Bangladesh's Rubel Hossain (C) celebrates the wicket of Pakistan's Shoaib Malik on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP

AsiaCup’18: Dear Pakistan, you can’t be a champion if you only play against the weakest

Does it surprise you that a team with no significant ODI wins against a quality side in over a year got knocked out ?

Hamza Junaid September 27, 2018
Now that Pakistan has been put out of its misery and the dust is finally starting to settle, let’s get back to the drawing board. There is a lot that went wrong but it wasn’t entirely unpredictable.

Give me an opportunity to walk you through the events that transpired when the nation was still high on the Champions Trophy victory. Immediately after becoming champions, Pakistan hosted a weak Sri Lankan team in the UAE. They cruised their way to an ODI clean sweep. Confidence went skyrocketing and a bubble of illusion was formed.

Pakistan's cricketers celebrate the dismissal of Seekkuge Prasanna of Sri Lanka during the fifth one day international (ODI) cricket match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Sharjah on October 23, 2017. Photo: AFP

Then came January of 2018 and we went on a tour to New Zealand. This was our first competitive tour since June 2017. Pakistan got hammered, beaten, thrashed, smacked and finally whitewashed in the ODI series against New Zealand.

Pakistan's Babar Azam (C) walks from the field after being caught during the 5th one-day international cricket match between New Zealand and Pakistan at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on January 19, 2018. Photo: AFP

I tried to raise the red flags that all is not well. I wrote on Pakistan seeming like a lost child but little mattered back then because we were still watching the Champions Trophy final on repeat. It was alarming that whitewashes didn’t hurt our ego anymore; somehow Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) scrapped that humiliation from the fans’ memories. They kept diverting focus to our T20 ranking.

Then came the below par West Indies tour of Pakistan in April of 2018, three months after the boys returned with bruises from New Zealand. There was not a single ODI scheduled. The team kept breathing life into the Champions Trophy memories.

Pakistani cricketers celebrate the dismissal of unseen West Indies batsman Denesh Ramdin during the first T20 match between Pakistan and West Indies at National Stadium in Karachi on April 1, 2018. Photo: AFP

Next up, the Men in Green went on a tour to Ireland, Scotland and England during May-June of 2018. They toured three countries and participated in a total of zero ODI series. Nobody cared!

By this time, one whole year had passed since the Champions Trophy final and except the drubbing received in New Zealand, Pakistan had not played ODIs against any top competitive side. Nobody cared!

July of 2018, Pakistan decided to tour Zimbabwe that included five ODIs. I am all for promoting cricket but is the responsibility of playing against teams of lower quality solely on Pakistan? Had we not done our share by playing Scotland and Ireland earlier in the year? We beat a depleted Zimbabwe side 5-0 in ODI series with a full strength team and blew more air into our bubble of illusion.

Pakistan's pose with the trophy during the price ceremony after winning the fifth One-Day International (ODI) series final cricket match against Zimbabwe at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, on, July 22, 2018. Photo: AFP

Finally, we enter September of 2018 and where we stand today. We entered Asia Cup high on a victory that took place more than a year ago. Since then we have not played a single competitive ODI series, except one where we took a severe beating from New Zealand. Instead of being nervous of our lack of preparation prior to the Asia Cup, PCB made a great use of white lies.

Misleading numbers, stats and figures were used to hype up the fan base. Figures such as Pakistan has won its last ‘xyz ODIs’ or Pakistan has not lost in the UAE for ‘x amount of time’ were floated around on social media.

White lie means telling a partial story and intentionally hiding the relevant facts. Nobody revealed that the stats are highly inflated because Pakistan has only been playing ODIs against below average teams.

The stats of teams like India may not seem so pretty on paper but that is because they have been playing only quality cricket. While Pakistan was busy sending their top quality side to tours like Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland, India was battling with the big boys. Whether India lost against Australia or England would not matter. The fact is they were always playing best quality of cricket.

Now that we have done a little flashback of what has followed since our Champions Trophy victory, tell me honestly what surprises you? Isn’t a team that plays quality cricket supposed to thrash a team that either played no ODIs or played against lowest quality opponents for a whole year?

Does it surprise you that a team that has won no significant ODI series against a quality side in over a year got knocked out of the Asia Cup? If this was not on the cards then what was the expectation? Did we really think we would wake up to see Fakhar Zaman ride his luck and guide us to another trophy?

Pakistan's captain Sarfraz Ahmed (L) leaves the field followed by India's Dinesh Karthik (R) and Ambati Rayudu (C) at the end of the one day international (ODI) Asia Cup cricket match between Pakistan and India at The Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on September 19, 2018. Photo: AFP

I didn’t say a word prior to the Asia Cup. I knew the bubble hasn’t burst yet and my concerns regarding the team wouldn’t hold merit for Pakistani fans. Finally, when the nightmare has ended for Pakistan, I thought it would be best to share where I felt we went wrong.

Sarfraz Ahmed will face an unprecedented amount of criticism, as the losses have undoubtedly been embarrassing and ugly. His captaincy, specifically in the last match against Bangladesh, has been appalling. However, it is not entirely his fault as the management had scheduled tours with teams that never tested his captaincy for an entire year, barring Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand.

Fans will be calling for heads to be rolled but that is not the main problem. These young players were talented back in Champions Trophy and they are talented today as well, but how will you discover your weaknesses when you only play against the weakest?

To remain a champion, one must keep playing against champions. Pakistan did the opposite and paid the price. Batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy, all of it went downhill when the pressure was on and the opposition wasn’t amateur. Tour better teams next time prior to a tournament or choose a different tournament where only Ireland, Scotland, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe are participating. We're not ready for the big boys as yet!
Hamza Junaid
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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Swati Singh | 1 year ago | Reply | Recommend Well I came across this blog very late. Anyways I agree with your point about playing weak teams but would like to add one more point. You guys were overconfident. Seriously, I came across the statements made by some of the Pakistani players specially from your captain. He "wanted" his players to score 300 runs in every match, he thought india would be under pressure. The chatter about kohli's absence (who of course is the best ). They actually thought that they would just walk through india. When I read all those statements, it kind of made dent in my confidence I had in my team. So of course when opposite of that happened in 1st match, Pakistani player's confidence and self believe was completely shattered. They are not that bad a team to lose by 9 wickets. They are much better bowling unit then they displayed on that day. P.s. all the hype about contest between M. Amir and Rohit sharma should be stopped now. They are similar kind of player. Both of them need help from pitches . Though Dubai's pitch was not that good for batting so Rohit actually did a better job.
jssidhoo | 1 year ago | Reply | Recommend If you do not stop export of terror to India you will not get any bi-lateral series against India nor will your players get to play IPL so there will be no improvement in your team . See the improvement in the Afghan team if you dont get my logic .
Sufiyan | 1 year ago If you can stop export of Kulbushan Jhadav that would be much appreciated. Also, you can keep your bilateral series. We don't need it. There are other reputable teams that we can and should play with. Thanks for your 2 cents but we are good over here!
Hamza Junaid | 1 year ago I still don't get your logic... Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus, Shoaib Akhtar were not products of IPL. Not everything in the world revolves around IPL.
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