Pakistan need to ride the momentum wave
Momentum is one of the most frequently tossed around words in cricket. Teams claim they want to pick up early momentum in a tournament. Captains will analyse defeats and say their side conceded the momentum. Teams are said to have gained or lost momentum. It changes hands, sometimes suddenly, often without anyone being able to point when exactly. At times, the shift is so decisive and so obvious, the momentum remains firmly with its new owners for a considerable period and the moment when it changed hands assumes historic significance. One standout instance is Javed Miandad's last-ball six off Chetan Sharma in the Austral-Asia Cup final in Sharjah in 1986.
What can a piece of wood smacking a piece of leather-and-cork over a rope achieve? It can launch an entire generation, or two, of dominance over your fiercest rival. It can create myths. It can imbue in the victors an aura that renders them invincible and scars the vanquished into meek surrender. For years to come.
Comparisons are tempting, and have been tried assiduously after Shahid Afridi's successive sixes in the final over off R Ashwin in the Asia Cup in Mirpur earlier this month. Numerous uncanny statistical similarities have been discovered. It has been said before, but it is worth repeating: Afridi is no Miandad, and 2014 is not 1986. It is hard to imagine MS Dhoni and his fellow superstars succumbing to prolonged mediocrity against Pakistan, under the spell of Afridi's blows.
Perhaps we should resist temptation and look instead at the immediate future and at what Afridi's deed could mean for the World T20 opener between India and Pakistan. Forget constructing eras out of sixes for the moment. Could it help Pakistan break this eerie, incredible winless streak against India in World Cups and World T20s that has now stretched to more than two decades? It is hard to find a credible explanation for just why Pakistan have not defeated India at a World Cup or a World T20, even in the years when they have bossed their archrivals otherwise.
This momentum business is fickle, but it may just push Pakistan to finally end the jinx, which has been an arguing point among both sets of fans for nearly as long as it has lasted. Mohammad Hafeez is right in saying that momentum has turned to Pakistan's side after Afridi's night less than three weeks ago. How often do you down your biggest opponent by one wicket in the last over with the help of consecutive sixes?
Probably, those epic swipes may have played out a few times since the game in the minds of the Indians who were on the field in Mirpur that night, even though Dhoni stated an emphatic "No" when asked if those Afridi heroics would have any bearing on the T20 match on Friday.
Whatever Dhoni might believe, and whether the Indians have had such visions or not, what Afridi may have likely spurred Pakistan to do is to play like Pakistan, something several recent teams from the country have had trouble doing against India.
Take the previous World T20 in 2012. Pakistan had won three successive games playing the brand of cricket they have been known for, and which has made them arguably the most exciting international limited-overs side. In their previous game, they had been 76 for 7 chasing 134 against South Africa. In came Umar Gul, and crashed three sixes on his way to 32 off 17. Opposition stunned, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, Pakistan style.
Then Pakistan ran into India, and astonishingly, they clammed up, mutating into a dull group that retreated further and further to the point of no return. Hafeez set the tone with a momentum-destroying 15 off 28 balls at the top of the order after deciding to bat. It was about as un-Pakistani a performance as possible from the side.
Two days later, Hafeez and his men put in an electric display with the ball and on the field, suffocating the might of Australia's power-hitters to surge into the semi-finals ahead of the Indians. It was clear that the admittedly enormous pressure of taking on the neighbours had made Pakistan bottle up the way they did.
Which is why the initiative Afridi wrested for them in the Asia Cup could be so crucial going into the World T20. Of course, the odds that Afridi himself might end the jinx are about as good as those of finding a Dhaka thoroughfare not choked with vehicles in the evening.
It is in Pakistan's favour that only 19 days separate the two matches. It is far too less time to surrender that kind of momentum after Afridi roused them that night. It may not have been Miandadesque. But it was as Pakistani as 1986 was. And probably therein lies Pakistan's lesson.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo