A match that lasted less than 40 overs in total and a chase that ended within 14 overs. By blowing Sarfaraz Ahmed’s men away, West Indies ruthlessly laid bare all the problems everyone but the management seems to be aware of.
There were only two forms of dismissals in the entire Pakistan innings—either the short-pitched delivery accounted for their wicket or they just threw it away themselves.
The infuriating bit, however, wasn’t the copy-paste manner of the dismissals but rather the fact that an entire generation has grown up watching them being copy-pasted. An entire generation that has been reduced to trying to find patterns that are as remarkable as the lack of footwork from Pakistan’s top and middle order. An entire generation that has grown up with Pakistan cricket looking back rather than forward.
Pakistan lost the opening match of the 1992 World Cup to West Indies as well as the opening match of the 2009 World T20 and the 2017 Champions Trophy, so this must be destiny then?
But Pakistan will not suddenly find a way to win their next match against England just because of events that transpired more than a quarter of a century ago. This is a team that has lost 12 competitive matches in a row, with a warm-up defeat to Afghanistan sandwiched in there just for good measure.
Too much of the scoring responsibility lies on the top three of Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam, who are all playing in their first-ever World Cup. Fakhar, Asif Ali and Imad Wasim are the only three batsmen in the side capable of clearing the boundary with ease. The pacers seem to have lost the snarl they always did. All the progress made over the past few years in the fielding department seems to have been lost somewhere along the past year or so.
This is not to say that history doesn’t repeat itself. Anyone who has followed Pakistani batting over the years knows how frustratingly often history tends to repeat itself. Nor is this to say that history cannot repeat itself. Pakistan are a team that will always keep hidden somewhere within themselves the remarkable quality to surprise. But that always looking towards history is what makes mediocrity so acceptable.
Not striving for anything greater than the past might just be what has been holding this side back for so long now. The greatest teams win because of their meticulous training and preparation, not despite of it. The greatest teams don’t surprise people when they win, they surprise people when they don’t. The greatest teams don’t come out of nowhere to grab the occasional title, they strut into every competition expecting to pummel the other teams into submission. See: Australia.
Memories of the 1992 World Cup have come to haunt Pakistan cricket and how we perceive it. Highlights of the final are played on loop on the government sports channel every time the World Cup comes around. That team’s unlikely star, Inzamam-ul-Haq, has been charged with finding the team’s next World Cup winning stars.
He has delivered a group of players who would have been quite well-equipped to deal with the demands of cricket in 1992 but look so out of touch today that they might as well arrive at the stadium in horse-driven carriages instead of the team bus. The likes of Imam and Haris Sohail play cricket that is so old-school that it’s a surprise they don’t spontaneously sprout mullets when batting that way.
Cricket today is light years away from what was being played all those years ago yet Pakistan cricket continues to cast longing glances towards 1992. “Steps taken forwards are sleep walking back again, dragged by the forces of some inner tide,” as David Gilmour wrote in Pink Floyd’s High Hopes.
Until we don’t move on from the unlikely and surprise success of 27 years ago, that is precisely what all our successes will continue to be: unlikely surprises.
The short ball will continue to be a problem, strike-rates of less than 80 will continue to be deemed acceptable, scores of over 350 will continue to be out of reach, the batsmen will continue to throw away their wickets, the fielders will continue to let down the bowlers, the team will continue to be devoid of long-term plans and individual moments of brilliance will continue to be the only source of occasional success.
An entire generation of Pakistani cricket fans deserves better.