June 7, 2013

Could it be Pakistan's turn?

The team return to the country of their previous scandals, but things look rosier now as Pakistan aim to win the Champions Trophy for the first time
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Cleansed of corruption and with their image appreciably rehabilitated if not fully restored, Pakistan once again find themselves key participants in an English summer. Their last two visits to these parts, in 2006 and 2010, were marred by damaging scandals that bookended an era so nightmarish that Pakistan supporters would not wish it upon their opponents. Thankfully the Oval forfeit is now distant history, and the spot-fixing mess a receding blemish in the rear-view mirror.

The last three years in Pakistan cricket have witnessed none of the crippling controversies from before that period, which has imparted an air of relative stability and calm. Misbah-ul-Haq's steadying influence as captain and senior figure, which began in the immediate wake of the spot-fixing crisis, has served as both balm and glue in this revival. During this period Pakistan have compiled a string of creditable performances, including a comprehensive series win over Sri Lanka, semi-final finishes in the World Cup and the World Twenty20, an ODI series victory in India, and - the biggest scalp - whitewashing England in a Test rubber in the UAE.

There has been no international cricket in Pakistani stadiums since March 2009, effectively rendering the team a bunch of nomads. Yet, if anything, this continuing adversity has motivated and sustained the boys. With pots boiling over elsewhere in the cricket world, the fate of other teams is also playing its part in making Pakistan cricket appear healthier and sturdier by comparison. For the first time in a long while, Pakistan don't look the most troubled cricketing nation around.

Even the bigger picture is beginning to look favourable. Islamabad has finally enjoyed a peaceful civilian transition of elected governments - the first such occasion in Pakistan's chequered 65-year political history. An energetic wave of optimism and hope is sweeping the country. Mian Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister-elect, has promised economic revival, energy reform, improved law and order, and peaceful regional relations, including with the all-important neighbor, India. He has not yet turned his attention to cricket, but Sharif is a well-known aficionado of the game and it won't be long before he does. Without him lifting a finger in the PCB's direction, his influence is already beginning to tell. Last week the Islamabad High Court suspended Zaka Ashraf from chairmanship of the PCB on grounds of a flawed ascension to the post. This would have been unthinkable prior to Sharif's election.

For the first time in a long while, Pakistan don't look the most troubled cricketing nation around

All these factors have whetted the appetite of Pakistani fans for the Champions Trophy. Of the three global competitions in which all the frontline teams participate, this is the only one that Pakistan have not won. Coming into this tournament, Pakistan are ranked sixth in the ICC ODI rankings, which feels about right, not just in terms of where Pakistan stand in comparison with the other teams but also as a measure of their prospects for the title. It does not help that Pakistan are sitting in the tougher of the two groups, alongside India, South Africa and West Indies. Still, the tournament is a short one and the format inherently unpredictable. As with previous editions, this one too is really anybody's trophy. You only need four victories - two within the group, plus the semi-final and final - to secure the top spot. Twice before, the Champions Trophy has been claimed by outfits that started as dark horses (New Zealand in 2000 and West Indies in 2004). English weather will be an added complication, since a rained-out match will mean split points.

Pakistan's greatest challenge will be for their batsmen to cope with the extravagant sideways movement that is a staple of English conditions. In the absence of Younis Khan (discarded for this trip because of dwindling ODI form), the anchor's role falls to Misbah by default. Asad Shafiq, the most technically correct batsman in the side, who recently notched up a highly competent century in Cape Town, will also be expected to step up. Beyond these two, the batting resources appear threadbare, particularly when compared to the riches that Pakistan's group mates are blessed with. Mohammad Hafeez, Nasir Jamshed, and Imran Farhat populate Pakistan's top order, but in stature and standing they are nowhere near the likes of Virat Kohli, Hashim Amla or Chris Gayle.

Inevitably the major burden of expectations will be shouldered by the bowling attack. Junaid Khan, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz are all capable of impressive pace, lift and movement. They comprise a relentless left-arm battery that could torment any side. They will be complemented - potentially to devastating effect - by Saeed Ajmal and Hafeez, currently ranked the second- and fourth-best ODI bowlers in the world. Waiting in the margins are the rookie seamers Asad Ali and Ehsan Adil, and the experienced Abdur Rehman with his nettlesome left-arm orthodox.

Pakistan's cricketers have arrived in the UK during what appears to be an increasingly difficult time for British society. A gruesome murder by a religious extremist on a busy London street in broad daylight has ignited widespread shock and anger, some of which is inevitably targeting the Pakistani immigrant community. Mosques have been vandalised and newspapers are speaking of Britain bubbling with anti-Muslim rage. As context, these developments are hard to avoid. These thorny circumstances are bound to make Pakistan's UK-based supporters all the more desperate for success, sportsmanship, and clean behaviour from the lads. It is impossible to say if the extra load will enhance or compromise Pakistan's chances, but there is no denying it is yet another variable in the mix.

