Pakistan cricket and its constant World Cup issues

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Every four years, the best teams in the world battle for supremacy at the Cricket World Cup, and like always, Pakistan Cricket Team seems underprepared for the mega event.

For the first three editions in 1975, 1979 and 1983, all the teams were trying to make a mark in ODI Cricket and with West Indies’ supremacy and India’s luck, only these two teams managed to lift the trophies. However, it was only ahead of 1987 edition that World Cup was taken seriously as it came to the Indian subcontinent, was reduced to 50 overs and was played in front of humungous crowds in India and Pakistan.

That was the first time that Pakistan managed to field its best side, with Rameez Raja and Mudassar Nazar at the top, Javed Miandad, Ijaz Ahmed and Saleem Malik in the middle-order, Imran Khan and Manzoor Elahi as the all-rounders, Abdul Qadir as the ace spinner, Wasim Akram as the main pacer and Saleem Yousuf as the Wicketkeeper. Even in the team, Mansoor Akhtar and Saleem Jaffer were misfits as the former was there just because Imran Khan liked him, while the latter cost Pakistan a spot in the finals by failing to bowl sensibly in the semifinal against eventual winners Australia.

Then came the 1992 World Cup that we won, and if there ever was a book written on how not to select a team, Pakistan team’s selection for that tour will prove to be the ideal case study. An unknown, untested and unreliable Iqbal Sikandar was part of the squad after a much more experienced Iqbal Qasim refused to fill injured Abdul Qadir’s shoes; local star Wasim Haider was selected as an all-rounder but didn’t do much; a younger Moin Khan was preferred over the experienced Saleem Yousuf; Aamer Sohail and Aaqib Javed made it to the final XI because Saeed Anwar and Waqar Younis got injured while Javed Miandad was retained despite suffering from back problems. Even then, Pakistan managed to win the title because of Imran Khan’s courageous leadership, Rameez Raja’ timely centuries, Javed Miandad’s resurgence with the bat, Inzamam ul Haq’s power hitting and Mushtaq Ahmed’s surprise comeback after Iqbal Sikandar’s failure.

The teams that played in 1996 was ‘the best ever’ selected by Pakistan, but only on paper as after reaching the next stage, Captain Wasim Akram dropped out of the crucial quarter-final at Bangalore, then Waqar Younis and Aaqib Javed were hit all over the park before Inzamam ul Haq and Ijaz Ahmed proved why they were the most unreliable batsmen in the world.

Four years later, the so-far best Pakistan side was sent to the mega event where they were unstoppable due to many reasons; Mushtaq Mohammad’s innovative way of coaching gelled with Wasim Akram’s aggressive captaincy as they used Abdur Razzaq as a top-order batsman, went in with express fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar instead of a tired Waqar Younis and preferred an intelligent Saqlain Mushtaq over a rusty Mushtaq Ahmed; where Moin Khan rivaled South Africa’s Lance Klusener as the power-hitter, and Wasim Akram was at his fiery best. However, the suspicious losses to Bangladesh in the Super Six and Australia in the grand finale broke the hearts of all Pakistanis as they surrendered the Cup to Australia who weren’t even the favorites ahead of the tournament.

In 2003 Pakistan had a forgettable campaign as they crashed out of the first round; they lost to Australia, England, and India by huge margins and won matches only against minnows like Netherlands and Namibia. Although the team featured more or less the same players who helped Pakistan reach the final four years back, the spark was missing from the players who sort of refused to do anything right under Skipper Waqar Younis. To make matters worse, coach Richard Pybus also brought nothing new to the table despite the team having so many stars. It was a World Cup where only one century was scored – Saeed Anwar against India – and only two batsmen crossed fifty – Saleem Elahi and Yousuf Youhana – and somehow everyone knew that Inzamam ul Haq would not score more than 19 runs in the entire event.

Four years later, a team featuring ‘legend’ cricketers Kamran Akmal, Rana Naved ul Hasan, Danish Kaneria and Shoaib Malik and inept cricketers like Rao Iftikhar, Umar Gul and over-the-hill Azhar Mahmood was sent to the Caribbean and it proved to be disastrous. Not only did they fail to win against the West Indies, they were shown the door by Ireland a defeat after which their coach Bob Woolmer passed away as he couldn’t recover from the embarrassing loss against the minnows. Current Chief Selector Inzamam ul Haq was the man in charge of the campaign and although he cried after being dismissed for the last time, he was to be blamed for taking a team that everyone knew wouldn’t win to the mega event.

The last time Pakistan reached the semifinal stage of the World Cup was in 2011 when Captain Shahid Afridi bowled exceptionally well in the tournament to end as the leading wicket-taker but lost in the big match to a faulty Decision Review System, pathetic fielding and other factors such as crowd pressure in India. It was a miracle that they reached the last four considering they had the worst wicket keeper of the tournament on their side – Kamran Akmal – the most ambitious opener with no brain – Ahmed Shehzad – and the volatile Umar Akmal in the side. To add insult to injury, Waqar Younis was back but this time as the Coach and everyone remembers him as the man who fielded Wahab Riaz in place of Shoaib Akhtar despite knowing that he would have given his best against the arch-rivals. Their wins also include one each against Kenya, Canada and Zimbabwe besides eventual finalists Sri Lanka and defending champions Australia while their only loss in the group stages happened against New Zealand, a match where Kamran Akmal dropped two back-to-back sitters off Shoaib Akhtar, allowing Ross Taylor to score a century. They did win the Quarter Final against the West Indies but only after Ahmed Shehzad was dropped for being useless, if one puts down an appropriate word.

And then there was 2015 where everyone wanted the Coach Waqar Younis (again) to try Sarfaraz Ahmed as the wicket-keeper and opener but he delayed it to go with Umar Akmal who wasn’t even a regular custodian of the wickets, and Nasir Jamshed who wasn’t even in the initial squad. Then there were players like Ehsan Adil, Rahat Ali, Yasir Shah, Sohaib Maqsood, Sohail Khan, and Mohammad Irfan in the side and you can imagine how difficult it must have been for Captain Misbah ul Haq to lead the side. Even then, Pakistan managed to reach the quarter-finals defeating Zimbabwe, Ireland, United Arab Emirates, and South Africa, despite losing to India and the West Indies. In the Quarter Final, they lost to Australia although most Pakistanis remember the match due to Wahab Riaz’s quick bowling, but what good is such bowling when the opposition reaches the target with more than 15 overs to spare!

Moving on to 2019 and we have a team that seems to be more dependent on senior batsmen than senior bowlers; where the captain is scared of batting and sends youngsters in his place, where there is no spark in the batting line up especially in the lower half, where the most senior bowler is on the sidelines, while inexperienced ones are playing, where the selected leg-spinner is not even the best in the training camp, let alone in the country, where one opener bats at an even lower strike rate than what Misbah ul Haq’s was in the semi-final of World Cup 2011 but is retained due to his relationship with the Chief Selector and a more experienced and deserving candidate sit out for no reason. Is this the kind of unit we expect to do well at the World Cup? Is this bunch of players capable enough to win matches and reach the final of the tournament? Seems unlikely but that’s where the Pakistan Cricket team is good at – we only win when it is least expected from us.