Sport can be both cruel and rewarding. Ask Fawad Alam and he will tell you how cruel things can be for a professional sportsman. Ask Sohail Khan and he will tell you a different story.
As Pakistan made the final call about their 15-man final squad for World Cup 2015 there were players like Sohail Khan, who came out of nowhere to join the touring party. And then there were cricketers like Fawad, who seemed to be a certain choice till a few months back, falling by the wayside.
Many believe that Pakistan could have picked a better squad for the World Cup but that’s almost always the case especially whenever a team for a mega event is selected. Just like in life where you can’t make everyone happy, selection too is a tricky job and no matter what you do, you are bound to attract some kind of criticism.
There is no doubt in my mind that Moin Khan & Co have gambled in a big way by bringing Sohail Khan out of international wilderness to make him part of the Pakistani squad. It might click because Sohail certainly has pace but the move could also go horribly wrong when Pakistan carry out their World Cup campaign in Australia and New Zealand in February-March. The 30-year-old fast bowler might have been a success domestically but his international credentials are far from convincing.
In the case of Fawad Alam, too, the selectors have opted to ignore the fact that by rejecting the left-hander they have overlooked a prolific middle-order batsman. They have done it at their own peril considering the fact that our batting line-up remains fragile, especially in testing conditions. If Pakistan’s batting fails to click in Australia and New Zealand, then questions will certainly be asked as to why Fawad was rejected despite being an ODI success story in 2014.
But at the moment, let’s pretend to agree with chief selector Moin Khan, who claimed while announcing the team that “the best possible squad from the available resources” has been picked to represent Pakistan. And let’s argue whether this best possible squad has the hunger and firepower to emulate Imran Khan’s Tigers and win back the World Cup Down Under.
On paper, Pakistan do not look very good in One-day Internationals. They endured a forgettable year in 2014 during which the high point for them was making the cut for the Asia Cup final in Bangladesh. Of the 16 matches that they played last year, Pakistan won six and lost ten. Of the six wins two came against minnows Afghanistan and Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. They lost an ODI series in Sri Lanka and were later beaten by Australia and New Zealand in the UAE in back-to-back ‘home’ contests.
There have been other major setbacks as well. Pakistan have lost Saeed Ajmal as the world’s premier spinner was suspended by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for throwing. Similar is the case of all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez, who has been selected as a specialist opener after getting reported for an illegal action and failing an unofficial biomechanics test in Chennai earlier this month.
Fitness concerns is also an issue for Pakistan with a number of players including Misbah-ul-Haq still recovering from injuries.
There are other issues as well and combined together they can threaten Pakistan’s World Cup campaign.
However, such is the format of the 14-nation spectacle that Pakistan will just have to push aside minnows UAE, Zimbabwe and Ireland to guarantee a place in the last eight. Some pessimists even fear that Pakistan are capable of falling at the first hurdle citing the 2007 example when rank outsiders Ireland sent them packing in the Caribbean.
Personally I believe that’s unlikely to happen. Pakistan might not be a very strong team but they are strong enough to clear the first round.
Their real battle should start from the quarter-finals where Pakistan are likely to come face to face with either of the four leading Pool A teams: co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka.
On the basis of the formbook, one can say that Pakistan will be one of the least favourite teams to advance to the semi-finals. At the moment, three of the four teams likely to make the semis are South Africa, Australia and New Zealand with the likes of India, England, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Pakistan expected to fight for the last remaining spot. But these are mere predictions.
Let’s stick to Pakistan’s chances. Frankly when it comes to logic there seems little hope for Pakistan to win back the coveted title Down Under. But for a team that has a habit of defying logic everything seems possible.
Back in 1992, Pakistan weren’t among the favourites and in fact came back from the jaws of an early elimination to win the title. Over the years, this story kept repeating itself as Pakistan sizzled when many expected them to flop and flopped when expectations were high.
What Pakistan will need are two basic ingredients: the will and determination to play like a well-oiled, well-knit unit and a few match-winning performances from some of their players.
To expect complete unity from Pakistan might be too optimistic considering that their players are often at loggerheads with each other. But it can be done. Imran managed to do it 22 years ago so why can’t Misbah do it now. What players like Misbah, Shahid Afridi and Younis Khan need to realise is that this is going to be their last 50-over World Cup and hence is their last chance for what is the ultimate glory in international cricket. For younger ones like Sohaib Maqsood, Harris Sohail and Junaid Khan, it is a perfect opportunity to seal their status as future stars. They could go on to become Pakistan’s modern day Imzamams and Akrams.
Look up the stats and you will find Pakistan lagging behind the top title contenders. That’s a big shortcoming and it can only be overcome if the mind refuses to be bogged down by it. Sport is full of fantastic stories where an underdog topples a favourite merely because of belief. Pakistan have been that underdog in the past, having achieved greatness against all odds. They can do it again. Pakistan’s World Cup dream seems next to impossible at the moment but we’ll see.