Men-in-Green register T20I series win against 11th-ranked Zimbabwe
Cricket is a funny game—winning isn’t always easy to begin with and if you do manage on foreign soil, the achievement becomes even bigger.
Everyone has read stories about the West Indies of 1970 and the 1980s, Pakistan of the 1990s and Australia of the early 2000s dominating their opponents in their backyard, winning series after series, title after title and proving themselves as one of the world’s best.
Back in the day, if a team won five series in a row, in three different formats, newspapers around the world would have carried the headline that there is a side which everyone should pay attention to, a team that fears no one and can beat any opposition, not just at home but in testing conditions as well.
However, that is not entirely the case with this Pakistan side who, despite winning three T20I, one ODI and one Tests series, continues to be the subject of anguished takedowns whether it is even good enough to compete at the highest level.
Allow me to add here that this is not happening because there is a conspiracy theory against the Men-in-Green that someone is undermining the team’s achievement. It comes down to the observation that ever since head coach Misbah-ul-Haq took over, the team who should have played the 2019 International Cricket Council World Cup semifinal—had that rain not affected the match against Sri Lanka—is now finding it hard to win against the 11th-ranked Zimbabwe side.
In the time of Misbah the Captain, Pakistan cricket was going through one of its most turbulent days. Despite a pretty decent record in the Test format, the team was struggling to replicate the success in white-ball cricket. Back then, the 46-year-old was criticised for bringing out too many changes in the 50-over team that was also beset by a lack of planning.
Fast-forward six years. Misbah as coach is not much different, as once again, there is a lack of planning on display and too much confusion about the players’ role in the team.
For instance, who is the aggressor out of Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan when they open in the T20Is? Why is neither Fakhar Zaman nor Sharjeel Khan opening in the T20Is? If they are not opening, are they even useful in the middle-order? Why is Mohammad Hafeez playing at four when he regained his form by playing as a finisher? Why has Haider Ali been demoted in the batting order despite playing well at the top-order in domestic cricket and early on for the national team? Why give Asif Ali countless chances but drop youngsters such as Danish Aziz after one or two bad performances?
In any sport, winning is all that matters and cricket is no different but do we think that the Green Caps deserved to win any of the recent five series played against South Africa and Zimbabwe? The answer is not as certain as the result suggested.
Except for the Test series against South Africa, Pakistan should have and could have suffered defeats in the T20I series at home and away against the Proteas’ second-string sides. It should have lost the ODI series against the Temba Bavuma-led team and in all honesty, it should have been on the losing side in the recently concluded T20I series against Zimbabwe as well.
When two teams play, in most cases there is one favourite and one underdog, but ever since Misbah has become coach, the Pakistan team has failed to prove their dominance regardless of where they play or who they play against.
As soon he took over, Sri Lanka’s weak team thrashed us 3-0 in the T20I series while playing at home. Zimbabwe defeated us in an ODI in Lahore and then South Africa’s ‘B’ team nearly won the T20I series on our soil as well.
But then again, these results shouldn’t surprise us because when the former Islamabad United captain was leading the Green Caps across all formats, we suffered a Test defeat against Zimbabwe—consisting of the likes of Tinashe Panyangara, Tendai Chatara, Hamilton Masakadza and Vusi Sibanda.
On the England tour in 2020, Misbah said that scoring 190 or more in two T20Is showed that our cricket was going in the right direction.
That comment was a surprising one—considering that just weeks ago, Pakistan surrendered a Test match from a winning position—and reminds one of Arsene Wenger saying that a ‘top-four finish is equal to winning a title for Arsenal’.
Back then, the Gunners were sleepwalking into mediocrity as they set the bar as low as a top-four finish instead of competing for the ultimate prize. Now it seems that Pakistan cricket is sleepwalking towards being just ordinary instead of being winners because our coach, who was a chief selector not long ago as well, believes that a scorecard is proof of our progress, not the actual result or performance on the field.
Mediocrity does not mean we are looking at a team with mediocre players because it is clear that we still have the same lot—barring a few—we had in 2019. Mediocrity is a mindset.
In the last two years, we didn’t lose the matches because we lacked talent compared to our opponents but because mentally, we were bang average.
During Misbah’s captaincy, Pakistan never suffered a Test defeat while playing in the UAE—our makeshift home—but no one believed that we were a team to be frightened of.
The reason was not that they didn’t believe that we were winning fair and square in the UAE, but that almost everyone knew that our mindset was to save the match before winning it. And that’s where the problem lies.
In Misbah, Pakistan cricket is a study in mediocrity. And with notable ‘victories’ away from home under the belt, it seems that the Men-in-Green will continue their journey towards being a team that no one will care about very soon.