The terminal status of this year's Champions Trophy adds to the ongoing debate about ODI cricket as a viable format. Yet this game has a funny way of reminding us of its uniquely mesmerising nature. With several teams more or less evenly matched, it is virtually certain that we will witness a few closely fought firecracker contests in the coming days. That could well silence the detractors of the ODI format, at least for a good while. Who knows, even the decision to discontinue the Champions Trophy may be withdrawn, and the competition may well receive a new lease of life.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ARIF3011 on June 7, 2013, 5:34 GMT

    Well, Pakistan side is quite strong in bowling and is capable of testing best of best batting line up in the world. This is true as long as skill matters. When it comes to dealing with pressure situation in a game, it is important that The Captain does not lose nerves which had been seen in Pakistan games in the past Champion Trophy and World Cup. Opposition teams know this weekness. I have seen quick & senseless bowling changes, crazy field placings start happening moment the batsmen start counter attacking. Bowlers' confidence go down and Pakistan lose initiative. So to back the best bowling attack that Pakistan has, it requires confidence boosting support and aggressive attitude of captain at "cruch time". They can win any cup for him!

  • on June 8, 2013, 20:54 GMT

    could it be pakistan's turn. no chance

  • S.Jagernath on June 8, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    After the first game,Pakistan are actually looking dangerous.Their bowling was really good & the batting was horrendous from everyone but 2 individuals.The thing is that those that failed are fairly dangerous players when they find their touch.So Pakistan need to iron out a few things quickly & they could own this title.Misbah Ul-Haq is a player Pakistan needed all through the last decade.

  • ilililililililililililililx on June 8, 2013, 12:01 GMT

    Pakistan has an immense bowling attack. Junaid is quick and 'nippy'. Irfan will trouble even the best batsman with his hight and speed. Wahab is shear pace and can reverse the ball nicely. The batting is however a problem. Fahat, Jamshed and Hafeez needs to give Pakistan a secure platform for Shafiq and Misbah to carry on and play their natural game. Then Shoaib and Wahab can finish with Misbah, consequently resulting in a high competitive total or a successful run chase.

  • jhabib on June 7, 2013, 20:49 GMT

    Could Pakistan try a right-arm fast medium bowler and a left-arm spinner just for giggles? Sure monotony has its place but why not hazard a change?

  • on June 7, 2013, 20:27 GMT

    Good to see Cricinfo commentators and writers suspending disbelief to claim Pakistan are the favorites. As to the question at hand: Is it Pakistan's turn? I think it is fair to say this question is about as optimistic as an appeal for LBW after the ball runs down to fine leg for 5 wides.

  • hoodbu on June 7, 2013, 20:11 GMT

    The author writes: "Their last two visits to these parts, in 2006 and 2010, were marred by damaging scandals that bookended an era so nightmarish that Pakistan supporters would not wish it upon their opponents."

    Correction: There is, of course, the small matter of the T20 World Cup victory in 2009.

  • aa61761 on June 7, 2013, 18:22 GMT

    Pakistan will be able to beat any team which has weak bowling attack. Teams with strong batting lineups will pose challange to Pakistan's bowling but won't be able to overcome Pakistan's bowling in English conditions.

  • pull_shot on June 7, 2013, 17:52 GMT

    This writer is always too optimistic same type of article before pakistan tour of south africa

  • Resultpredictor on June 7, 2013, 17:42 GMT

    Whenever the tag of favourites is given, Pakistan under performs or does not perform at all.

  • ARIF3011 on June 7, 2013, 5:34 GMT

    Well, Pakistan side is quite strong in bowling and is capable of testing best of best batting line up in the world. This is true as long as skill matters. When it comes to dealing with pressure situation in a game, it is important that The Captain does not lose nerves which had been seen in Pakistan games in the past Champion Trophy and World Cup. Opposition teams know this weekness. I have seen quick & senseless bowling changes, crazy field placings start happening moment the batsmen start counter attacking. Bowlers' confidence go down and Pakistan lose initiative. So to back the best bowling attack that Pakistan has, it requires confidence boosting support and aggressive attitude of captain at "cruch time". They can win any cup for him!

  • on June 8, 2013, 20:54 GMT

    could it be pakistan's turn. no chance

  • S.Jagernath on June 8, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    After the first game,Pakistan are actually looking dangerous.Their bowling was really good & the batting was horrendous from everyone but 2 individuals.The thing is that those that failed are fairly dangerous players when they find their touch.So Pakistan need to iron out a few things quickly & they could own this title.Misbah Ul-Haq is a player Pakistan needed all through the last decade.

