Times of India
Friday June 19, 2009
About a fortnight ago when I wrote the blog, Why Pakistan must win Twenty20 World Cup, I was flooded with colourful abuses. An overwhelming majority of respondents labelled me "unpatriotic." Many appeared convinced that India was going to win the World Cup and that Pakistan will be knocked out in the first round.
They had their reasons, I guess. Some were political and had little to do with cricket. But for a variety of reasons, many genuinely believed that Pakistan wasn't going to put up a good show. To begin with, Younis Khan and company hadn't seen much of international cricket in recent times. That apart, none of them had played in IPL2. Even in the practice games, the team hardly inspired confidence.
So how come Pakistan is playing Sunday's final while MS Dhoni's million dollar boys nurse their wounds. Let us try to analyse:
1. Unlike us, Pakistan improved with every game: Younis Khan and his men looked rusty in the warm-up matches. But rather than being dismissive or cocky, they worked on their shortcomings. Whenever they were pushed into a do-or-die situation, they came up trumps. In other words, they didn't crumble under pressure; instead they revelled in the condition. In terms of natural talent, Pakistan is second to none. It is always a case of putting it together. Luckily for them, they have peaked at the right time.
2. Great bowling: Just like Sri Lanka’s M3, Pakistan has three of the best bowlers on view: Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal. Gul is the only bowler to get reverse swing in the entire fortnight. His yorkers remind you of Waqar Younis. With the exception of Malinga, nobody is bowling better at the death. No one is able to smote either Afridi or Ajmal. Both spinners are getting plenty of wickets too. At times, Afridi has been exceptional. Everybody will remember the delivery that castled Gibbs. The two are taking care of Pakistan's middle overs.
3. Man of the moment: In every key game, Pakistan has found a man of the moment. Against the Kiwis, Gul took 5 for 6, the best ever in the history of T20. And he still had an over to spare. Against South Africa, Afridi discovered he could put bat to ball again. Result: carnage. There have been some great cameos too. Just compare the batting of Kamran Akmal and MS Dhoni. Look at the difference in the strike rates. It's staggering.
4. Nice blend of old and new: As India in 2007, a bunch of young guns are firing for Pakistan. The 17-year-old paceman Mohammed Aamer looks a potential Wasim Akram. Nobody's missing out-of-form Sohail Tanvir. Opener Shahzaib Husan has looked the part. His carefree 35 off 28 balls against New Zealand, before he was stupidly run-out, was just what his team needed. Similarly, the return of Abdul Razzak has added depth to both batting and bowling. The jigsaw pieces have fallen in place.
5. Improved fielding: Traditionally their Achilles Heel, Pakistan's fielding was abysmal in the earlier stages. Fielders dropped catches as if the ball was carrying the swine flu virus. But their performance in the semi-final was unrecognisable from their earlier flops shows. I know one swallow doesn't make a summer. But isn't it ironical that Shahid Afridi's Scott Styris catch is the best of the summer?
6. Captain cool: He is not snapping at journalists in press conferences or skipping national awards ceremony. Younis Khan is simply scoring runs at a brisk speed. Even when fielders are dropping catches or making schoolboy errors, he remains cool and encouraging. He is making mistakes too. His decision to bowl Fawad Alam against South Africa defied reason. But he is leading boldly from the front. Younis has infused a karo ya maro spirit in the team. Having been denied the opportunity to turn out in IPl2, and consequently starved of the goodies, the Pakistanis are also playing for professional pride.
As I had written earlier, every country wanted to win the Cup. But nobody needs the trophy as badly as Pakistan. For even in the worst of times, sport has always acted as a balm for wounded souls. A World Cup triumph can give the terror-ravaged nation an unsullied reason to be happy. Even if it doesn't happen, Younis Khan and his men have already given Pakistan plenty to be proud of.