Pandya's Shrug: A Celebration That Left A Hollow Feeling

Pandya's shrugging-of-the-shoulder gesture was like an arrow at a gazillion miles an hour aimed at every Pakistani's heart, and trust me, it penetrated various parts of the blood-pumping organ to puncture it indefinitely! 

Pandya's Shrug: A Celebration That Left A Hollow Feeling

My son, and I couldn't stop discussing the effect of that unique celebration and it's nauseating impact on us. I am sure it had the same effect on millions of Pakistanis watching the game across the universe. The image of that nonchalant shrug just would not leave me, and I couldn't sleep. The insult was too much to digest. 

The next day, sipping my Spanish latte after Pakistan's debacle against India in New York and still carrying a broken heart and the feeling of being insulted yet again by our arch-rivals in a major tournament, everything still feels rather colourless, and I could not get rid of the aftermath of the Pandya shrug.

Somehow, I am left feeling empty and hollow because of Pakistan's loss to India in a game that we really should have won without breaking much of a sweat. The shrug made me feel minuscule, and all due to the incompetence and greed of the 11 men in Green.

The match had been set up brilliantly by our bowlers, only for our incompetent batters to throw it away without feeling an inkling of embarrassment. I say this because, at the end, young bowler Naseem Shah was howling and balling his eyes out, not the defeat-immune batters who failed to do a simple job for the umpteenth time.

Once upon a time, we were world champions. Those proud Pakistani teams from years past could have never made us feel so small, sad, and inconsequential so repeatedly.

I am not saying we never lost easy games during the heydays of the 1980s or the 1990s, but some impossible ones were won as well, and hence, things balanced out nicely. But now, we never really win anything substantial under Babar Azam. In fact, we have gained a reputation for squandering the easiest of opportunities, snatching defeat from the jaws of certain victory. Take, for example, the Asia Cup or the World Cup finals. All because we were unprofessional, incompetent and too cowardly to attack when the opposition was under the cosh.

It was all due to bad leadership

Anyway, saying all this makes me sound like a broken record. So, let us move on from the latest debacle.

I almost died inside when I saw Pandya nonchalantly shrug his shoulders as if to say that this Pakistan team is no big deal

To be honest, what really got under my skin was a moment that I saw, as did many others, during the second half of the World Cup game against India on June 9, 2024, as Pakistan's batting order once again crumbled. On the sluggish New York wicket, both teams seemed to be in trouble while batting. A batting powerhouse like India skittled out for 119 runs seemed to have momentarily injected all of us with some hope. The bowlers, who did not cover themselves in glory in the first match against the USA, outdone themselves here to put the fancied Indian batting flat on the mat. It was a fabulous effort from the bowlers of a disjointed team. But, somehow, I knew that Pakistan would make a mess of it all, even if they were chasing a mere 99 runs. 

I had no hesitation in telling my son's friend Komal, a passionate cricket fan, that we should have batted first, and I knew I was right. 

By the time Shadab stepped onto the field, Pakistan's quest to overhaul the modest 119-run total was already under pressure. We had lost the top order, including captain Babar Azam, for a modest score, and the run chase — which started at a comfortable run-a-ball — was already in disarray. With disaster having already struck, typical Pakistani palpable panic had set in.

Shadab lost his wicket to an excellent short ball by Hardik Pandya. And in that moment, I felt we had lost the game.

But I almost died inside when I saw Pandya nonchalantly shrug his shoulders as if to say that this Pakistan team is no big deal or that it's a bigger deal for him to get a wicket in the Ranji Trophy (the premier domestic first-class cricket championship played in India). 

I suddenly felt like a minuscule creature from Gulliver's Island, both physically and mentally.

Pandya's gesture upset my son, and I am sure it had the same effect on millions of Pakistanis watching the game. The image of that nonchalant shrug just would not leave me or my family, and we kept discussing the fact that our cricket under Babar and Wahab has reached a nadir like never before. Our collective conclusion was that Pandya was spot on.

At the moment, we are a side that is set up to play the qualifiers if we want to participate in the next T20 World Cup.

It is like the Mughal empire, which was reduced to plying as servants to the power-hungry British. But in this case, we have our own power-hungry, incompetent management and team to blame.

To delve deeper into my last point, under Babar Azam, Wahab Riaz, and Mr Mohsin Naqvi, this Pakistan team has been reduced to a spec of dirt on the floor where elites such as Pandya walk. That defending a total of 119 runs on a sluggish New York pitch does not even cause the Indian team to break a sweat.

We are no longer dark horses, favourites, or even underdogs. We are the new associates who, and we must remember this, were equalled and then beaten by first-timers USA just days ago.

I am fed up with repeating the same story, but I never had any doubt that we will not qualify or even win a tough bilateral series at home or abroad under Babar Azam. Ever since he was appointed as the team's leader four years ago, there has been nothing but agony for me and the fans. 

Somehow, I like the term that Indians have coined for him: 'Zimbabar' (A combination of Zimbabwe - once the lowest-ranked team in world cricket - and his first name). I believe the term, which has since stuck, was coined with good reason, that he can only win against the likes of Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, or maybe Bangladesh. All of these sides have consistently remained in the bottom half of the global rankings for the better part of his tenure as captain.

It is time to perform the life-saving surgery on the Pakistan team that Mr Naqvi has been talking about but has yet to implement

He can never beat England, India, South Africa, New Zealand, or the giant killers Australia. What is truly sad is that he would not even try to beat them because he knows he is not capable enough.

Sure, he led us to a final two years ago against England, but look at that team and look at the team today; it has not evolved even an inch. Other teams keep adding fresh blood to their veins by injecting youth and talent. For instance, since the 2022 World Cup, India has dropped players like Ravichandran Ashwin, KL Rahul, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel and Deepak Hooda. In their stead, India has brought in Shivam Dube, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Mohammad Siraj and Sunju Samson, who are all in-form players. Leaving out stalwarts and bringing in these players is progressive thinking. Pakistan in 2022 had a young, energetic squad with players like Wasim Jr, Husnain Haider and Mohammed Harris, but now, we have an unfit Azam Khan, an aged Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir — who's still skilful — but picking him and not Mohammed Ali is regressive. Also, where is Mohammed Harris?
Clues about our team and management's one-dimensional thinking can be easily picked up from the previous paragraph, hence the cringe-worthy results and captaincy. Embarrassingly, there is one word to describe it better it's simply "Clueless." 

It is time to perform the life-saving surgery on the Pakistan team that Mr Naqvi has been talking about but has yet to implement. At the risk of sounding crude, I am going to suggest the amputation of certain limbs like Babar Azam, Wahab Riaz, Iftikhar, Imad and Amir while adding players like Harris Saud, Haseeb, Amir Jamal, Salman Ali Agha, S Farhan, Tayyab, Mohammed Ali, Wasim Jr Usama Mir and the chinaman Faisal Akram.
There should be a nucleus of 25 players for the T20 format, and squads should be named among them.
Players like Babar Azam should only play tests and ODIs and must stay away from the T20 format; only then would he flourish. Otherwise, we are destined to play the associate qualifiers, and the question then is, would doom be any further? 

We'll let the surgeon decide!

The author is a senior cricket analyst and is Asia's first woman cricket commentator.