  • ilililililililililililililx on June 8, 2013, 12:01 GMT

    Pakistan has an immense bowling attack. Junaid is quick and 'nippy'. Irfan will trouble even the best batsman with his hight and speed. Wahab is shear pace and can reverse the ball nicely. The batting is however a problem. Fahat, Jamshed and Hafeez needs to give Pakistan a secure platform for Shafiq and Misbah to carry on and play their natural game. Then Shoaib and Wahab can finish with Misbah, consequently resulting in a high competitive total or a successful run chase.

  • jhabib on June 7, 2013, 20:49 GMT

    Could Pakistan try a right-arm fast medium bowler and a left-arm spinner just for giggles? Sure monotony has its place but why not hazard a change?

  • on June 7, 2013, 20:27 GMT

    Good to see Cricinfo commentators and writers suspending disbelief to claim Pakistan are the favorites. As to the question at hand: Is it Pakistan's turn? I think it is fair to say this question is about as optimistic as an appeal for LBW after the ball runs down to fine leg for 5 wides.

  • hoodbu on June 7, 2013, 20:11 GMT

    The author writes: "Their last two visits to these parts, in 2006 and 2010, were marred by damaging scandals that bookended an era so nightmarish that Pakistan supporters would not wish it upon their opponents."

    Correction: There is, of course, the small matter of the T20 World Cup victory in 2009.

  • aa61761 on June 7, 2013, 18:22 GMT

    Pakistan will be able to beat any team which has weak bowling attack. Teams with strong batting lineups will pose challange to Pakistan's bowling but won't be able to overcome Pakistan's bowling in English conditions.

  • pull_shot on June 7, 2013, 17:52 GMT

    This writer is always too optimistic same type of article before pakistan tour of south africa

  • Resultpredictor on June 7, 2013, 17:42 GMT

    Whenever the tag of favourites is given, Pakistan under performs or does not perform at all.

  • ThyrSaadam on June 7, 2013, 17:26 GMT

    Could it be Pakistan's turn? - NO

    Atleast if they only plan on playing bowlers, where are the batsmen ?

  • gavbergin on June 7, 2013, 9:57 GMT

    AS a neutral cricket lover, I always love following Pakistan team. No other side so regularly provides such wildly unpredictable drama. The excellence and unconventional character of their recent legends, from Shoaib and Asif to Inzamam and Yousuf. Always something going on with those guys! The sooner Pakistan can host Tests again,the better for world cricket...

  • GRVJPR on June 7, 2013, 9:10 GMT

    For pakistan bolwers to be effective that fits have to put more than 175 runs.

  • CricketMaan on June 7, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    Kholi vs Junaid will be worth watching..they seemed to not like each other very much. its clearly Ind batting vs Pak bowling. I still dont see Ajmal as a threat, but he ceratinly will be very very economical. If that chennai match was any evidence, Irfan might be all over Rohit and Dhawan in that first spell. I''m all greared up to witness a tense, nerve wracking, nail biting, yelling, dramatic match with friends and family. I have to vote for India as Indian, but with a word of caution. Pak is known to create havoc when thier bowlers get it right! Whaddda match.

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    well. I am an indian and big cricket fanatic. I still remember the 90's time when indian team solely depend on Tendulkar . Pakistan were the force to reckon with many match winners likes of Imran,wasim,javed,anwar,moin,shoaib,saqlain and the list goes on.but still they were the massive underachievers in cricket with the quality they have in them in 90's era excluding 92 WC. suddenly they look down n out in late 2000's coz of other scandals took place(unfortunately).but u got to admire this Pakistan team lead by misbah. they are on a rise and credit to misbah this team is now favourites to lift CT. inspite not having that much quality which they did had in the 90's. misbah binded this team with great influence and now they are reaping fruits in the performance of their team. Misbah shud be allowed to captain till the time he retires from cricket. he earned this.. respect !

  • da_fighter on June 7, 2013, 7:46 GMT

    Well written article, although the absence of Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi could be damaging. Pakistan was supposed to groom the replacement of AR (Hamad Azam)but they are not giving him enough space and chances as an Allrounder. Dont try to do to him what Aussies are doing to Usman Khawja. Its strange to see that sohaib malik playing as an allrounder as he almost never bowls. I am guessing that the pakistani team on average will be the oldest in the tournment. Which is quiet alarming, i must say.

