India v Pakistan, World T20, Group 2, Mirpur March 20, 2014

Pakistan need to ride the momentum wave

Could Shahid Afridi's last-over sixes in the Asia Cup game against India help Pakistan break their eerie, winless streak against their archrivals in the World Twenty20?
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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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • POSTED BY Rohit... on | March 23, 2014, 6:51 GMT

    @ SaudFaruqi : There is always a First Time...

  • POSTED BY m812 on | March 21, 2014, 12:27 GMT

    People who proclaim that India fared badly at Asia cup forget that both the matches in Asia cup ...one against SL and other against Pakistan went to the last over with only 2 (SL) wkt and 1 (Pak)wkt of opposition left and in both cases it needed an supreme effort from two of the highest experienced guys - Sangkaraa and Afridi to just scamper to a win. This was against a young team captained by Kohli with 2-3 new batters chasing just 250 score.

  • POSTED BY SaudFaruqi on | March 21, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    Pakistan has never lost on India on a Friday.

  • POSTED BY WatfordHarlequins on | March 21, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    We all know Pakistan have the momentum, but in my opinion its all about who handles the pressure best on the day. Quietly optimistic as a Pakistan fan but know what the Indian batters are capable of, and also Pakistan's susceptibility against bog-standard spinners (with all due respect to Ashwin, Jadeja, Mishra - look what they let Imran Tahir do to them not a very long time ago in the UAE). Umar Gul needs to hit the spot and the rest of the team should not let the fact that they haven't beaten India in ICC events over 2 decades get to them (which will most certainly be lurking around in the back of our players minds). With MS Dhoni back, Ajmal firing, Afridi in red-hot form this game should have it all. Looking forward to a cracking game and may the best team win!

  • POSTED BY WatfordHarlequins on | March 21, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    Great article Abhishek, well done. As a Pakistan fan, I am quietly optimistic but the fact that Pakistan haven't beaten India in ICC events for nearly two decades concerns me and without a shadow of a doubt, will be something at the back of our players minds. Both teams have some fantastic players and Dhoni is back, so should really be a cracking game. May the best team win.

  • POSTED BY Diehardfanofcricket on | March 21, 2014, 11:03 GMT

    Eagerly waiting for the first Match of the strong teams. India seems to have advantage over Pakistan, given the fact that they have won all the matches in the world cup against Pakistan. However, we can't ignore the Afridi factor of Pakistan, which i think is going to play a massive role in this game today. Its going to be a battle between India's mighty batting versus Pakistan's bowling. whoever plays well and handles the pressure of the Twenty20 internationals is going to win the match.. Hope Pakistan wins the match.

  • POSTED BY ibbani on | March 21, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    Good game. Let cricket win today, from the bottom of the heart, it would be India, Pak has not won any ICC matches against India. 5-0 in ODI, 1-0 in T20, 1 being ties, that also India won in bowl out.

  • POSTED BY MaruthuDelft on | March 21, 2014, 5:34 GMT

    Watching even Raina bowl is better than watching Ashwin. Why doesn't he coil his body to impart some spin on the bowl? Is he so unintelligent? Doesn't he believe physics? They say he is an Engineering grad; difficult to believe.

  • POSTED BY inaamghar on | March 21, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    pakistan needs to play freely if they play the match with the fear of losing tables might turn i will agree with the writer ,that with the momentum pakistan has it is pakistans game to lose

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 21, 2014, 4:09 GMT

    I don't understand why shoaib malik is in playing elevens. when was the last time he performed. all the hopes are from afridi and ajmal good luck pakistan

  • POSTED BY Rohit... on | March 23, 2014, 6:51 GMT

    @ SaudFaruqi : There is always a First Time...

  • POSTED BY m812 on | March 21, 2014, 12:27 GMT

    People who proclaim that India fared badly at Asia cup forget that both the matches in Asia cup ...one against SL and other against Pakistan went to the last over with only 2 (SL) wkt and 1 (Pak)wkt of opposition left and in both cases it needed an supreme effort from two of the highest experienced guys - Sangkaraa and Afridi to just scamper to a win. This was against a young team captained by Kohli with 2-3 new batters chasing just 250 score.

  • POSTED BY SaudFaruqi on | March 21, 2014, 12:03 GMT

    Pakistan has never lost on India on a Friday.

  • POSTED BY WatfordHarlequins on | March 21, 2014, 11:32 GMT

    We all know Pakistan have the momentum, but in my opinion its all about who handles the pressure best on the day. Quietly optimistic as a Pakistan fan but know what the Indian batters are capable of, and also Pakistan's susceptibility against bog-standard spinners (with all due respect to Ashwin, Jadeja, Mishra - look what they let Imran Tahir do to them not a very long time ago in the UAE). Umar Gul needs to hit the spot and the rest of the team should not let the fact that they haven't beaten India in ICC events over 2 decades get to them (which will most certainly be lurking around in the back of our players minds). With MS Dhoni back, Ajmal firing, Afridi in red-hot form this game should have it all. Looking forward to a cracking game and may the best team win!

  • POSTED BY WatfordHarlequins on | March 21, 2014, 11:24 GMT

    Great article Abhishek, well done. As a Pakistan fan, I am quietly optimistic but the fact that Pakistan haven't beaten India in ICC events for nearly two decades concerns me and without a shadow of a doubt, will be something at the back of our players minds. Both teams have some fantastic players and Dhoni is back, so should really be a cracking game. May the best team win.

