This defeat hurts as, after the win against India, most of us assumed the final would be straightforward
If I was not aware of what happened in the cricketing world, may have been fooled to think Pakistan got knocked out at the very beginning of the tournament. Scrolling through social media forums, trolls and abuses are being hurled at players for their bad performance, asking for radical changes and drastic measures to turn the fortunes of the side altogether. Wait, why do we even need to dismantle a united squad and experiment just months before the much-awaited T20 World Cup?
Just a couple of days ago, I was listening to Wasim Akram’s interview about how PCB asked him to go to England rather than return home after a disastrous World Cup, in fear of a drastic backlash from the public. With a gleaming smile, Wasim later added, “where else am I supposed to go if I cannot come back home?” Now, this tale can be used as a story to lighten the mood, but to be fair, did we, the fans, not turn toxic after the defeat on Sunday? The match was not even over, yet keyboard warriors were ready to lash at those who failed and give them a fair share of criticism. Be it Babar, Shadab, Rizwan, or the entire middle order, no one spared as cricket fans presented their opinions as to how the team can be “fixed”
My mom regularly tells me a common Urdu phrase, “niim-hakiim KHatra-e-jaan niim-mullah KHatra-e-iimaan”, tells how not being a master of something leads you to only endanger the thing you believe you are an expert at. Unfortunately, this applies to the seasonal cricket fans who resume watching the game in major tournaments. Remember the time when Indian fans would fight by picking a side between Rohit and Kohli? Yeah, we used to make fun of them, thinking that in the end, it should not matter as if either one of them plays well, India does well. But, now you see fanbase picking sides between players like Babar, Rizwan, Shadab, and Shaheen? Their unity and compassion for one another on the field are exemplary, yet we have to create a fuss, in a bid to show who is the best. As a unit, their support for one another remains parallel to none, be it after Naseem’s heroics against Afghanistan, or post-second catch drop by Shadab. Be it happiness or sorrow, they are there for each other.
Sometimes I pity the people who do not watch cricket regularly and come up with their opinions after watching some tournaments. They dwell on cricketing opinions after looking at what the media presents to them. And the sports journalists in our country rely on selling anything negative to gain an audience. Be it the sports journalist who came up with the foolish idea that Shadab does not deserve to be in the playing XI, as he has lesser wickets than Rashid and Hasaranga, or the former cricketers at channels, advocating against most of the players in the team. Out of nowhere, Sharjeel Khan has emerged as a contender for the team, with his century as the focal point for this stance. Have you ever watched that innings? Three dropped catches, with two of them being very easy, against a bowling side that kept bowling him at his strength? On the International stage, you are not afforded the luxury of being gifted more lives or being bowled on your strong zone, as the opposition comes with their homework done.
When we are winning, everyone shows their happiness and support. However, when we fall, that’s when everyone reveals their true colors. Unfortunately, this applies to our team as former players/players axed from the team, come out with their PR, advocating for their return to the team. This time, it was Shoaib Malik who initiated this, followed by a long list of players who pinched salt onto our wounds. Imad Wasim, Kamran Akmal, Muhammad Amir, I may miss some names, but these cricketers quickly responded to the controversial tweet, indicating that their exclusion from the team was due to friendships within the team, rather than merit. Resisting the urge to write paragraphs explaining why these players deserve to remain excluded and how Malik backstabbed Babar, it is significant to point out this culture of PR for earning a place in the side. Also a big shoutout to players like Sarfaraz and Wahab Riaz, who worked on themselves to regain their spot in the team, after being dropped, rather than resorting to the media as a stepping stone.