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:37 GMT

    nice article and yes u miss asia cup victory and thanks for praising Kaptaan Misbah

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:27 GMT

    It is first time in twelve years that Pakistan is without their mercurial all-rounder Shahid Afridi in an ICC tournament. In the last two tumultuous years that have passed, Pakistan have become a very different beast, but they are no less dangerous. Afridi is a fading force and the team is now characterised by the canny leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq, and his cerebral right-hand man, Mohammad Hafeez. It's no longer a case of Boom Boom or bust. This new rejuvenated Pakistan is much more street-smart than that. Let's Hope this Unpredictable and Flamboyant side can bring the Glory Home, So Cheers for ur team on every Moment and be seated on ur lucky seat to back ur team All the way!,,,so every body needs to set up to contribute to the team cause and write down the name of Pakistan in the History of ICC Champions

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:19 GMT

    good article. agree to most of it. Only thing Zaka's suspension has nothing to do with Nawaz Sharif winning election. There was basic error in Zakas election. They hardly involved gross root level . mean no lower level associations voted. it was just that they put 2 names infront of board of governors and 1 of them was sitting chairman. and they called it voting. whereas true spirit of ICC regulation was that they should involve lower level in election process. Zaka's tenure so far has been positive but if you want top change system completely then you have to avoid such loopholes.

    Agree, anybody's tournament, you have to win 2 games to be in semis and 2 to win title from there. Conditions also a bit easier because of warmness in weather.

  • Digitalbouncer on June 7, 2013, 7:08 GMT

    Nice article, I think Misbah has shown very matured approach towards handling media,dealing with players and in maintains the discipline in the team. He deserved to be recognized as someone who saved the face of Pakistan cricket in world cricket.He should remain captain till he maintain his fitness and performance.

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:05 GMT

    Pakistani batting is still fragile. Something tells me that it will be Eng this time.

  • hailianpak on June 7, 2013, 6:20 GMT

    not a bad article. But you for got to mention Misbah's winning of Asia Cup. And the last sentence looks incomplete.

  • on June 7, 2013, 6:09 GMT

    quite optimistic but Pakistani Cricket badly needs a high profile victory....

  • on June 7, 2013, 4:43 GMT

    but i really miss two big legends afridi and Razaaq PCB waste these two legends

  • on June 7, 2013, 4:07 GMT

    alaways read ur article ..gud to see dat u (someone) appreciates misbah...i think he has done wonderz in improving dressing room environment...best of luck team Pakistan!!!!

  • on June 7, 2013, 4:07 GMT

    alaways read ur article ..gud to see dat u (someone) appreciates misbah...i think he has done wonderz in improving dressing room environment...best of luck team Pakistan!!!!

  • on June 7, 2013, 4:43 GMT

    but i really miss two big legends afridi and Razaaq PCB waste these two legends

  • on June 7, 2013, 6:09 GMT

    quite optimistic but Pakistani Cricket badly needs a high profile victory....

  • hailianpak on June 7, 2013, 6:20 GMT

    not a bad article. But you for got to mention Misbah's winning of Asia Cup. And the last sentence looks incomplete.

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:05 GMT

    Pakistani batting is still fragile. Something tells me that it will be Eng this time.

  • Digitalbouncer on June 7, 2013, 7:08 GMT

    Nice article, I think Misbah has shown very matured approach towards handling media,dealing with players and in maintains the discipline in the team. He deserved to be recognized as someone who saved the face of Pakistan cricket in world cricket.He should remain captain till he maintain his fitness and performance.

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:19 GMT

    good article. agree to most of it. Only thing Zaka's suspension has nothing to do with Nawaz Sharif winning election. There was basic error in Zakas election. They hardly involved gross root level . mean no lower level associations voted. it was just that they put 2 names infront of board of governors and 1 of them was sitting chairman. and they called it voting. whereas true spirit of ICC regulation was that they should involve lower level in election process. Zaka's tenure so far has been positive but if you want top change system completely then you have to avoid such loopholes.

    Agree, anybody's tournament, you have to win 2 games to be in semis and 2 to win title from there. Conditions also a bit easier because of warmness in weather.

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:27 GMT

    It is first time in twelve years that Pakistan is without their mercurial all-rounder Shahid Afridi in an ICC tournament. In the last two tumultuous years that have passed, Pakistan have become a very different beast, but they are no less dangerous. Afridi is a fading force and the team is now characterised by the canny leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq, and his cerebral right-hand man, Mohammad Hafeez. It's no longer a case of Boom Boom or bust. This new rejuvenated Pakistan is much more street-smart than that. Let's Hope this Unpredictable and Flamboyant side can bring the Glory Home, So Cheers for ur team on every Moment and be seated on ur lucky seat to back ur team All the way!,,,so every body needs to set up to contribute to the team cause and write down the name of Pakistan in the History of ICC Champions

  • on June 7, 2013, 7:37 GMT

    nice article and yes u miss asia cup victory and thanks for praising Kaptaan Misbah

  • da_fighter on June 7, 2013, 7:46 GMT

    Well written article, although the absence of Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi could be damaging. Pakistan was supposed to groom the replacement of AR (Hamad Azam)but they are not giving him enough space and chances as an Allrounder. Dont try to do to him what Aussies are doing to Usman Khawja. Its strange to see that sohaib malik playing as an allrounder as he almost never bowls. I am guessing that the pakistani team on average will be the oldest in the tournment. Which is quiet alarming, i must say.