ICC World Cup: It's knives out for captain Babar Azam as Pakistan lose hope

It’s easy to give advice on TV, says the beleaguered captain, taking a dig at the former cricketing greats who have been rather critical as pundits

Babar Azam speaking at the media conference in Kolkata (Photo: ICC)
Babar Azam speaking at the media conference in Kolkata (Photo: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The knives are out for Babar Azam, captain of Pakistan across all formats — what with the team's hopes of making the semi-finals of the ICC World Cup evaporating after New Zealand’s comfortable win over Sri Lanka on Friday, 10 November. 

The match between Pakistan and battered champions England at the Eden on Saturday, 11 November, which could have been a quarter-final of sorts for the green shirts, has now turned into one in which they may score brownie points at best.

After the permutations and computations, the challenge staring Azam & Co in the face is an incredible one — they would need to win by a margin of 287 runs at least, and if they are chasing, they would need to dismiss England for 50 runs and chase down the target in two overs (or 100 runs in 3 overs)! 

The beleaguered Pakistan captain knows his chances of making this fantasy play out only too well. So we'd forgive him for trotting out the usual line: ‘’We will try to finish on a high note and then we will see.’’

However, the body language of a few members of the team when they arrived for the nets session — sans their main pace bowlers, Shaheen Afridi and Haris Rauf — a day before their final league game, and the way they wrapped up and packed up in a little over an hour, told a different, demoralised story. 

It’s been a dramatic transformation in the fortunes of the team which barely two months back was the No.1 ranked team in ODIs.

Indeed, Azam even held on to the top ODI batter’s spot for more than two years until Shubman Gill took over on Wednesday, 8 November. 

The barbs from Pakistani journalists at the pre-match press conference left nothing much to the imagination as to which way the wind would blow — what with a demanding full tour of Australia, including three Tests, coming up soon after the World Cup.

Replying to a query on whether Azam would be inclined to take a leaf out of Virat Kohli’s book by stepping down from captaincy to focus on his batting, the captain struck a defiant note:

I have been captaining my team for the last three years and I have never felt this way. It’s just because I have not performed the way I should have in the World Cup, that’s why people are saying that I am under pressure. I am under no pressure!
Babar Azam, captain of the Pakistan cricket team

However, Azam's aggregate of 282 runs from 8 innings at a 40-plus average has been modest by his own standards, even. 

It can't have been an easy time for Azam to rally his troops through the last one-and-a-half months, amid reports of differences with teammates, a leaked WhatsApp chat between him and the CEO of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), and then the resignation of Inzamam-ul Haq as the chief selector midway through the tournament.

Former greats like Wasim Akram, Misbah-ul Haq, Moeen Khan and Shoaib Malik have all taken turns to tear into Azam's captaincy decisions on a private TV channel. The incumbent captain’s dig at them was apparent:  

Everyone has their own point of view, their own way of thinking. Everyone is saying something different. "He should be like this or like that." If someone has to give me advice, everyone has my number. It is easy to give advice on TV. If you want to give me some advice, you can message me...

Notwithstanding that, despite finding themselves in fifth position in the table with four wins in the tournament, it has certainly been a rather inconsistent performance from Pakistan, on the whole.

Looking back, Azam may have felt that things could have panned out differently if they had managed to win that last close match against South Africa and defended a competitive total against Afghanistan. 

‘’You cannot say that it is the fault of bowling, fielding or batting," he said, though. "As a team, we could not execute. We cannot say that we gave so many runs in bowling or lost runs in fielding. As a team, we did not execute the plan or play as per the demand — that includes bowling, batting and fielding. We will try to learn from this, because the faster you learn from big events, (the better) you know where you have made mistakes."  

The patience of Pakistan fans, meanwhile, is justifiably wearing thin. It’s the sixth 50-overs World Cup since 1999, when they were runners-up, that they have made the semi-finals! 

Catch the match 

Pakistan vs England 

Where: Eden Gardens, Kolkata

When: 11 November 2023

From: 2 pm IST  

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