T20 World Cup: After another early exit, whither Pakistan cricket?

Failure to win big moments, reports of favouritism and ego issues prove to be the bane again

Babar Azam
Babar Azam

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The early exit of Pakistan from the T20 World Cup – second time in a row in a major ICC tournament after the 50-overs World Cup last year – turned out to be the biggest talking point in the cricket fraternity on Saturday. Their legends of the game are aghast while the fans seem to be at their teethers’ end as to when would the green shirts win a title once again.

The fate of Babar Azam & Co, which was hanging by a thread in the ongoing T20 World Cup, was sealed no sooner the US and Ireland shared points when their group stage game was washed out at Lauderhill, Florida on Friday.

This allowed co-hosts US as the surprise package to go through to Super Eight as the second team from Group A after India with five points, while the 2022 runners-up are left packing their bags.

As is customary in their cricket, another major shake-up in their national team is on the cards. The familiar allegations of favouritism against captain Babar Azam has surfaced once again – much like the aftermath of the 50-overs World Cup in India which saw their premier batter stepping down after their failure to reach the semi-finals.

PCB went ahead by naming different captains as per formats before falling back on Babar again as the white ball captain within a few months.

Such knee-jerk reactions have long been a part of Pakistan’s cricketing culture, but it may be worthwhile to have a closer look at how poor their campaign actually was in the US.

It’s understandable that a defeat to India in the ICC tournaments form the benchmark of their campaign – more so after their batters showed a poor game sense in failing to close out the match despite bowling out India for a measley 119 in the second game. A win in that game would have ensured their entry to Super Eight despite their shock defeat to the US in the first game.

It’s not without a reason that the T20 World Cup has often seen reputations going for a toss – thanks to the unpredictability of the format where any team can punch above their weight on a given day to upset the fancied rivals. That’s precisely what happened in their first game against the US when in Texas, Pakistan put up a decent total of 159 for seven.

However, it was a disciplined courageous approach by the US batters against a four-pronged pace attack of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Naseem Shah and Mohammed Amir that they tied the score to take the match to Super Over.

It was then more like a shootout as Amir, back in international cricket after a hiatus of four years, gave away 18 runs while Saurav Netravalkar conceded nine in his super over to make the difference in the end. Babar’s men then came agonisingly close to beating India before hitting the winning ways against Canada by seven wickets.

They still have an inconsequential game left against Ireland on Sunday in Florida – weather permitting – though even a thumping win there is unlikely to change the damning verdict on the national team. It’s a fact that with all the experience and obvious talent at their disposal, Pakistan failed to win the big moments in this tournament and paid the price.

However, the grim reality is unlike in the past when there were talent aplenty in their ranks, the selectors may be left scraping the bottom of the barrel if they make sweeping changes all over again. Otherwise, how does one explain a Usman Khan batting at No.3 or a batter with such questionable levels of fitness like Azam Khan be part of the squad in the first place?

What also needs to be brought under the scanner is the apparent ego issues of some of the top players and their so-called camps. Otherwise, why would someone like Wasim Akram say in public that the likes of Babar and Afridi are not often even on talking terms. While there is no need for top players to be the best of friends, but they should ensure that team comes first.

At the end of the day, the sport of cricket badly needs Pakistan to be successful. The earlier there is a solution in sight, the better!

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