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February 14, 2011

World Cup 2011

In praise of low expectations

Kamran Abbasi
Shahid Afridi claimed the key scalp of Ross Taylor, New Zealand v Pakistan, 5th ODI, Hamilton, February 3, 2011
Shahid Afridi can dazzle with the ball and destroy with the bat  © Getty Images
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In the tournament's early years, Pakistan cricket fans viewed the World Cup with fascination but reasonable expectations. Defeat in a semi-final was a minor triumph, as anybody but the West Indies winning the trophy was unimaginable. Those carefree days were banished by two related events. First, India's shock success in 1983 gave everybody else hope and an insight into the unpredictability of limited-overs cricket. Thanks to India's achievement, as well as much political intrigue, the right to host the 1987 World Cup was awarded to India and Pakistan.

When India and Pakistan lined up for their respective semi-finals, on home territory, low expectations had metamorphosed into expectant hysteria. The pressure was too much as co-hosts and co-favourites were defeated by unfancied teams from Australia and England; the cricket world's upstarts put in their place by the founding nations.

The scars of those defeats burned long and deep, especially in Pakistan. India had already bagged their World Cup trophy. Pakistan had become perennial semi-finalists, mere onlookers. Happily, Pakistan quickly satisfied their desires with the iconic victory of 1992, but the disease of expectant hysteria had taken hold, reaching fever pitch at roughly four-year intervals.

Indeed, a thrilling quarter-final loss to India in 1996 followed by a gut-wrenching defeat in the 1999 final only served to intensify the illness, with expectant hysteria resurfacing in the World Cups of 2003 and 2007 despite hard evidence of a decline in Pakistan cricket and its cricketers.

I guess it would be still with us had it not been for the utter demoralisation of many Pakistan fans by the spot-fixing saga. With Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif in our ranks, we would be imagining that our bowling attack could storm the tournament. We would put our faith in the two Mohammads and the reverse-swing of Umar Gul to compensate for any deficiencies in fielding and batting.

Instead, the reality check is that the bowling attack is decent but unspectacular. Gul remains, and is supported by a fading Shoaib Akhtar and a bouncy, inexperienced Wahab Riaz. Shahid Afridi might still dazzle but Abdul Razzaq and Mohammad Hafeez are more prosaic bowling talents.

Expectant hysteria has burned itself out. Instead we wait for the next blow to the ribs in the shape of unpredictable calamity. But does that mean I am shorn of hope? Far from it. Great bowling attacks might win you a World Cup in England or Australia but not necessarily in the subcontinent. And when it comes to it, Pakistan have enough firepower and sufficient familiarity with the conditions to pose a threat. The batsmen might not send shivers down the spines of the opposition but they can thrive in these conditions, especially with the lower order ballistics of Afridi and Razzaq.

More importantly, Pakistan are wounded; Shoaib has said as much, and that is when they are most dangerous. And, in truth, other than the loss of Amir, they are not especially weakened. The players have a point to prove and a reputation to restore. The wayward influences have been expelled, we hope, and the team has pulled together in recent months, rewarded for old-fashioned virtues of determination and unity. Playing away from the pressure of frenzied home crowds might be of additional benefit, as will finding themselves in the weaker half of the first-round draw.

With Australia less dominant now than they were in the preceding decade, this is an open World Cup with much expectation centred on the prospect of a new World Cup winner being crowned after 12 years of Aussie rule. Australia might still confound us all, but any of the top eight cricket nations could lift the trophy. The format of the tournament will ease the passage of the big powers to the knockout stages, where anything could happen, even a Pakistan victory.

On form, India might well be favourites but they will have to contend with the debilitating effects of expectant hysteria. Pakistan have no such worries. The world of low expectations is a relaxing place to be except that teams with low expectations, in their differing ways, won every World Cup from 1983 to 1999.

