March 24, 2016

Have Pakistan given up?

It looks like their batsmen and bowlers have, while their captain relies on solo efforts
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Shahid Afridi hasn't taken on the role of the lead spinner, as the squad selection for the World T20 demanded © AFP

There is something intriguing, and perhaps tragic, about things that come in the middle. Be it a middle child, or middle age, or the middle class, they all share the fact that they are what's left behind once the top and bottom, or right and left, or whatever, have been sorted. We care about what's first and what's last, and are slightly oblivious about the rest.

Inevitably, those in the middle have to pretend harder. Take the middle class, who might not have the goods the rich do, so they pretend to have the taste for them. Or the middle child, who pretends to get the jokes the elders crack to avoid being grouped with the baby. Or middle age, where you hope that the trendy, expensive haircut you just got will allow you to fit in when you go out on weekends.

The tragedy of being in the middle is that you struggle to define yourself on your own terms, and if you fail to do so, then there comes a point when you just start giving up on all the pretence.

Pakistan's limited-overs sides have been middle tier for quite some time now - not anywhere as good as the top sides but ahead of the Associates, who have closed the gap remarkably in the last few years. The general lack of any one outstanding team in this era has meant that Pakistan (like most sides nowadays) retain the ability to surprise top-ranked sides, which has meant that those who write and speak on the sport continue to imagine them in the same identity they wore in the '80s and '90s: the eternal dark horses.

In reality, Pakistan have barely been keeping afloat in white-ball cricket for almost a decade now. While boards and batsmen and captains and tactics all haven't helped, this decline is almost directly correlated with terrorism-related exile and isolation for the team. Regardless, the fact is that even though Pakistan have been consistently mediocre, everyone seems to indulge the pretence that they are just about top class.

At the current World T20, though, it has looked like everyone in Pakistani cricket is just about giving up. At various points, the comments by the PCB chairman have been quite outrageous. While that is generally expected of PCB chairmen, Shaharyar Khan - a career diplomat and generally very tactful - has never been so blunt.

After the game against New Zealand, coach Waqar Younis joined in as well, essentially subtweeting his own players in the press conference. The issue isn't with what they both said but rather that even when a tournament is going badly for your team, you're still supposed to pretend it's not when you still have a chance to qualify.

In the crucial games against India and New Zealand, Afridi batted up the order, like the guest who arrives before the food is ready, and bowled late, like the same guest lingering on after everyone has left

The fast bowlers, who had been the source of much hope and hype, seemed to give up in the game against India, choosing to ignore a pitch made to nullify them and refusing to adapt to it. The batting performed better than was perhaps expected, but it was never quite enough, and against New Zealand the two prospects for the future seemed to have completely given up. Watching Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad bat was like scrolling Twitter on a poor internet connection - there was no colour or imagery, just two-toned desolation.

Perhaps most damningly, it was the captain who gave up on captaincy. Given how much time Shahid Afridi appears to spend politicking for the post, it often seems like he resents the responsibility on the field. In both the crucial games, against India and New Zealand, Afridi batted up the order, like the guest who arrives before the food is ready, and bowled late, like the same guest lingering on after everyone has left.

In both matches he came in to bat at the wrong time, failing to nullify the threat of spin in the middle overs. The bigger problem, however, was with his bowling - the squad selection meant that he was the lead spinner, which is a role he has never excelled in and didn't take seriously here. The failure to utilise the pitch in Kolkata fell most on him, where the team needed him as a bowler but could have done without as a batsman. Much like everyone else, Afridi also seemed to give up on his team, trying to make it all on his own.

It would be a cliché to turn this all around by writing, "Don't give up", so I'll let someone else say those words. In the words of my colleague, the "the sanest man in Pakistan... is not in Pakistan... nor a Pakistani". He was speaking of Kevin Pietersen, who had tweeted, "PAKISTAN - the @thePSLt20 will help & guide your national & domestic players. Give your players a season or two to figure out consistency! (prayer emoji)" His follow-up tweet was also an accurate assessment of why they can be so poor.

At the risk of sounding like a drenched man with straws in his fist, the two players who were in the squad solely due to their PSL performances did show up at the big games. Sharjeel Khan's blitz had left the chase a formality against New Zealand, while Mohammad Sami was excellent against them and India. And at the risk of continuing this wet-straw outlook, Pakistan still haven't been knocked out as I write this.

More importantly, though, perhaps there is a time for Pakistan to rethink their cricket identity, and try being honest about what is wrong. It would be a far better option than just giving up.

