Saad Shafqat May 7, 2010

No 'Grand Plan' for Pakistan

Unsuspecting Pakistan fans are still thinking that all these tricks are part of some Grand Plan

"It is clear that the captaincy is wearing heavy on Shahid Afridi" © Getty Images

It would appear after Pakistan’s loss in their initial Super Eights outing, that the team’s Twenty20 prowess has gone to its head. Pakistan are now taking their strategy to unprecedented, daredevil heights by trying to win matches without taking catches, without saving boundaries, and without executing run-outs. The wisdom of these tactics is not readily obvious but coming from Pakistan – a country and a team quite at home with enigmas – that is not such a surprise.

In the loss to England we also saw the now-familiar move where a Pakistani batsman of whom much is expected walks in at a critical juncture and commits suicide. The chosen method is exquisitely torturous: the batsman plays the ball straight into the hands of a close-in fielder and immediately sets off for a run. Over the years, we have seen the likes of Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq engage in such hara kiri rather liberally. At Bridgetown yesterday, it was Shahid Afridi’s turn. To make it interesting, he decided to pull it off on the very first ball he faced. After he died his virtual cricket death, there was the customary agitated gesturing and scowling. Again, the logic of this tactic is not clear, but that’s Pakistan for you.

Then there is the time-honoured routine of the nonsensical reverse-sweep. It happens to be one of Pakistan’s great gifts to the game, along with reverse-swing and the doosra, so its origins are honourable enough. Mushtaq Mohammad invented it and Javed Miandad perfected it. But down the generations it seems to have become a source of slapstick entertainment. In Misbah-ul-Haq’s hands yesterday, it served as a powerful instrument of comic relief. Granted that the reverse-sweep is necessarily a premeditated stroke, but most exponents wait at least for the bowler to be locked into his delivery motion before they start to swivel. Misbah took it one step further yesterday by turning his body around before the bowler had barely started his run. The stumps were badly exposed and that was that. We are scratching our heads to understand how this move helped Pakistan, but that’s our team – they love to keep us guessing.

Unsuspecting Pakistan fans are still thinking that all these tricks are part of some Grand Plan. Having experienced the thrilling triumphs of World Cup 1992 and World Twenty20 2009, they are convinced that Pakistan’s lack of form isn’t worrisome. Good ol’ Pakistan, they always throw caution to the wind and rack up losses in the initial stage of a tournament, only to floor the pedal at the right time and speed through to the title.

Except this time it’s different. The rhythm is completely off. The body language is stilted. The facial expressions are tragic. One look at the dugout and the sombreness infects and envelops you, even sitting out here in Lahore or Karachi, thousands of miles away.

Most of all, Afridi is walking around cutting a sad, almost shattered figure. It is clear that the captaincy is wearing heavy on him. Throughout his career he has been a proud, free-spirited Mustang. His veins carry the blood of a warrior tribe and his approach has always been fearless and unforgiving. All of this works well in the sphere of individualism, but when you get burdened with systematic responsibilities they become a liability. We still love you, Afridi, but you’re no Younis. Your leadership experiment has failed.

Theoretically, Pakistan are still in the hunt, but only barely. To begin with, they must win both their remaining matches (against New Zealand and South Africa; neither exactly a pushover). Even so, of the four possible scenarios that could then emerge in Group E, three will involve run-rate calculations. Only if England also wins both its games, will Pakistan be assured of a semifinal spot, as England and Pakistan then edge out New Zealand and South Africa . If Pakistan lose one more match, then for all purposes they are knocked out.

Very soon everyone will start looking around for someone to blame. Hopefully, most, if not all eyes will settle on the PCB and its leadership, specifically chairman Ijaz Butt. Pakistan is a chaotic place to begin with, and Butt compounded the misery by meting out whimsical bans and punishments to key players in the days leading up to this tournament. It is hard to imagine a more damaging send-off for a team aiming to defend its title.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi