Cornered underdogs

Bilawal Bhatti is no Aaqib Javed; Yasir Shah no Mushtaq Ahmed. Should we still dare to hope, asks Daniyal Zahid

Cornered underdogs
Losing 10 of your previous 12 matches in the lead up to the World Cup is hardly ideal preparation for any team in any sport. Losing one of your star players on the eve of the aforementioned tenth loss squeezes out any of the remaining optimism.

Pakistan have been outclassed in every way possible during their two-match ODI series against New Zealand – the last international series before the ICC Cricket World Cup that starts on February 14, with New Zealand taking on Sri Lanka and Australia playing England – both high profile Pool A matches. Junaid Khan failing the fitness test has obviously made matters worse.
The team is not looking in any shape to overcome history and finally beat India at the World Cup

As far as ‘high profile’ goes, nothing tops Pakistan vs India, which will kick off Pool B on February 15. It’s a matchup that Pakistan has yet to vanquish – with the team not looking in any shape to overcome history and finally beat India at the World Cup. Even so, India themselves have a pretty ordinary squad for the conditions and would need a miracle of Pakistani proportions to defend their title, regardless of them upping the ante on Twitter hashtags.

No mention of Pakistan participating in a cricket World Cup is possible without bringing up 1992. The assertions of “bringing back 1992”, “repeating 1992”, etc. are being echoed by anyone who wants to sound optimistic about Pakistan’s chances in 2015. Repeating 1992 would mean a strategy of tossing the coin 10 times and expecting the same result; which doesn’t sound like ideal preparation for the biggest tournament in your sport.

The similarities between the current Pakistani squad and the World Cup winning squad from 1992 have been discussed everywhere. However, the most glaring commonality hasn’t quite been under the spotlight: the lack of quality within the ranks.

Despite teams from 1999 (runners-up) and 1987 (semi-finalists) being far superior in quality, it’s the 1992 team that has been touted as the benchmark for greatness, even though their victory was one of the most fortunate sporting triumphs of all time. One that relied on rain and the most uncanny of upsets. Even so, while both the 2015 and 1992 squads have an inspirational captain on the verge of retirement, everything else is a complete mismatch.

Moin Khan, Imran Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq celebrate the 1992 win
Moin Khan, Imran Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq celebrate the 1992 win

Younus Khan for example, despite being an all-time great in Tests, is nowhere near Javed Miandad when it comes to ODIs. He has scored one century in the last six years and has two scores of 50 or more in the last three years. Furthermore, he has scored two half centuries in three World Cups, with one of them being against Kenya. Younus Khan’s ODI record is ordinary by any standards; and even more abysmal when one juxtaposes it with his Test numbers – arguably the best for any Pakistani batsman.

With Junaid Khan gone, we don’t have the ‘Wasim Akram’ of 2015 either. Bilawal Bhatti is no Aaqib Javed; Yasir Shah no Mushtaq Ahmed.

While batting has never won Pakistan a lot, the bowling line-up, more worryingly, is as ordinary as Pakistan has ever taken to a World Cup.

However, if one were to dig deep into the reserves of optimism, one can extricate the fact that the 1992 squad was a mix of promising youngsters that went on to become greats of varying pedigrees. Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed – all playing a critical part in the triumph in 1992 – had a collective experience of seven years between them. And so this is an opportunity for the likes of Ahmed Shehzad, Sarfraz Ahmed, Haris Sohail, Sohaib Maqsood, Yasir Shah, Ehsan Adil to create their own legacies.

For the likes of Misbahul Haq, Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi the World Cup presents one last opportunity to make all their previous sins irrelevant and establish themselves immortal and all-time legends of Pakistan cricket.

The format of the tournament suits Pakistan, who have historically been the typical ‘on a given day’ team. Wins over Zimbabwe, Ireland and United Arab Emirates should be enough to see Pakistan through to the quarterfinals, after which it’s a matter of which of the last eight teams can win three matches on the bounce.

Pakistan needed a couple of miracles to qualify for the knock-out stage (semi-finals) in 1992, but they were easily the best side in the knock-out matches despite being the underdogs. Being the underdogs – minus the burden of expectation – has always helped Pakistan. And that’s precisely what they are going into the World Cup.

It all starts against India on the 15th. If the team gets off to a winning start, they can silence many of their detractors and garner much needed confidence. Although, ironically, getting back into the spotlight, with masses back home going hysterical and peddling the team as potential World Cup champions might work against the team.

If Imran Khan’s boys were the now famous ‘cornered tigers’, Misbah’s team are quintessential underdogs. And ‘underdogs defying the odds’ always makes an inspirational sporting tale.