KARACHI: It was Pakistan’s joint-highest T20I total ever. It was West Indies’s lowest-ever T20I total. It was the second biggest margin of defeat in the history of T20I; second only to Sri Lanka’s 172-run battering of Kenya, making it the worst ever for a Test-playing nation.
It was as emphatic as emphatic can be. But, like all international matches that have taken place in Pakistan in the past three years, the cricket was a sidenote at best. The return of international cricket to the National Stadium of Karachi is understandably dominating all the headlines.
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Yet there seems to be a certain ennui regarding the onfield events of this series. The cynical, and unfortunately quite prevalent, argument is that this is only West Indies — a team that was recently trounced by Afghanistan in the World Cup qualifiers. What’s worse is that this a weakened West Indies side, shorn of skipper Carlos Brathwaite as well as starturn Chris Gayle. Hell, only four players from their World Cup qualification campaign are in Karachi.
This may be a series between the current World T20 champions and the best T20I side in the world at the moment, but it is not one that will set the heart racing. That makes it a series that is easy to discount.
But what that does is it creates a no-win situation for the Men in Green; 10 of whom are playing an international for the first time in the biggest cricket stadium in the country.
Barring Shoaib Malik, none of these men have ever had 35,000 partisan fans cheer them on before, yet they know there is a caveat attached with every cheer; a caveat that is hanging over their heads like a sword, preventing them from truly enjoying the moment like they should be.
Debutant Hussain Talat scored an anchoring 41 off 37 balls before also claiming a wicket to bag the man of the match award. Malik showed precisely why he is Pakistan’s best player when he followed up his 37-run blitz off just 14 balls with figures of 2-13 with the ball in his two overs. The star bowling trio of Muhammad Amir, Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali all got in on the act. Amir and Hasan, Pakistan’s two main pacers, combined for the quite ridiculous figures of three overs for three runs and three wickets — stats seldom get more emphatic than that. Fakhar Zaman was his devastating best at the top of the innings and Babar Azam was his usual stylish self. Muhammad Nawaz showed why he is a viable backup option to Imad Wasim, especially with the new ball. Even skipper Sarfraz Ahmed and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf enjoyed themselves with the bat.
There were a lot of positives from the first T20I and it would be a shame to discard all of them due to the quality of the opposition. The players can only defeat what is in front of them.
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Saying this is ‘only West Indies’ is not only disrespectful to the opposition but also discounts whatever the home players manage to do in this series. If they succeed, then they succeed not because of their own talent and hard work but because of the poor quality of the opponent. If they fail, then they fail not because the opponent got one over them but because they themselves weren’t good enough. Such a mentality garners no winners; in the long run, everyone loses.
Cricket is slowly but surely returning to Pakistan. It is high time the country’s fans shed such a negative outlook.
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