An instinct for T20
The world is not enough for some cricketers who crave the riches of mercenary T20 tournaments. But the World T20 about to unfold in Sri Lanka is the competition to win. It might not make you rich, although it will put you in the shop window. You might even enjoy making your nation proud of you. Romantics like to think that there are higher instincts than a hunger for cash.
For Pakistan players, absence from the Indian Premier League now matters less since T20 thrashes in Australia, England, South Africa and Sri Lanka began to offer an outlet for talent and an influx of foreign exchange. Yet the World T20 remains important to Pakistan in the midst of its current political and cricketing plight. Indeed, the format plays to Pakistan's strengths. A recent T20 series triumph over Australia is further evidence of Pakistan's aptitude for a quick joust.
Historically, Pakistan perform well in World T20 tournaments. Two exhilarating finals and a dramatic semi-final defeat speak of the highest pedigree. But T20 cricket is as much about luck as it is about talent. It is also about instinct--and the longer a game of cricket the more tactical and less instinctive it becomes. Pakistani cricketers thrive on their instinct to smite or beguile. Perhaps those instincts create their own luck?
A tournament in Sri Lanka means that Pakistan start among the favourites by default. Familiarity with the conditions and strength in spin bowling are inevitable arguments in their favour. But Pakistan are by no means favourites--no team can be in such a tournament. And their opening group is a tricky one with Bangladesh and New Zealand both dangerous. Even making the second stage will be a mini-triumph.
Still, Dav Whatmore and Mohammad Hafeez will guard against complacency. Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, and Umar Akmal will excite and disappoint at the least predictable moments. Abdul Razzaq will attempt a sober version of spectacular heroism. Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Sami, and Sohail Tanvir will wonder how long they can prosper from the nostalgia of selectors. Kamran Akmal will thrill and spill. Asad Shafiq will play a long game in a short match. Raza Hasan will offer a glimpse of new horizons. Shahid Afridi will Boom Boom and Umar Gul will Guldoze. Meanwhile, Saeed Ajmal, the undisputed champion of the world, will be the rock that breaks wave after wave of enemy attack, a Titan in a sea of raging turmoil.
At the end of all this, Pakistan might win the World T20 again--they have as good a chance as any. Or they might bomb out--they have as good a chance as any. Such is the unpredictable maelstrom of T20 cricket. But if they do get close again we might conclude that the game of T20 is about instinct and that Pakistan's maverick cricketers are as instinctive as they come.
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here