In 2009, two talented youngsters tipped to be the next best thing for the Men in Green, made their way into the Pakistan lineup.
You can still hear the excitement in seasoned commentator Ramiz Raja's voice as he speaks of Umar Akmal as a potential replacement of the great Inzamamul Haq and Ahmed Shehzad as a specialist opener to bank on in the future.
Six years down the line, the two once-promising stars are being seen as the culprits behind Pakistan’s recent fall against New Zealand -- a defeat that has left Shahid Afridi’s men on the brink of being knocked out of the ICC World T20.
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Pakistan coach Waqar Younis couldn’t hide the disappointment in his voice in the post-match press conference on Tuesday. His team had fallen apart in a chase of 181 despite being given a dream start by Sharjeel Khan. It's something we have seen all too often: one hiccup, in this case Sharjeel's dismissal, causing a domino effect that leaves the entire team in shambles.
"People will have to take a hard look at themselves,” said a visibly-frustrated Waqar. The players who had let him down weren't new comers; they were the most talented of the lot.
In the six years since Umar and Ahmed debuted, other players such as India’s Virat Kohli have transformed themselves into modern day greats of the game, but our ‘talented ones’ are still waiting to bloom.
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It was, perhaps, the disbelief in Waqar's voice that really drove everything home for cricket fans in the country. There was a sense of resignation; the two players whom he had personally invested in for years as a coach never became the real deal for Pakistan.
“Those who were shouting about not getting to bat in the position they want this was their perfect opportunity. We were just not good enough. You can cry all you want, you can talk all you want, we are just not good enough,” he said.
Waqar pointed out how the team had lost the game between the sixth and 13th over, only managing to score 31 runs off 41 balls at a run rate of 4.76, when the required run-rate was just over eight runs per over. In comparison, the Kiwis scored 8.5 runs per over during the same time period in the New Zealand innings.
It was evident that the pain and anger in the former great’s voice during the eight-minute press talk was due to the fact that two ‘hopes’ of Pakistan cricket looked bleak in the limelight, where they should have been shooting stars for the Men in Green.
The result of such dismal cricket was apparent when Shehzad called curtains on his laboured knock of 30 runs off 32 balls. The required run rate had already jumped to nearly 11.5 runs per over, which proved too much even for the likes of Shahid Afridi & co.
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Waqar rightly noted that the stage had been set for Ahmed and Umar after Sharjeel's blistering knock but the promising duo had no clue how to build an innings of real substance.
The two batsmen -- who have represented Pakistan in 121 T20Is and 186 ODIs combined -- played 3.3 overs of dot balls when the team needed nine runs per over at the beginning of the innings. They scored 54 runs combined off 58 balls in a 180-run chase.
Their limited abilities become even more indisputable when you look at their batting wagon wheels, with Ahmed only managing one run down the ground and Umar failing to even muster a single run in the square-leg and fine-leg region throughout their innings.
The head coach once again emphasised the crucial role flexibility plays in T20 cricket. Something that was evidently missing in Ahmed and Umar's innings as they never took the attack to the spinners in sub-continent conditions. Instead, they tried to cut through the gully region numerous times for most of their spells with negligible affect, scoring 19 off those 54 runs, with just one boundary on the bowling of Grant Elliot through that region.
“We will continue to hope but with the way we have been playing, we don't deserve to go through,” Waqar conceded, echoing something the PCB chairman had stated a day before the match against New Zealand.
The despondency in the Pakistan camp only goes to show how Pakistan cricket is at a crossroads today just as it was in 2009. Nothing has changed. Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Malik, and Mohammad Hafeez are still considered to be the ‘experienced ones’ and Umar Akmal and Ahemd Shehzad are still ‘up and coming’.
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