Pakistan’s disastrous performance in the Asia Cup should come as an eye opener. In the six-nation tournament in which they were regarded as the title favourites Pakistan gave what was their worst performance in recent times.
India, Pakistan’s arch-rivals, remained undefeated on their way to retaining the title. The Pakistanis, in contrast, flopped miserably in the event in which they suffered back-to-back defeats against India and barely managed to pip Afghanistan before crashing against Bangladesh in a do-or-die Super Fours clash in Abu Dhabi last Wednesday.
Winning and losing are part of the game but it was the way Pakistan surrendered in the various matches that needs to be probed. In both the matches against India, Pakistan couldn’t even turn on their switch and succumbed against their biggest rivals without putting up any sort of fight. They were embarrassingly bad.
Pakistan’s catastrophic performance in the UAE couldn’t have come at a worse time. The PCB is preparing to go through a transformation with Mani eyeing sweeping changes in the Board in order to institutionalise it. One of his various goals is to devise a system in which the chairman’s role is curtailed and the Board’s cricketing matters are run by cricketers. It all sounds good but what happened in the Asia Cup needs to be investigated right away. It can’t wait the formation of new committees or new systems. It’s a matter that needs to be addressed urgently. And the chairman will need to play a personal role.
From team selection to the way our players performed in the fields of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, nothing about Pakistan’s Asia Cup campaign seemed right. Why would you select just one specialist spinner for a tournament which was to be played on low and slow UAE wickets? Why would you keep persisting with a bowler who is refusing to give his 100 percent and is clearly looking just a shadow of his past self? Why was the captain, who won us the ICC Champions Trophy last year, looking completely out of his depth during the best part of the Asia Cup?
It’s a long list of questions and Pakistan need to find the answers without wasting any time. The ICC World Cup in England is just eight months away and Pakistan will have to get to the root causes of what ailed their players in the Asia Cup.
The easier thing to do would be to pretend that nothing happened and hope that all the hue and cry would settle down once the two-Test series against Australia begins in Dubai from October 7. Pakistan are firm favourites to whitewash a depleted Australian team in the series.
But the Board shouldn’t take the easy way out of it. A thorough postmortem needs to be carried out. Pakistan are relying too heavily on players like Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Amir, Babar Azam, Shadab Khan and skipper Sarfraz. These players were unable to impress in any of that Asia Cup games that mattered. Imagine the sort of World Cup campaign Pakistan would suffer next summer if the players would perform in England the way they did in the UAE during the last couple of weeks.
Last summer, one of the biggest reasons why Pakistan were able to bounce back from a morale-shattering defeat against India in Birmingham to win the Champions Trophy was their self-belief. But that quality was utterly missing during the Asia Cup. And there is no apparent reason why. Pakistan went into the Asia Cup following landslide victories against Zimbabwe so there was no lack of confidence. There weren’t apparently any fitness issues with the players included in the Asia Cup squad. In fact the players had ample time to train for the tournament and even attended a boot camp in Abbottabad in order to attain peak fitness.
While the Pakistanis will spend the next few days pondering over what went wrong with their team, the Indians would be celebrating yet another accolade won by their cricketers. The Indians looked mortal when they were given a scare by Hong Kong in their first match of the Asia Cup but after that wake-up call the defending champions were simply unstoppable. Even without their key man and captain Virat Kohli, the Indians toyed with Pakistan on their way to two big wins, one by eight wickets and the other by nine wickets. Forget their victory in the final against Bangladesh, I’m sure that those were the two wins which the Indians would savour more.
The Indians are the world’s number one ranked team and in the Asia Cup they showed why. They have by far the best batting line-up in the world with the likes of Kohli and Rohit Sharma, the man who skippered the Indians in the absence of the regular captain. They already look good enough to take a serious shot at regaining the world title in England next year. Pakistan, meanwhile, must take a long, hard look at what’s ailing them. Then they need to find remedies. They have to act fast because the clock is ticking.