Pakistan’s woeful display reflects larger problems within its cricket set-up

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“It wasn’t just a matter of disappointment but it was a painful experience to watch Pakistan play like that. The performance was very poor other then few individuals’ performances.”

These words weren’t uttered by an ordinary Pakistani cricket fan. After Pakistan lost against Bangladesh in a thriller on Wednesday and were knocked out of the Asia Cup, even the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Shaharyar Khan could not hold back from expressing his criticism of the team’s woeful display.

Inept batting displays

To be fair, Pakistan’s recent record in limited-overs cricket has not been the greatest so not much was actually expected from them in the tournament. But the manner of their capitulation was beyond comment. In three consecutive matches, Pakistan’s batsmen crumbled. Against India, they collapsed to 42/6 and against Bangladesh, were struggling at 28/4. Though they managed to pull off a consolation win against a depleted Sri Lankan side in their final group game, it came a little too late in the day.

Even if the displays against India and Bangladesh were to be excused, their performance against the United Arab Emirates defied cricketing logic. Against one of the minnows of international cricket, the top three in Pakistan’s batting order made scores of 11, 4 and 0 respectively to leave the team reeling at a shocking 17/3. The fact that they won the match due to a partnership between Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik does not take away from the shocking ineptitude on display in their batting.

Who beside Amir?

Die-hard fans may want to look at the bright side and sing the praises of Pakistan’s bowling unit but there are problems there too. Mohammad Amir’s magnificent show in the Asia Cup has overshadowed the fact that none of his supporting cast have performed up to expectations. Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Sami and Wahab Riaz arrived in Bangladesh with big reputations but they croaked when they should have thundered. Amir finished with seven wickets in four matches at a scarcely believable average of just over 11 but his compatriots failed to provide the necessary support.

When a team is down on its luck, it needs the comfort of an inspirational leader but even there, Pakistan have been found wanting. Shahid Afridi may be a folk hero back in Peshawar, but it is seriously worth discussing now whether the man even deserves a place in the team anymore, let alone the captaincy. His on and off captaincy does not help matters – after the World Cup in 2015, Afridi had announced that he would retire from international cricket after the World Twenty20. But days before the Asia Cup, he went on record saying he was reconsidering his retirement decision, due to “huge pressure” from family and friends.

As it turns out, the PCB chairman did not think much of his U-turns, wryly pointing out that Afridi was only made the Twenty20 captain on the condition that he would retire after the World Twenty20.

Chaos has been a constant factor of Pakistani cricket but the very best Pakistani teams, whether Imran Khan’s “cornered tigers” of 1992 or Misbah-ul-Haq’s young Turks more recently , have been able to channelise that chaos into a productive energy. That does not seem to be the case this time – with the exception of Amir, the rest of the Pakistan team seems scared and unsure. There seems to be no certainty about the final team with squad changes being considered even at the eleventh hour of the World Twenty20.

The worrying aspect is that there is no quick fix. Pakistan have fallen behind the tempo of modern limited-overs cricket. Considering the personnel they have at the moment, it does not seem likely that they will catch up any time soon. 

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