  • POSTED BY Diehardfanofcricket on | March 21, 2014, 11:03 GMT

    Eagerly waiting for the first Match of the strong teams. India seems to have advantage over Pakistan, given the fact that they have won all the matches in the world cup against Pakistan. However, we can't ignore the Afridi factor of Pakistan, which i think is going to play a massive role in this game today. Its going to be a battle between India's mighty batting versus Pakistan's bowling. whoever plays well and handles the pressure of the Twenty20 internationals is going to win the match.. Hope Pakistan wins the match.

  • POSTED BY ibbani on | March 21, 2014, 9:36 GMT

    Good game. Let cricket win today, from the bottom of the heart, it would be India, Pak has not won any ICC matches against India. 5-0 in ODI, 1-0 in T20, 1 being ties, that also India won in bowl out.

  • POSTED BY MaruthuDelft on | March 21, 2014, 5:34 GMT

    Watching even Raina bowl is better than watching Ashwin. Why doesn't he coil his body to impart some spin on the bowl? Is he so unintelligent? Doesn't he believe physics? They say he is an Engineering grad; difficult to believe.

  • POSTED BY inaamghar on | March 21, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    pakistan needs to play freely if they play the match with the fear of losing tables might turn i will agree with the writer ,that with the momentum pakistan has it is pakistans game to lose

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 21, 2014, 4:09 GMT

    I don't understand why shoaib malik is in playing elevens. when was the last time he performed. all the hopes are from afridi and ajmal good luck pakistan

  • POSTED BY YesSirYesSirThreebagsfull on | March 21, 2014, 3:54 GMT

    Why are we refering to Asia Cup? Pak and SL made it to finals because Team India rest key players and take it easy on asia cup. We have won so many trophies that asia cup is not essential for us. If Team India play with full intense and strength Pak or SL not even have a chance. Today in WT20 best team will win and there is only one best team.

  • POSTED BY fzsTrio on | March 21, 2014, 2:19 GMT

    Good article. Pakistani team is peaking at right time.

  • POSTED BY Desihungama on | March 20, 2014, 21:28 GMT

    Yes, Pakistan would have surely broken the jinx some time ago had Afridi played in more WC matches against their arch rivals. That hard to find credible explanation is nothing but mental aspect of the game which is in itself ironic enough considering Pakistan boast better one on one record. In fact beauty of the rivalry is both sides can boast of their cherished records against each other and so does the fan.

  • POSTED BY on | March 20, 2014, 21:27 GMT

    GO Greens do us proud and break the jinx! infact the durban t20 from 2007 was a tie between the 2 sides!

  • POSTED BY WeeBee on | March 20, 2014, 20:56 GMT

    I am not a very big fan of Afridi, But i really want him to do something BIG tom. I am really looking forward for a big game tom. All my prays are with Pakistan , at the end it is just a sport , dont make it war.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 20, 2014, 20:50 GMT

    superb opposition stunned victory snatched from jaws of defeat Pakistan style that is the reason international cricket is boring without Pakistan

  • POSTED BY on | March 20, 2014, 20:34 GMT

    Afridi is #7 batsman, and a #7 batsman need a lot of runs on the board to go try out big hits. In Asia Cup Fawad Alam provided that, here he is not. Instead, we have tried and tested failures like Shoaib Malik and the keeper from hell K Akmal

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  • POSTED BY on | March 20, 2014, 20:34 GMT

    Afridi is #7 batsman, and a #7 batsman need a lot of runs on the board to go try out big hits. In Asia Cup Fawad Alam provided that, here he is not. Instead, we have tried and tested failures like Shoaib Malik and the keeper from hell K Akmal

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 20, 2014, 20:50 GMT

    superb opposition stunned victory snatched from jaws of defeat Pakistan style that is the reason international cricket is boring without Pakistan

  • POSTED BY WeeBee on | March 20, 2014, 20:56 GMT

    I am not a very big fan of Afridi, But i really want him to do something BIG tom. I am really looking forward for a big game tom. All my prays are with Pakistan , at the end it is just a sport , dont make it war.

  • POSTED BY on | March 20, 2014, 21:27 GMT

    GO Greens do us proud and break the jinx! infact the durban t20 from 2007 was a tie between the 2 sides!

  • POSTED BY Desihungama on | March 20, 2014, 21:28 GMT

    Yes, Pakistan would have surely broken the jinx some time ago had Afridi played in more WC matches against their arch rivals. That hard to find credible explanation is nothing but mental aspect of the game which is in itself ironic enough considering Pakistan boast better one on one record. In fact beauty of the rivalry is both sides can boast of their cherished records against each other and so does the fan.

  • POSTED BY fzsTrio on | March 21, 2014, 2:19 GMT

    Good article. Pakistani team is peaking at right time.

  • POSTED BY YesSirYesSirThreebagsfull on | March 21, 2014, 3:54 GMT

    Why are we refering to Asia Cup? Pak and SL made it to finals because Team India rest key players and take it easy on asia cup. We have won so many trophies that asia cup is not essential for us. If Team India play with full intense and strength Pak or SL not even have a chance. Today in WT20 best team will win and there is only one best team.

  • POSTED BY android_user on | March 21, 2014, 4:09 GMT

    I don't understand why shoaib malik is in playing elevens. when was the last time he performed. all the hopes are from afridi and ajmal good luck pakistan

  • POSTED BY inaamghar on | March 21, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    pakistan needs to play freely if they play the match with the fear of losing tables might turn i will agree with the writer ,that with the momentum pakistan has it is pakistans game to lose

  • POSTED BY MaruthuDelft on | March 21, 2014, 5:34 GMT

    Watching even Raina bowl is better than watching Ashwin. Why doesn't he coil his body to impart some spin on the bowl? Is he so unintelligent? Doesn't he believe physics? They say he is an Engineering grad; difficult to believe.