Pakistan in search of one last miracle
Pakistan are still alive in this tournament. You wouldn't guess it from the lack of optimism in the voices in the press conferences, or the lack of intent in their nets sessions. They need to beat Australia on Friday, and then hope that Australia beat India. Then they stand a good chance of being in the clear on the net run rate. Yet the lack of optimism was perhaps best summed up by coach Waqar Younis after the loss to New Zealand. Presented a similar scenario, he said, "If you say we can keep our hopes up, but the way we have been playing is regrettable. Don't think we deserve…"
A day before facing Australia, Shoaib Malik mostly answered questions related to rifts within the team. He is seen as someone who would like to be captain again, and Shahid Afridi is on his way out. There have been other reports of batsmen unhappy with their batting positions.
Malik's answers were about the relationship between the players, and there was a defence of his own selflessness. He said the team was united, that he is a team man, that he gave up the captaincy of his PSL team, that he quit Test cricket so that youngsters could break through, that Afridi is like a big brother, that the team would love to win this World T20 for Afridi, who is retiring after this.
There was also an unconvincing reply to whether Pakistan truly believe they can beat Australia and what Malik thought of Waqar's lack of optimism. "When you lose, you are disappointed," Malik said. "In the heat of the moment, even wise people can say or do unwise things. I am sure Waqar didn't mean to say we have no chance of beating Australia. We are professionals; it doesn't matter if we go to the semi-final or not, our job is to give our 100%. This is our opportunity. This is a big event, yes, but you learn that tomorrow is a new day. There is a day after that. There is a new tournament after that. Our first goal is to win tomorrow."
In Afridi's moving up the order, in not sorting out their fielding issues, in looking for boundaries and not for ones and twos, Pakistan have shown in Mohali that they have been looking only for miracles. The thing about Pakistan cricket, though, is that miracles can happen. The 2009 World T20 win was a miraculous one after a slow start. Asked how different this team was to those teams in 2007 and 2009, Malik perhaps summed up Pakistan cricket in his reply.
"If you compare 2009 team with this team, I would say skill wise this team is much better, but the 2009 team was more professional," he said. "Coming back to groups within the team, in the 2009 team, six of us were not talking [to each other] during the World Cup, but still we won that World Cup. When you lose, a lot of people obviously start talking, 'this should have happened or that should not have not happened.' But in 2009, it was so obvious, six of us were not talking [to each other].
"Yes, other teams have improved. They have very strong leagues in their countries and the best thing PCB did was we have PSL. It will take a bit of time to get cricketers from that league, but it is obviously a great sign for Pakistan cricket."
While it will take time to create those Twenty20 cricketers, the immediate concern for Pakistan in this World T20 is their fielding, their strategies and the lack of intent in their batting when boundaries are not readily available. It is a matter of skills. To pick the ball early, then to trust your batting enough to pick the gaps and finally be confident of being able to hit a boundary in a clutch situation.
These aren't skills that can be acquired overnight. Perhaps that is why Pakistan seem to have lost all optimism even though their chance of making it to the semi-final is not that outlandish. In their perfect scenario, they beat Australia and Australia beat India. That leaves all three teams on four points. Pakistan currently have the best net run rate, India the worst. So in this scenario, only a big win for Australia over India knocks Pakistan out.
The catch is, Pakistan need to beat Australia first, which is not a small ask for a team in this form. The question is, do they believe they can beat Australia? And even if they do believe they can do it, they will need an overhaul of attitudes, or a miracle through great individual performances. It is not always the best route to success, but Pakistan don't always take the best route.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo