It was after a miserable 2015 World Cup campaign when England decided to tear up the old blueprint and follow a new one—the one that New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum had used to give his unfancied side ‘one hell of a ride’ all the way to the final.
And so they went about creating a team that knows no fear, that most paralysing of emotions. In the process, they went from being the timid boys who wet their pants to the biggest bullies of the playground. They were knocked out by Bangladesh in the last edition, they go into this one as the favourites—the number one side in the world.
Big bats, small boundaries, dead pitches, two balls, home conditions, and no fear. Imagine the possibilities.
Before the Trent Bridge game, fast-bowler Mark Wood said 500 is no longer an unrealistic target for England. If any team can do it, then it is this one. They have reached 481 before, what’s 19 more runs among friends?
Pakistan, on the other hand, are a side shackled by fear, their every step weighed down by it. Inzamam-ul-Haq’s selection is to blame; if the team’s most economical bowler in Mohammad Amir and most lethal bowler in Usman Shinwari aren’t safe, then who is? Mickey Arthur’s man-management is to blame, alienating players who dare question his supreme authority. Sarfaraz Ahmed’s tendency to not go for the jugular is to blame, the players happy to let the game pass them by. All of this has led to a team driven not by the hunger to win but by the fear of defeat. A team designed not to feast among kings but merely to stave off starvation.
Asif Ali and Fakhar Zaman are the only batsmen in the side who can clear the boundary with ease, with Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Mohammad Hafeez all more comfortable nudging the ball around for singles—two batsmen to power the ship and six to anchor it. Inzamam has assembled a team so woefully out of touch with modern cricket that they might as well be sharpening their wooden sticks to take on enemy tanks.
In a sport where standing still means going backwards, Pakistan are frozen in place by fear. Nothing signifies this more than the recall of 33-year-old Wahab Riaz, who last played an ODI two years ago when he gave away 87 runs without taking a wicket in 8.4 overs against India. He comes in as a wicket-taking option, despite having taken three wickets just once against a top-eight opposition since the last World Cup. In England, he averages 96.25 with the ball at a strike-rate of 86.5 and an economy of 6.67.
This is not a decision made by sensible minds thinking calmly, this is a decision made by men scampering to cover their mistakes and save their own hides when the fallout surely arrives.
The team’s pace battery is filled with bowlers either burdened by haunting memories of the past or hindered by a lack of experience—men who have either seen too many horrors or too few.
This is a team that has won just two out of their 15 ODIs in 2019 and the management has responded to that by promptly dropping the team’s best bowler in that period.
Perhaps failure in this World Cup will be a blessing in disguise—the darkest hour before the sun rises. A disastrous World Cup may finally force Pakistan to let go of their shackles and emerge from the ashes, stronger, wiser and without fear. Perhaps the only way to let go of the fear of humiliating failure is to suffer from it first. At least that is one thing Pakistan are well-prepared for.