What's in a loss? Familiar feeling of upswing lurks in Pakistan's World Cup campaign despite India pounding
The one-sided defeat to India may has taken attention away from the fact that Pakistan are still well-placed on the points table and have 7 more matches to go.
As debilitating as the hammering at the hands of India on Saturday was, it is worth remembering that Pakistan are still reasonably well placed on the World Cup 2023 points table. Having started their tournament with two straight wins, Babar Azam's men currently sit fourth with six matches still to play in the league phase.
Defeat to India tends to obscure everything else that has happened previously, which is why there might be a temptation to write off Pakistan's chances. But with a slew of matches to come, starting with the clash against Australia in Bengaluru on Friday, Pakistan's fate is still very much in their own hands. What's important in the next few days leading up to the tie against Australia, who themselves got on the board only on Monday following their conquest of Sri Lanka, is how well Pakistan recover from the Ahmedabad pounding and how quickly they put the feeling of being persecuted behind them.
As much for the massive margin of defeat - by seven wickets with nearly 20 overs to spare - as for the comments that have stemmed from the Pakistani camp with regard to lack of support from the stands, most notably from team director Mickey Arthur and head coach Grant Bradburn, Pakistan have copped a lot of criticism from their own folk, including several giants of the past.
Notwithstanding the touch of fragility to their batting beyond Babar and Mohammad Rizwan, and the depletion of their bowling in the injury-enforced absence of Naseem Shah, Pakistan can be taken lightly only at one's own peril. It's not sensible to dismiss Pakistan's chances this early in the piece, after just one defeat; it's not prudent to discard their chances even when they have been pushed to the wall, as happened in the 1992 50-over World and the 2022 T20 World Cup, both in Australia.
In both instances, Pakistan's goose appeared well and truly cooked after poor starts. More than three decades back, when the World Cup was played on a round-robin format for the first time with the nine teams playing each other in the league phase, Pakistan made a horror start. Beaten by West Indies, bowled out for 74 against England before the rain came to their rescue, outclassed by India and halted by South Africa, Pakistan had just three points after their first five games. They needed to win their last three matches to make the semis and Imran Khan's side did precisely that, defeating Australia by 48 runs, Sri Lanka by four wickets and New Zealand by seven wickets to storm into the semis. Victory against New Zealand in Christchurch in their final league tie was particularly noteworthy because the Kiwis had won their previous seven games on home soil.
Pakistan's reward for their late charge was another tilt at the Kiwis in the semis, this time at Auckland's Eden Park. Inzamam-ul-Haq's blazing 60 off 37 deliveries set up a four-wicket win and a tilt at England in the final, which Wasim Akram swung Pakistan's way with an all-round performance.
Their Phoenix-like rise reiterated how dangerous Pakistan can be when cornered. They may not be the most ferocious front-runners, but the moment elimination stares them in the face, they come roaring back; history was to repeat itself in Australia last year when Pakistan suffered narrow losses to India and Zimbabwe at the start of the T20 World Cup. Despite bouncing back with victories over Netherlands and South Africa, they stared at an early exit even in the event of defeating Bangladesh in their final encounter unless Netherlands upset South Africa. Lo and behold, that's precisely what happened! Pakistan celebrated their backdoor entry into the knockout phase by hammering New Zealand in the semis and earning a tilt at England in the final – how spookily reminiscent of 1992. There was no repeat of the final of 30 years back as England came home triumphant, but the spirit of Pakistan had once again asserted itself on the World Cup stage.
Compared with these two campaigns, Pakistan are far better placed this time, with so much cricket ahead and defeat to India by no means the end of the road. If anything, that is just a minor blip, a temporary setback unless Pakistan allow it to assume far more menacing proportions. Pakistan are as prone to implosions as they are to dramatic surges; it is up to the leadership group to ensure that the India loss is taken for what it is – a one-off at this point, nothing more sinister than that.
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