At first glance, the current lineup may look as if it lacks a balance, but to counter the point raised by Malik, it is crucial to assess who he was hinting at. Asif Ali, who could be among the few, is a proper wildcard. If he plays well, within an over he can change the whole match, evident from his onslaught against Karim Jannat in the World Cup match against Afghanistan. However, frustrates with his early dismissals at times. That does not take away the fact that he will be the finisher for time to come, with his massive heaves being capable of sending the ball beyond the long boundaries of Australia. I mean, even the cricketing brain of Ricky Ponting made declared him to be a proper finisher, as he picked him for his Hobart side. Do you know more than him? Next, Khushdil Shah. Racking the record of most sixes in the domestic circuit, being consistent for Multan Sultans, where he smashed Haris Rauf for 16 with a ball to spare, in the final over to win the match, do we have a question of favoritism? Can Malik score quick-fire runs like them, leaving aside the fact that Malik struggles while hooking/pulling, which is much needed in Australia? Personally, I believe people who deserve a spot in the team, get ignored because of the PR campaigns of others. Remember Shaista Lodhi, a morning show host, posting stories about averages of Shoaib Malik after his exclusion? Shaan Masood, who performed in the domestic tournament to raise his chances of making a comeback, is unnecessarily being linked with the return of Malik, making his return controversial. People would later assume that his comeback was due to public pressure, while he worked hard for it.
Now it is time to address the elephant in the room, and I am referring to what went wrong in the final. While everyone is bashing the middle order, trust me, I am not their biggest supporter, the match was slipping away from our hands well before they came out to bat. Another controversial take, which I would like to compare this with, is that we lost the World Cup semi-final as Hassan Ali dropped the catch. Even though that drop left me depressed, broken, and featured in my nightmares, I beg to differ. It was just our speculation and hopeful imagination that it would be the case. The target was already too low for a heroic comeback as their tale can bat, not to mention Stoinis was still there. Same case here! With a required run rate of 14, and Hasaranga bowling, one of the best out there, winning was like a mountain to climb. It should have never reached this point, like how we should have finished the game against Australia when they were 98–5. Shadab admitted it is his fault that they lost, claiming that the dropped catch would have been the difference. Hence, he was welcomed with open criticism, some suggesting that he was too casual or has an attitude while forgetting he has been the best fielder out there for years.
For years, Pakistan has relied on a double-pivot approach, with Babar and Rizwan playing out for good 9–10 overs, laying the platform for others to accelerate afterward. While the common question would be as to why Pakistan is the only country to do that, let me remind you that the rest do not have the luxury of having two stellar stars capable of doing this, at their disposal. The problem in this Asia Cup has been the bad patch of Babar and the poor form of Fakhar. The top three were responsible for ensuring the match does not go away from our reach, but with two of them failing, all pressure was on Rizwan. Confused between smashing to lower the run rate or risk losing his wicket and exposing the sloggers, the dilemma paved the way for a soaring run rate as boundaries dried up. Although there are calls to drop Fakhar and move Babar at one-down, I am slightly against this approach. Firstly, you need to check how good Babar is in Australia. The stats speak for themselves! As for Fakhar, trust me, he is one good inning away from regaining his mojo, and then everyone would claim they always backed him. He was of paramount importance in Lahore’s PSL title. With so many matches to be played before the World Cup, it would not hurt to give them some chances to prove their worth. If it does not work out, Haider Ali or Shaan can carry the mantle of responsibility.
Give the kids a chance. The squad is still very young and inexperienced. While we mourn the loss, have you not thought that they are also hurt? First, the semi-final and now the Asia Cup Final. If we are saddened by these losses, the ones who play and invest every day and night for the sport, have a lot more at stake than us viewers. It is always easy to support when we are basked in glory, rather than when we hit a low. Beating India was a dream for most of us growing up. This squad achieved that twice within a year. Every day, they show glimpses of sheer brilliance, things that inspire you, and acts that make you love them even more. With the squad we have, there is hope that very soon, I will get to watch them lift a major trophy in the near future. And on that day, all the haters and critics would come forward, telling how they backed them all along. Set yourself apart and support them, even though watching them with nail-biting finishes weakens my heart.