The step from low expectations to expectant hysteria is conceptually gargantuan but, in the distorted reality of a sports fan, it is frighteningly short and easily goaded. My advice is to resist that perilous journey for as long as humanly possible, in essence the quarter-finals stage of World Cup 2011: March 23, or Pakistan Day, to be precise.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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Keywords: World Cup

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Posted by Iqbal Merchant on (March 7, 2011, 17:54 GMT)

I think Pakistan has a very balance side.A good captain,fast bowlers,excellent batsmen,fine sloggers and energetic fielders.Pakistan needed cool headed and tactical approch to achive the result.Most of the players crumble in pressure situation.We have seen south Africa and England.Pakistani bowlers should bowl according to field.If the want get a chance they should ask captain to move fielders with his consultation.Use slow bowl,Yorkers and bouncer smartly.Batsman weakness should be kept in mind all the time.Bouncer should be thrown on chest or rib cage with proper field.Batsman should be good planners like Younus and Misbah.Akmal brothers should avoid predetermined shots.Sloggers should be innovative.Every ball can not be hit over the rope.They have the abilities to get atleast 12 runs/over in power play.Running between the wicket should be smart not emotional.Batting power play should utiliazed efficently.Inshaallah with unity,planning,our prayers world cup will be ours.

Posted by Qasim Sulaman Khan Niazi on (February 22, 2011, 20:15 GMT)

WORLD DEPRIVED US FROM BEING ONE OF THE HOSTS BUT CAN'T STOP US FROM BECOMING WORTHY CHAMPS!!! Cricket World Cup 2011 belongs to PAKISTAN (INSHA ALLAH).....NOTHING TO PREDICT AS IT IS GOING TO BE A REALITY ON 2ND APRIL 2011. (INSHA ALLAH). PAKISTAN ZINDABAD!!!

Posted by kamran on (February 21, 2011, 23:31 GMT)

Wow.What a world cup this one is going to be .On paper we have no 1 and 2 sides but any of Aus,Ind,Sl,Eng,SA and ofcourse Pak can win.I think Pakistan is playing their best side except I wanted to see Yusuf there.Barring that they can beat any side right now.They should have taken Yusuf and Junaid on NZ tour.My wild guess prediction for semis SA,SL,Pak and???.Rest we will see.

Posted by Faisal Khan on (February 21, 2011, 19:33 GMT)

If Pakistan has to go all the way, they should not worry about losing, just playing their natural game which is to attack will get them into the Finals. A lot would depend on how the support staff, i.e. the debutants put on their show around the experienced stalwarts. At least two batsmen have to click in all the games in the middle, with some fiery starts at the top, and early wickets Pakistan should be able to silence their critics. Last but not least, their fielding have to show spine,

Posted by Faridoon on (February 21, 2011, 11:10 GMT)

I think this cup will b the second victory for one of the 3 former champions from asia. Of the 3 i really think SL looks the best balanced side. World class bowlers and batters and they are all good fielders.

Posted by Rashid on (February 20, 2011, 18:37 GMT)

We can be high on expectation if we have Junaid khan who has better potential than Shoaib and Wahab,Shoib & Wahab is not gonna win us World cup that is certain.If Junaid is like Amir or close we have a chance. Yousuf to stabilize middle order.Because when collapse comes which is very common for Pakistan; The experienced and one of the top batsman in Pakistan history sitting on side line is pathetic.

Posted by Shafik khan on (February 20, 2011, 4:14 GMT)

I want Pak VS Ind final nd exciting nd full of suspence nd thriling FIGHTING b/w both archrivals(A pop corn match).No matter who win.Can my dreame will came true......¿

Posted by sara khan on (February 19, 2011, 20:06 GMT)

14 teams 1 world cup? for pakistan to win d world cup,they just need to show d confidence on the field, n not off d field,the way india defeated bangladesh,sehwag had promised he would take revenge against bangladesh, n made 175 to prove it,has 1 paki cricketer said that he would take revenge aginst ireland,for their exist 4m d world cup

Posted by Saurabh on (February 19, 2011, 18:45 GMT)

South Asians...as much we would like to run away from 'expectant hysteria'...we cannot. Let Pakistan win its first 3 matches...and boom...the hysteria comes alive again...expectations rise to multi-levels. We are all deeply rooted in emotions and that's what shows in our games.

Other teams, on the other hand, don't fall prey to this. While SA would continue to be under the finale trauma...Australia is to an extent over-satisfied with WC wins. The Queen's men are also the ones to watch out for. But yeah...there's no running away from expectant hysteria for the 'men in green'.

Posted by sameel on (February 18, 2011, 11:46 GMT)

Though i am a Pakistani and would love them to win we should be practical that the contenders are India , Australia and srilanka.I would be quite pleased if Pakistan even make the semifinal but i would love to see an exciting Pakistan vs India match.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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