Sarfaraz and co must improve in key areas
Pakistan’s topsy-turvy journey in the 2019 Cricket World Cup came to an end after they were sent packing on net run-rate. The Men in Green started slowly but ended on a high as they claimed four wins on the trot to finish on 11 points and five wins.
Sarfaraz Ahmed and his men learned the hard way that no match can be taken for granted, especially when the group stage is played in a league format.
The Men in Green had a nightmare start to the World Cup as they slumped to an embarrassing defeat at the hands of West Indies. The emphatic loss meant Pakistan were playing catch-up in terms of net run-rate for the rest of the tournament.
No major cricket tournament is complete without Pakistan completely disregarding the script and the Men in Green managed to defeat hosts and then number one side England.
The all-important momentum that the side needed evaded them though as the clash against Sri Lanka was rained out, leaving Pakistan with just one point from a game that they would realistically have expected to win.
The washed out game was followed by back-to-back defeats to Australia and India, which meant Pakistan were staring at the brink only half way through the group stages.
It was only then, with hope almost lost, that Pakistan clicked into gear. Out went Shoaib Malik and in came Haris Sohail, further reinforcing a brittle middle-order while Shaheen Shah Afridi stepped up to be counted and support the excellent Mohammad Amir.
Wins against New Zealand, South Africa and Afghanistan kept Pakistan in contention but the top four was all but decided by the time the clash against Bangladesh came around. The win was enough to take Pakistan into fifth and level on points with New Zealand but that defeat against West Indies haunted Sarfaraz and co till the very end.
As is often the case when teams finish this agonisingly close, Pakistan’s World Cup campaign has a whole host of ifs and buts attached to it. If Pakistan had not lost in such humiliating fashion in the first game, if rain hadn’t washed out one of the easier games for them, if India had defeated England, if Carlos Brathwaite had cleared the boundary one more time against New Zealand, if South Africa had reviewed after Kane Williamson had edged it, if India had reviewed after Jason Roy had edged it, if Bangladesh and South Africa been more clinical against New Zealand. But none of that actually happened and the Pakistan cricket team has made the journey back home despite being arguably the standout side in the latter stages of the tournament.
However, as Imad Wasim said, just blaming luck is wrong and Pakistan have no one but themselves to blame for putting themselves in a situation where they needed to rely on others to get them through to the semis.
The selection committee, headed by Inzamam-ul-Haq, proved to be out of its depth. Mohammad Amir, who finished as the side’s highest wicket-taker with 17 wickets, was not even included in the preliminary squad as the selectors felt he was no longer capable of picking up wickets.
Shaheen Shah Afridi’s 16 wickets and record-breaking performances meant there was never any need for fellow teenage pacer Mohammad Hasnain, who spent the entire World Cup on the sidelines. Hasnain was picked ahead of Usman Shinwari, who had a better average and strike-rate than any bowler in the Pakistan side as well as the second best economy behind Amir.
Inzamam’s decision to include Shoaib Malik despite his long-documented struggles in England meant Pakistan had precious few options in the middle of the innings, especially considering the poor form of Asif Ali.
Openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq had a torrid time in England, meaning Pakistan not only lost wickets early on but were also incredibly slow out of the blocks.
Mohammad Hafeez, meanwhile, continued to excite and frustrate in equal measure as he played some glorious shots before throwing away his wicket on deliveries that didn’t deserve wickets.
Babar Azam is undoubtedly Pakistan’s star turn with the bat and the right-hander scored a record 474 runs at an average of 67.71, beating Javed Miandad’s tally of 437 to register the highest score by a Pakistani batsman at a World Cup.
If the players punched above their weights and were let down by the management, then they were let down even more by fans and the media who turned on the players. The unsavoury personal attacks that the players were subjected to, especially after the defeat to India, will hopefully never be repeated again.
The World Cup exposed several flaws that the side must now work on addressing, especially the slow and defensive approach that dragged the side back.However, painting this campaign as a complete failure is unfair, considering how the players bounced back from the brink to almost qualify for the semis.Onwards and upwards from here hopefully.