If we play a game where you give me a word and I have to come up with an answer that best describes the word, phrases like ‘enigma’ , ‘abrupt’ , ‘unannounced’, ‘unpredictable’ will just have one answer – Pakistan Cricket Team. Their performance over the years has managed to leave spectators dumbfounded. Some afternoons they are found chasing 350 odd runs and some other day, one questions their ability to even play international cricket. Pakistan’s performance set has always been equal to an intersection of their batting set and the bowling set. A union of both the sets have given them memorable victories. I believe that‘Batting collapses and Pakistan are those two friends who cannot live without meeting each other every 15 days. On the other hand, bowling and Pakistan is that romantic couple that cannot ever be separated for eternity.’
Last time, Pakistan played the World Cup in the southern hemisphere, they ended up as world champions. A belligerent knock from Inzamam-ul-Haq in the semifinal vs. NewZealand and the 2 swinging deliveries from Akram bhai in the final vs the spineless England, turned out to be talking point of the tournament. 1992 WC champion Pakistan team produced champions that ruled cricket world for a decade. But more importantly, they had a leader who believed in the pack. Over the years, Pakistan cricket has been a little over dependent on their leader to perform for them. Be it Imran Khan’s all round heroics in 1992 WC final that gave them the WC or Wasim Akram’s fine performance in 1999 WC. I will not shy from saying that the one reason Pakistan did not do well in the 2003 and 2007 World Cup, was their captain failing to make a mark during the tournament. Other teams have players who raise their hands and say I will stand up to the situation. Speaks a lot about the Pakistan dressing room atmosphere where the players look at the Captain to raise his hand.
Pakistan finds itself in a very similar situation in 2015. Misbah-ul-Haq from Mianwali (same town as that of Imran Khan) will lead Pakistan at the age of 40 (same as Imran Khan when he won the world cup). Misbah will be entering a tournament with an injury and with a hope of regaining the championship. The 15 man squad for 2015 WC has some serious match winners. When you hear names like Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Irfan and a couple of young and promising bowlers like Sohail Khan and Yasir Shah, one would believe they have every weapon in their armory to win every game, including the final. When we talk about the potential in the players, Pakistan ranks high above teams like India, England, West Indies and New Zealand. Pakistan will definitely miss the services of Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan, but they have the players who can make a
difference at any stage of the tournament. It will be interesting to see how Pakistan think tank converts this potential in the players into consistency.
Pakistan coach Waqar Younis was glad that his team was not considered as the favorites to win the title. This approach makes Pakistan a more formidable team. A team that has nothing to lose at any stage of the tournament. With matches against India, West Indies, UAE, Ireland, Zimbabwe – Pakistan has a chance of standing 2nd in the Pool B. Given the odds of the results from Pool A, Pakistan might end up facing England / Sri – Lanka in the Quarter-Finals. When it comes to knock out stages the experience of a player takes a back-seat and you just need any one batsman and any one bowler to perform at their best. Remember, Wahab Riaz was only 16 ODI’s old when he rattled the mighty Indian batting line-up in the 2011 World Cup Semi-Final. Unfortunately, Pakistan did not win the game but created an equal chance of entering the finals in 2011. However, this time around, Pakistan can go all the way to the finals. Like any other team, they need 3 good games (after the hard work in the league) with an army of match-winners. One has to agree that players like Wahab Riaz, Shahid Afridi, Hafeez, Umar Akmal, Shehzad can single-handedly win the matches for Pakistan. It is the format of the tournament that gives the license to each of these players to go for the kill in the knock-out stages.
If we were to apply the Bayesian Updating technique where we calculate the probability of any team qualifying for the Finals given the potential, the talent and the match—winners in their team, then Pakistan stands right up there, for me. In 1992, they realized they could win when they qualified for the Semi-Final. Here too, the story could be the same and Pakistan might have a different hero in Misbah/Afridi that might end up defining Pakistan cricket for the next decade. However, given the batting conditions in Australia and New Zealand and the pace of the pitches, Pakistan will have to be more disciplined than earlier. We have to remember that ability and potential can only open the 1st door (Quarter-Final), may be the 2nd door (Semi-Final) but only discipline can take you beyond the 3rd door (The Final).