Pakistan cricket history is replete with instances when a captain or a bunch of national team players, acting cocky about their success or trivialising the opposition, tasted shocking defeats or bowed out unceremoniously from a tournament.
The fate of Babar Azam and Company in the ongoing Asia Cup has been no different. Though Pakistan attained the world number one status early this month, the opposition they had conquered on their way to the top slot was not exactly formidable. In their heart of hearts, Babar and his men knew this well.
And yet, Babar made the cardinal sin of making a conceited statement prior to the all-important Super 4 clash with India, saying that Pakistan has an edge over them in the Asia Cup. That set the of alarm bells ringing while the experts of the game quickly pointed out that the brilliant batsman had, perhaps, spoken too soon.
What followed was a thumping 228-run defeat at the hands of Rohit Sharma and Company that brutally exposed the many chinks in Pakistan’s armour. That loss was followed by a shock defeat against Sri Lanka and suddenly, there were question marks galore about the team selection, the ability, skills and strength of the team’s bowling, batting, fielding; and, of course, the leadership skills of Babar Azam.
Babar was taken to the cleaners by former cricketers for asking India to bat on a pitch that was soggy and held no threat for the batsmen. His other decisions also came under the spotlight such as persisting with out-of-form Fakhar Zaman and struggling all-rounder Shadab Khan, over-exposing the team’s three fast bowlers Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah, and Haris Rauf, not rotating players enough despite back-ups like as Abdullah Shafiqe, Saud Shakeel, Mohammad Haris, Tayyab Tahir, Usama Mir in the dug out and ignoring talented players like Imad Wasim and Ihsanullah altogether.
These blunders have been attributed to his inflexible approach as skipper and his poor decision-making.
The team’s remotely working coach Mickey Arthur, too, came under fire from both fans and ex-players. The Australian-born coach was not present at the match to witness the catastrophe but was doing head coach duties with the English county Derbyshire.
Arthur was severely criticised by Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, and other former players who insisted the Australian-born coach’s priorities lay elsewhere despite the fact that he is drawing a bumper pay package from the PCB.
As things stand today, the back-to-back defeats have compelled the Pakistan Cricket Board, the selectors, and the team management to go back to the drawing board and rethink the entire squad’s composition for the upcoming World Cup. Fresh planning and strategies need to be made now to counter and address the grey areas in the team.
Former captain Rashid Latif, talking to The Express Tribune, said the horse for courses strategy was not adopted by Babaer and the management which was the main reason for Pakistan’s failure in the tournament.
“The panic in Pakistan camp after the India defeat is for everyone to see. There is no method in the selection, batting order, utilisation of bowlers, etc which has hurt Pakistan,” said Latif.
“We have no solid bowlers to control the run spree in the middle overs while our power-play batting is below par as well.”
“If you notice, Sri Lanka, the home side, made three right changes for the Pakistan match but we inducted Haris and Waseem Junior who were clearly looking rusty,” said Latif.
“Also, I want to know why was both Nawaz and Haris sent to bat above Iftikhar who is a game changer and has also scored a hundred recently. Who is making these absurd decisions? This shows that the tour selection committee is very confused.
He added that Pakistan has been doing well against second-string, amateur team but have not excelled against any of the elite teams which is a matter of grave concern for the PCB and the coaches.”
Another former captain Moin Khan was vocal about Babar’s lack of forceful captaincy and said his team selection was also not up to the mark in the Asia Cup. “Not just his leadership but even his batting has been quite ordinary in this Asia Cup, said Moin. “Sticking with Fakhar and Shadab has backfired badly in this tournament. Why did Babar not try other players on the bench?” he asked.
“It is good that we did not announce the World Cup squad, otherwise it would have been a disaster and we would have been stuck with these 15. The whole country has been demanding that Shaheen and Naseem should be rested and rotated, but to no avail. And look what has happened. Our main strength of fast bowling has been jeopardized due to this kind of senseless decision-making.”
Renowned sports writer and Tv expert Sohaib Alvi, while speaking to The Express Tribune said, “It finally took a strange fielding abyss on the leg side for Sri Lanka to sneak into their 11th Asia Cup final and knock out a tired Pakistani lot that have suddenly lost the sting in their bowling, for long their weapon of mass destruction and defense.
“They had fought well from a position of despondency and lagging shoulders but in the end, the young Lankans held their nerve, especially off that last ball. Sohaib went on to add: “For Pakistan though it was a deja vu match with a different result. Against Afghanistan in 2021 they looked down and were eliminated from the Asia Cup when Naseem Shah hit two straight sixes out of nowhere to push them into the final.
“Four years earlier missed chances from the Sri Lankans had allowed them to reach the semi-final — and subsequently the final — of the Champions Trophy and last year the biggest upset when the Netherlands defeated South Africa had allowed them a foot in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup.
This led to mistakes being overlooked considering they had reached three finals, even though every final they had reached was from a point of near elimination and good fortune even before the semi finals.
“In this tournament too they have paid the price for bowling into the ground their bowling attack by playing them ceaselessly, even against sides like Nepal and the three games against Afghanistan before the Asia Cup. Compare that to Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli sitting out the white ball series in West Indies,” Sohaib pointed out.
“Pakistan have to rest their main bowlers from the entire series. Or we will see more of the mental and physical tiredness and lack of bite from them as we have seen in this Asia Cup.”