Pakistan doing things only they can
They surprised themselves when nothing was going their way, again
There are scenarios, unlikely scenarios and then the unlikeliest scenario. Trust Pakistan to skip the story to the end, where the heart just can’t take it anymore. It’s from that faintest blip that they have made a habit of resuscitating their chances, once going all the way to win the World Cup. #92onceagain could be a trending hashtag any time now yet this campaign by Pakistan is also unique in its own right.
Defeat to India followed by a one-run loss is a likely end game for any team but Pakistan are honed to find a spark of hope in the darkest hour of despair. Deliverance came in the form of exceptional bowling, first from Shaheen Shah Afridi and then by Shadab Khan. Luck played a cameo as well. If the Netherlands paved their path with a shocking win over South Africa, Pakistan had the rub of the green going their way with some edges falling safely, catches going down and some decisions against Bangladesh.
Perhaps Pakistan had an inkling. Or why else would Shan Masood say this before the Bangladesh game: “There will be a result that we'll know before, which might be in our favour, might not be. Then there's a match (India-Zimbabwe) after that as well. We can't look behind or too far ahead. What's important is what we have realized through some harsh lessons that we can only do what's in our control. Losing two games was not easy, but after that I think the team has responded well in doing whatever they can control, whatever we can control.”
And then came the solemn promise to fight. “You play for pride. You play for yourself. You play for your country. We don't need to look at other things. We just need to look at ourselves. We need to produce our best performances, and we're going to try and make up for whatever we didn't achieve before.”
The narrative has been unmistakably familiar though. A heist of a qualification with the odds stacked against them, a left-arm seamer causing havoc on Australian pitches, a leg-spinner finding the form of his life and a brave salvo from the middle-order, these are all carbon copies of the 1992 triumph. But even they had an Inzamam-ul-Haq. This bunch looks raggedy, shackled by ideas not in sync with the current world and led by a man whose form had deserted him. How Pakistan managed to circumvent their limitations to make the semi-finals still may puzzle many experts.
Now that they have reached the last four, there are already calls for batting reform, starting from the top. “Babar Azam needs to listen to suggestions,” former all-rounder Afridi told Samaa TV. “We need to use Mohammad Haris with fielding restrictions. Babar Azam should drop to number three. You look at Iftikhar or Shan Masood and you can see their intention in their body language, that they are looking to hit the ball.”
Haris’s journey is a great example of how fate can deal a lucky hand when nothing seems to work. All of 21, Haris has been travelling so long with the squad it was almost as if he was forgotten. Till he was suddenly asked to revive Pakistan’s innings, which he did with an 18-ball 31 after Babar Azam returned with a strike rate of 75. Some decisions were probably thought out, but some definitely were knee-jerk. Pakistan however have the unique ability to make it look like part of the plan all along. So instead of boarding the plane to Lahore, they are now in Sydney, waiting for New Zealand. It’s happening in Australia again, only thirty years apart.