By Khalid Hussain –
At the moment there seem at least a dozen reasons why Pakistan appear unlikely to repeat their 1992 World Cup triumph Down Under
When Pakistan went to Sri Lanka last summer, hopes were high that Misbah-ul-Haq and Co will conquer the islanders in the brief series that included two Tests and three One-day Internationals. After all, the team looked good, at least on paper, while the return of Waqar Younis as Pakistan’s coach also seemed like a promising development.
But the script went horribly wrong for Pakistan. They lost both the Tests in Galle and Colombo and also fell in the ODI series. Now, the Pakistanis are in the U.A.E. where they host Australia in a ‘home’ series in October that consists of a sole Twenty20 International, three ODIs and three Tests.
Pakistan are looking to kick-start the final phase of their World Cup preparations with the series against Australia. It would be followed by a similar contest against New Zealand, also in the U.A.E., before the national team leaves for Australia which would co-host next year’s ICC World Cup with New Zealand in February-March.
The fact that the back-to-back series against the World Cup co-hosts will be played just a few months before World Cup 2015 gives the forthcoming matches in the U.A.E. added significance. Having suffered morale-shattering losses in Sri Lanka, Pakistan cannot afford similar defeats in the lead up to the World Cup. The national players will need to really raise their game to come at par with the Aussies, who have one of the best Test teams in the world and have come to the U.A.E. with well-oiled ODI and Twenty20 outfits.
Pakistan would have fancied their chances with the wily Saeed Ajmal in their squad but the prolific off-spinner will not play in the series against Australia and is also likely to miss the matches against New Zealand because of an International Cricket Council (ICC) ban over an illegal bowling action.
Things look gloomy for Pakistan but ask Waqar Younis and he will tell you that there is still hope for Pakistan not just against Australia but also in World Cup 2015. “You can never write off Pakistan,” he told Pique in an interview. “The formbook might suggest that we are not a major contender but my expectations aren’t low,” added Waqar, the former Pakistan captain currently at the helm of the national cricket team as its head coach.
Waqar, 42, believes that for Pakistan being labeled as one of the underdogs ahead of World Cup 2015 is a “blessing in disguise”. “Sometimes it’s good to be the underdogs because there are less expectations and that means less pressure on the team. As a coach, I believe that’s not a bad thing,” he stressed. Maybe Waqar is trying to put up a brave face.
At the moment there seem at least a dozen reasons why Pakistan appear unlikely to repeat their 1992 World Cup triumph Down Under. Let’s begin with the team’s perennial batting weakness. The rot begins from the top of the order as despite trying various opening combinations over the years, Pakistan are yet to come out with a solid and reliable pair to face the new ball. The middle-order also comes across as a brittle one considering that Pakistan have ignored the seasoned Younis Khan at a time when skipper Misbah is experiencing a barren run of form.
In the past, Pakistan would overcome their batting flaws with their help of their potent bowling arsenal every now and then. But currently even Pakistan’s bowling look toothless especially with Ajmal, their chief wicket-taker, unavailable.
The team’s morale, too, has dipped because of a variety of reasons. The losses in Sri Lanka severely dented the team’s confidence while the recent episode of Younis Khan highlighted the fact that all’s not well in Pakistan’s dressing room. The former captain lashed out at selectors for axing him from Pakistan’s ODI squad and challenged them to build a Test team without him. It was ugly, to say the least.
In such a scenario, expecting Pakistan to perform really well at the World Cup, something they haven’t done since reaching the 1999 final in England, seems like expecting too much. But Waqar doesn’t agree. “The odds are against us, I know that,” he said. “Our team batting needs to really show spine while our bowling also requires improvement. But that said, I would still say that I’m quietly confident about my team’s chances.”
Waqar has his reasons to be optimistic despite the fact that everything seems to going against his team.That’s because he has seen his boys rise in worse conditions in the past. He was Pakistan’s coach when they put aside the bitter memories of a highly embarrassing spot-fixing scandal to reach the World Cup semifinals in 2011.“I still believe that we could have won that World Cup,” he said. “It was a perfect opportunity for us,” he added.
“Our team is not much different now. We have senior players like Misbah and Afridi and several talented youngsters like Sohaib Maqsood, who give me hope. Then we have a match-winner in Mohammad Irfan.”Waqar believes that as coach his biggest task is to turn his under-achieving team into world class fighters. He wants to play the role that Imran Khan played back in the early nineties. “We weren’t the favourites when the (1992) World Cup began but still went on to win it,” Waqar said. “In 2011 we could have repeated that triumph but our team failed to show any killer instinct when it mattered most,” he said referring to the World Cup semifinal against India in Mohali.
“Like in the nineties we will need to show faith in youngsters. What we also desperately need is to learn to come out of our shell and be an aggressive team. That’s been our strength and we need to use it as an asset instead of thinking it as a burden. “We used to do that in the 1990s and that was the time when Pakistan did best.” Waqar is exuding confidence ahead of the World Cup and that’s a good thing. What would be better for the sake of Pakistan is that they translate this confidence into victories in crucial matches. Otherwise, the Pakistanis would once again return empty-handed from their quest to regain the World Cup.