Hassan Cheema

Did Pakistan fail against Australia?

Given the circumstances, they actually did the opposite in the World Cup, bringing fervour back to their fan base

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema
Against Australia, Wahab turned into a fast-bowling equivalent of Javed Miandad  •  Getty Images

Against Australia, Wahab turned into a fast-bowling equivalent of Javed Miandad  •  Getty Images

So it came to fruition. Everything that we had been warned about, everything that we had learnt, turned out to be true. This team, particularly the batting, was just not good enough, as too often in the recent past.
The delicious irony was that they gave the lie to everything the Pakistani cricket fraternity has complained about. Pakistan played with big hearts, they played attacking shots, they picked their bowlers and the short boundary, they took the game to the Aussies. And they failed.
They failed not only because they did what all the ex-cricketers have been saying they needed to do, but mostly because they just aren't good enough. When players from Pakistan's generation of uber talents talk about possible remedies, they look at belief and body language, not at skill set - and that latter area is exactly where Pakistan have been falling short over and over again. They remain the only batting unit that can't play risk-free modern ODI cricket.
In a tournament where "300 is the par score" had become a cliché, Pakistan crossed 250 once. Those who had complained about aggression and body language were given final proof that this isn't the '90s - not that it will deter them the next time they commentate on Pakistan. A group of not-good-enough players proved that, well, they just weren't good enough. It was a final confirmation that a decrepit system produces flawed players. Pakistan will end the tournament as they started it - with just two players with averages north of 50, and just the lone man with a strike rate in excess of 90. And those are the two guys who have just played their last match in green.
Pakistan failed because they haven't moved on. They are products of a culture and a system that doesn't prioritise big innings or rotation of strike, nor does it put much emphasis on the concept of fielding. Every weakness that Pakistan have ignored over the years came to bite them. Perhaps this will become a catalyst to change, but alas, as with all things in Pakistan, once the rot sets in it almost feels like the locals try to work around it rather than look for a solution.
And yet, did they really "fail"? I'd rather argue that they succeeded. A flawed, limited team actually brought fervour back to the fan base. A tournament where the build-up was like God trolling Pakistan ended with them doing what they do best - they bowled; they bowled with jazba, with fire in their hearts and with no runs to defend. As it has always been. Pakistan batted like it was the '90s, but they bowled like that too. Some day the Pakistani bowlers will get the batsmen they deserve - with the current lot, and the current system, that doesn't seem likely.
Two men, in particular, stood out. One was the captain, finally losing his mask of stoic impassivity. Misbah's ODI captaincy turned out to be very much like a typical innings of his - there was stuttering and spluttering for most of the way, punctuated by unpredictable highs (for every #RandomMisbahSix there was a series win in India or South Africa or the Asia Cup), and then when it finally seemed too late, the burners were turned on and he went into overdrive.
Michael Clarke and Shane Watson were the ones given the most special of treatments. Those who had been used as a stick to beat Misbah with, particularly by the Pakistani narrative builders, were the ones on the back foot as Misbah went at them like they owed him money. Clarke getting caught at short leg in the middle overs, Shane Watson being bowled to with two men catching on the leg side for the short ball - for a man defined by his conservatism, Misbah's farewell was reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix playing with fire.
And talking of guitar solos, there was Wahab Riaz. It turned out that Osman Samiuddin's ode to his bouncer was premature, after all. Pakistani pacers have bowled better spells, they have bowled more beautifully and skilfully, but perhaps never has one bowled with the sort of great vengeance and furious anger that Wahab displayed on Friday. It wasn't subtle, it wasn't particularly smart, but it was devastating. It was a reminder to the world that even with no quality batsmen or great players left, Pakistan still have the ability and tendency to stand up when they are challenged.
It all began with Mitchell Starc and the Australian slip fielders having a go at Wahab. Immediately, one was reminded of the stories of the Punjabi village - there are always a couple of instances in every such village, remarked on as if they are the most natural and obvious retort in the world, where an outburst of verbal abuse is responded to with a hail of bullets. That was what Wahab did. Misbah brought him on earlier than he had done in any of the previous matches. And for five overs every ball had the menace of a bullet. It was the perfect embodiment of a man completely in the zone, bending the course of the match to his will, as if being moved along on the wings of gods. As a pure hair-raising spectacle, as a representation of the violence and frustration that marks Pakistan, it was beautiful in its savagery. In how he responded to the Australian sledging by going completely over the top with his own stuff, by taking their specialty and turning it up to 11, there was an old-school Pakistanism to it. Wahab, for a day, turned into the fast bowling equivalent of Javed Miandad.
He may never reach those heights again, but even for a man who has a five-for in a World Cup semi final against India this was perhaps the finest hour. Two years ago I referred to him as the desi Johnson (this was back in the days when Johnson hadn't sorted himself out); today I can say that again, but as a compliment. Wahab and Misbah took to the Australians on their patch, at their game, and scared the bejesus out of them. Did we really see an Australian crowd jeering menacing short bowling? Opposition fans live for decades without having that combination of adrenaline and schadenfreude.
In the end, though, Misbah and Wahab could only ever be Pakistani Davy Crocketts: the Alamo was always bound to fall. The question now is: will they be martyrs in a greater cause, a lesson for generations to learn from? Or will they be the latest in the line of those run over as Pakistan continues to mistake apathy for resilience? That is a question for the PCB to answer.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar