One year can be a long time. Pakistan’s 180 runs victory against India in the final of the Champions Trophy looked a stuff of fantasy in the light of the mauling at the hands of the same team in Dubai’s sports city on Wednesday. Never before had Pakistan let India chase a target with so many, 126, balls to spare in a one day international.
Many experts from either side of the border had labelled Pakistan as favourites before the match but their performance turned out to be even worse than Hong Kong, an Associate team that scored more runs without losing a wicket (174) than Pakistan’s all ten wickets combined (162) only a night before against India.
There were signs of complacency in Pakistan’s batting approach. It seemed as if mentally they were still at the Oval thinking another 300plus was on the cards or batting against the second-string team of Zimbabwe against who they scored 5 centuries and a double-century in five ODIs two months ago.
The slow nature of the Dubai square demanded patience and India with the world’s best bowlers in their ranks some respect but Pakistan batsmen played contrary to the conditions, took unnecessary risks and found it difficult to channel their inner Afridi. Two of the top five batsmen, Imam-ul-Haq and Sarfraz Ahmed, threw away wickets ignoring their role to build the innings. Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf got out looking for big shots without paying heed to the number of overs remaining.
Luckily for Pakistan, the game will have no bearing going into the super-four stage of the tournament. The group match between India and Pakistan was technically a dead-rubber as points earned in the group stage are not carried to the next round.
“We all knew it was important to win the first match in the group stage and that would guarantee us qualification. And when India beat Hong Kong the qualification was guaranteed,” said Shan Masood, the reserve opener in the Pakistan squad.
“Hard work and the real work will start from now because whatever we do will have repercussions. A win will benefit and a loss will cost us. The mood is positive and we are looking to play the Asia Cup final with whoever comes up.”
A four-team group can throw some tricky scenarios. Pakistan might qualify for the final by winning only one game and might not do it by winning two, therefore, each of three games in the super-four stage could effectively be a must-win match.
Afghanistan, the side on the rise and with the world’s number one spinner Rashid Khan in their camp, cannot be taken lightly.
Pakistan have not played against Afghans in four years with their last encounter being an Asia Cup match in Dhaka where Pakistan were restricted to 6 for 117 before Umar Akmal rescued with a hundred.
That game was in 2014 and Afghanistan at that time had not even played a World Cup. Today, they are a Test playing nation and have won seven out of last 8 ODIs, including two against Windies and one against Sri Lanka. So, if Pakistan had any complacency coming into the tournament it needs to be avoided.