THE BLOG

Mercurial Pakistan Get Back To Their Winning Ways

07/03/2015 10:01 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
NEW! HIGHLIGHT AND SHARE
Highlight text to share via Facebook and Twitter
ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Pakistan team celebrate after their 29 run win over South Africa in their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

After a superb win over South Africa on Saturday, diehard supporters of Pakistan are beginning to see similarities between this World Cup and the one in 1992 (also played in Australia-New Zealand) when their country had won.

There is some hint of this for sure, and the sense of optimism in fans can't be pooh-poohed, but there is a heck of a lot of ground to be covered still. And question marks over the talent Misbah-ul-Haq has at his command - unlike Imran Khan in 1992 who had champion players like Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram - still remain.

In 1992, it might be recalled, Pakistan were on the brink of being ousted before the gods smiled on them. In the match against England, defeat seemed imminent after a batting collapse, when the skies opened up and the match was rained off. Points were split between the two teams, Pakistan got a foothold again in the tournament and the rest is history.

Twenty years later, after big defeats against India and the West Indies, Pakistan were teetering towards an early exit. The fact that Ireland beat Zimbabwe in a nerve-tingling climax in Saturday's other game would have made their task almost hopeless considering their poor run-rate had they lost to South Africa.

pakistan south africa

The Pakistan team celebrate after their 29 run win over South Africa in their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

Now, suddenly, they find themselves at number 3 in Pool B. A place in the quarter-finals not yet guaranteed, but the pressure will be greater on Ireland and the West Indies to stay alive for the next stage of the tournament.

Only two of these three teams can join India and South Africa (assuming they are not upset by UAE!) for the quarter-finals from Pool B. Pakistan have improved their net run rate considerably with the last win. Perhaps more importantly, they are beginning to look a far more cohesive and competitive side than in the first three weeks of the tournament.

How they managed to beat the fancied South Africans is now one of the more compelling stories of this World Cup. What looked like a stroll through to victory for the Proteas became a grim battle as the Pakistanis raised their performance admirably in defending a modest score.

The outcome of the match showed up the bowling strength, resilience and rising confidence of Pakistan. Simultaneously, chinks in the temperament of the South Africans surfaced worryingly once again.

"Like India's top order against the West Indies on Friday, the South African batsmen approached their task with a sense of misplaced disdain for the opponents."

As in the match against India, the South Africans showed a lack of gumption and strategy in chasing down a target. Barring de Villiers, who showed once again why he is ahead of every other contemporary batsman, the others were just too loose.

A smallish target can be deceptive and troublesome unless the batting strategy is well thought out. Like India's top order against the West Indies on Friday, the South African batsmen approached their task with a sense of misplaced disdain for the opponents. Unlike India who found a savior in M S Dhoni, South Africa stumbled despite de Villiers's heroics.

Of course, the Pakistan attack is more disciplined and consistent than the West Indies, but getting 233 should not have been such a big task for a batting line-up in which a player of the caliber of J P Duminy bats at number 7. The fragility of his players under pressure has rightly disappointed de Villiers.

What worked in Pakistan's favour is getting the combination right. Sarfraz Ahmed was brilliant with bat and behind the wickets. The folly of keeping a specialist wicket-keeper who is also an intrepid stroke-player on the reserves bench came through starkly.

But the key to Pakistan's revival in my opinion has been Misbah-ul-Haq, as batsman and captain, who has been under attack from all quarters, but has taken everything on the chin and moved ahead with stoic calm to keep his flock focused on the task on hand.

As batsman, Misbah has been a pillar of strength, giving his side stability and substance, match after match. His strike rate does not compare with the likes of Gayle, de Villiers and McCullum. But that is also because he usually walks out in a crisis where his main job is to hold the innings together.

"Misbah may lack the majestic, inspiring influence of Imran Khan but makes up for this with sheer doggedness of purpose."

He has done this admirably. Even more impressive perhaps has been Misbah's captaincy. He leads a team weakened by several star players absent for one reason or the other, but over the period of three weeks, sometimes through trial and error but largely through acumen, has coaxed fine performances from team, particularly in tight situations.

Misbah may lack the majestic, inspiring influence of Imran Khan but makes up for this with sheer doggedness of purpose. He has been at the helm long enough to know how volatile his players can be, despite their talent. Without Misbah, I venture, his team would fall into disarray easily.

How far Misbah can take Pakistan in this tournament is a moot point, but after a disastrous start, they now have a sliver of hope. Winning the title still seems far-fetched. But so it did with Imran and Co. in 1992. The best way now, as then, is to take it one match at a time.

Irrespective of how it finally pans out, having Pakistan play to potential adds substantially to the competitive interest in the tournament - as indeed to the sport itself.

More On This Topic