For those who care about Pakistan cricket, 2018 didn’t begin well. Despite the fact that Pakistan were riding high on a wave of success following their ICC Champions Trophy success last summer, there were fears about the national team’s chances when it embarked upon the tour of New Zealand to play a limited-overs series. But not many had expected such an abject surrender.
If back-to-back defeats in the first two One-day Internationals weren’t enough, Pakistan crashed to a 183-run loss in the must-win game in Dunedin to hand the series to the Black Caps. If Pakistan’s display with the bat was bad in the first two matches of the series, they were downright pathetic in Dunedin where the tourists were bowled out for 74, their third lowest total in ODIs. It could have been even worse because at one point in time, Pakistan were reeling at 32-8.
Pakistan looked a shadow of their former selves. While in the Champions Trophy in England, they roared like lions after falling to India in their opening game, against New Zealand they were unable to make a comeback in the series.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s poor showing in New Zealand has triggered a whispering campaign which suggests that all was not well in Pakistan’s dressing room. The rumours are pretty much the same they are whenever Pakistan punch below their weight. They suggest that almost all the senior players especially former captains Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez aren’t fully backing their skipper Sarfraz Ahmed. The insinuation is that they want to get rid of Sarfraz.
Pakistan’s cricket authorities have, as usual, brushed the rumours aside as rubbish. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has minced no words in saying that it continues to back Sarfraz as Pakistan’s captain across all formats.
The fact that the PCB has been forced to clarify matters speaks volumes of what has gone wrong with the national team within a span of a few weeks. From an all-conquering team that hammered mighty India by 180-runs in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy at The Oval last June, Pakistan have been reduced to a bunch of players who are performing like schoolboys in New Zealand.
A day before the Dunedin game, Pakistan’s batting coach Grant Flower suggested that his batsmen were struggling to cope with the extra bounce in New Zealand. He underlined the fact that Pakistani batters had mostly played on flat wickets at home in the lead up to the tour of New Zealand. Flower was hopeful that his players will do better on Saturday but it turned out to be a disastrous outing for the visitors at the University Oval in Dunedin, the second-largest city in the South Island of New Zealand.
Pakistan’s top order was ripped apart by the pace of Trent Boult on what appeared to be a slow wicket. The likes of Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Hafeez were sent back with Pakistan still not in the double figures. They were soon joined by Babar Azam and others and in the end Sarfraz was left stranded as Pakistan fell to their lowest total against the Black Caps.
There are two more ODI games to go and later Pakistan will play a three-match Twenty20 International series against New Zealand. But it’s quite evident that instead of the team capitalising on its Champions Trophy win, the Pakistanis are losing the plot.
Just six months after their stunning title-winning triumph at the Champions Trophy in England, Pakistan appear in disarray and that doesn’t augur well for them ahead of World Cup 2019.
Sarfraz’s critics blame him for the slide. They argue that perhaps captaining Pakistan in all three formats is a bit too big a responsibility for the wicketkeeper-batsman. Personally, I believe that putting the blame solely on Sarfraz is unfair. After all, he inspired Pakistan to victory in the Champions Trophy. To suggest that he has suddenly forgotten how to lead the team is unjustified.
Pakistan will have to admit that on current form New Zealand are a much better team, especially when it is playing at home. But despite that the feeble resistance that Pakistan have put up so far in the ODI series is pretty surprising. New Zealand might have more firepower but Pakistan aren’t entirely toothless, something that they aptly demonstrated in England last summer. Some critics are pointing the finger of suspicion at disharmony in the dressing room. Sometimes there is fire where there is smoke. I mean, Pakistan didn’t emerge as a unit post Champions Trophy. There were constant complaints from some players as to how a few others made a lot of money during the prolonged celebrations that followed the memorable victory in England. As captain, Sarfraz tried to quell suggestions that there was a growing discontent among his players but the damage was done. Sarfraz should take some responsibility for it. So does the PCB. Pakistan shouldn’t have allowed themselves to get carried away after the Champions Trophy. They made the most of the windfall but were unable to ensure that everybody in the team was happy.
As captain in all three formats, Sarfraz should have kept his eyes on the ball. But he was too easily tempted by low hanging fruits like the T10 league in Sharjah. He shouldn’t have played in that league. Other leading Pakistani cricketers should have also stayed away from it. They are the big fish and events like the T10 league are very small ponds. Top Pakistani players are Sarfraz should keep their sights set on major prizes like the World Cup. They might not be as rich as their Indian or Australian counterparts, but our cricketers, at least the leading ones, make a decent living. They are taken care of the country and it is their duty to always put the country first. Otherwise 2019 will also begin like the current year did.