Ahmer Naqvi writes on cricket, music, film and pop culture. He appears on Journoeyes and Pace is Pace Yaar. @karachikhatmal

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Hussain Hassan on March 26, 2016, 8:11 GMT

    In this world cup PK performed well than Asia cup,their Batting little bit improved than it, that shows in their NRR better than India And Australia. So it shows the problem is in bowling although they have good bowlers mean they weren't used properly and not selected the bowlers according to pitch condition. in India match four fast bowlers selected but half of their overs weren't used. even Sami who did well also not used and spinners used until slipped the grip of match, but not quality spinner, it is part time bowler, so could not select the quality spinner according to the pitch mean Manager and the captain could not read the pitch condition,mean both are not deserve to be in their position. it is quite correct that in this article said about Afridi but also same with coach Waqar.

  •   Mandar Karve on March 26, 2016, 4:39 GMT

    Unless pakistan tours NZ SAF ENG AUS on green pitches . U19 A teams tour abroad situation will remain same. As a lndian pak was tactically short . unnecessary statements by PCB Afridi . Pak needs leader like misbah cool compose. i see sarfaraz ahmed busy player wasted in this WC T20 at 7 OR 8 Future captain. sarfaraz will captain T20 ODI. YOUNUS misbah for tests. Mukhtar ahmed seen vs ZIM where is he? Rizwan haris sohail junaid khan fawad alam where are they? what about sohail khan bowler world cup 2015 where is he just vanished?

  • Alibaba2016 on March 25, 2016, 19:53 GMT

    The real culprit is Waqar (the coach). He plays favorites and selects whoever he likes. Next, Shoib Malik should be axed too. He is the one that lost all these matches by scoring run a ball or less. He wants Afridi out and his control in his team. Hafiz and Akmal are other culprits who have joined Malik. Go and watch Malik's conference; he clearly wants Afridi out like he did with Inzi, Younus, Yousuf. Hafeez faked injury so that he can be brought back after Pakistan exit. Unless these culprits are not changed, Pakistan is down hill.

  • rohan34mca on March 25, 2016, 19:37 GMT

    Historically, there have always been rifts in Pakistan team. However earlier players learnt the art of keeping the rifts outside the boundary line. Somehow I feel that skill was not inherited by the current lot.

  • mansoor777 on March 25, 2016, 11:09 GMT

    Kiwirockers you are 100 percent right . Amkal and Malik should be removed . Waqar your last match as coach today. please make your way . first try to be good human being and than coach. Sarfaraz should be promoted in Batting order along with Captaincy

  • JohnnyRook on March 25, 2016, 9:08 GMT

    I agree with the author. Looking from an Indian perspective, Pakistan's coach, players and fans seem to have given up which is very strange. It is not like they are out yet. In fact their NRR is better than India and Australia. It makes no sense to be so negative and start giving decisions on whether team deserves to be in semis or not till the results are out. Things may change all of a sudden. Just look at India Bangladesh match or just its last 3 balls, for that matter.

  •   Khaista Rehman on March 25, 2016, 8:13 GMT

    Malik you do,t want to be a captain but you want that Afridi should leave the cricket like you did with the legends, Inszi, yousaf, younis, gul, asad, ajmal. You need hold on team with your group of hafeez, shahzad and ukmal. u want hafeez as captain, butt and asif to be return and you will do the things what you want. In this you and your group will always confuse the cricket fans and will enjoy everything.

  • Regumrex on March 25, 2016, 8:12 GMT

    Pakistan team is not as bad as it is made out to be. It has so far played all good teams. Its problem is poor match exposure, politics being played in cricket etc etc.

  • Nivalink on March 25, 2016, 7:49 GMT

    Problem with Pakistan has been that for a long times its been a team of individual brilliance supported by warped thinkers. Sarfraz their best performer hardly gets to bat against NZ, Afridi is clearly unfit, Umar Akmal complains to Imran about his position, next match he is given that and he scores 24 of 26 and deflates the chase. Best teams have a clear leader and a set of consistent performers (Including the leader and including a much forgotten dimension in Pakistan called fielding). Pakistan lacks both. Bangladesh against India was a much smarter team than Pakistan thinking and executionwise. Pakistan should shake themselves from fools paradise and start addressing real issues.

  • JayrajKarnik on March 25, 2016, 7:41 GMT

    Sharjeel should be the first one to be axed from the pakistani team. Right after his selection from PSL,he has played just one good inning. Shehzad should be groomed for leadership in all formats. Having young leaders always helps. Look at how Willamson and Kohli have been handed the leadership of their sides and how well they performed. Pakistan should groom young players instead of persisting with players like umar akmal and sharjeel. Just for information,umar akmal's strike rate in t20Is is just 122

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