Pakistan vs Ireland: Will St Patrick’s Day be Ireland’s lucky charm?

Published: March 14, 2015
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That was perhaps the day when an Irish victory was classified as nothing less than a shock, a flash in the pan, a below-mediocre team indulging in a giant killing act against no less than a team like Pakistan, one of the favourites at that point in time.

St Patrick’s Day is right around the corner. The Irish, as well as the non-Irish in Washington, are looking forward to celebrating and partying all night long.

One of my several bosses, a third generation Irish-American, Mr O’Brien, is a stocky little man who talks to no end and although we are not in the business of selling, he sounds like a perfect auctioneer. The other day, I stopped him in the middle of one of his verbal onslaughts and asked if he knew about the game of cricket.

“No, I don’t,” followed by a long, speechless pause was the answer. I somehow knew that he would be stumped for an answer but felt triumphant that I was able to not only bring his speech diarrhoea to a rather abrupt halt, but made him think for a few fleeting moments!

I did not have any intention of teaching O’Brien the ins and outs of cricket but I did tell him that the cricket World Cup was in progress Down Under. Come on, people. He did know what Down Under meant! My generation of Americans is, after all, not that dumb. Cannot say much about the current one though.

real world cup, I told Mr O’Brien, and not just the World Series type competition, which is only played by domestic North American teams. I did, however, let him know that the Irish team is doing pretty well and despite the fact that they are not a ‘recognised’ outfit, they are doing better than many top ranking teams.

I seemed to have engaged and stimulated O’Brien for a minute, but then he made a devastatingly sad proclamation and said that every bloody Irish starts feeling ‘up and up’ around St Pats Day! Period. This essentially brought an end to our ‘conversation’ of sorts since O’Brien quickly reverted back to his jibber jabber about Netanyahu’s destruction of American foreign policy and how we are mortgaged to Israeli interests and the US Far Right.

For once, with some reservations obviously, I did agree with the man.

Yes, there are times when I feel sorry for O’Brien’s gullibility and ignorance. After all he has placed a bottle of Irish Spring on his work desk to announce to every Tom, Dick and Harry that he’s Irish and that spring is arriving in Ireland.

Nevertheless, his rushed, non-sensible remarks about the Irish being on a high on St Patty’s day made me scratch my head later on. I realised that the next World Cup match that they play is against Pakistan on March 15, so close to the Feast of Saint Patrick. If my memory serves me right, the Irish did indeed spring a surprise some World Cups ago and embarrassed Pakistan on St Patrick’s Day.

That was perhaps the day when an Irish victory was classified as nothing less than a shock, a flash in the pan, a below-mediocre team indulging in a giant killing act against no less than a team like Pakistan, one of the favourites at that point in time.

Fast forward to today, the Irish are no longer the black sheep or the underdogs. In fact, they are expected to slay the prominent teams, the big shots, or at least put a dent on the hopes and aspirations of those who are considered the favourites to achieve bigger and better results.

My cricket-enthusiast friends tell me, and I confirmed, that they need just a single point to get through to the quarter finals, a dangerous situation for Pakistan, now an edgy, unpredictable, homeless team characterised by all symptoms schizophrenic, and laced with bipolarity of attitude and approach to the game.

Pakistan has certainly got its work cut out. While they did wonderfully well against the star-studded South African team, facing the Irish will be a different ball game altogether.

If I were the chief selector – no pun intended, but I think I can be one in reality since the position is open to all by virtue of the gambling Moin Khan’s exit – I would pick a variation of resources. This would mean that that I would not necessarily emphasise on going all out with the quicks but introduce Yasir Shah, a leg-spinner who can artfully deceive and bewilder the Irish batters, generally known for their cavalier approach.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Another methodology change could be the idea of getting real and manning up to all political pressure, to kick out Shahid Afridi and Younus Khan. I am no expert, but these two seem to be shivering in their pants in the dead heat of the Southern Hemisphere for no particular reason.

Photo: AFP

Younus did finally make it to double figures in the South Africa game but that is not why he is in the team. He should sit out the game against the Irish and if Pakistan makes it to the quarters, he can possibly come back after getting his stuff figured out. Right now, Younus is a bundle of nerves, at odds with himself; too much clutter that needs to be filtered out.

Photo: AFP

I would also not play Nasir Jamshed. He is a lost puppy, a deer caught in headlights. I am not aware of his background but it appears to me that some traumatic, historical event has impacted his mind.

Could it be a cultural shock or is it much more than that?

Photo: Reuters

I am not looking at the glass half empty. I did derive some hope after the victory against the Springboks. At least this Pakistani team is gaining momentum, getting to a mentally stable and strong position and most of all, achieving the desired results.

The broken hands syndrome is somewhat, hopefully, a thing of the past now. They proved the point by fielding so well and holding on to the catches in the South Africa game. Sarfraz Ahmed is a key asset whether Waqar Younis likes him or not.

Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

One thing that really irks me is the ‘Cornered Tigers’ phobia. It is putting unnecessary pressure on the players. Twenty-three years ago, the world was a different place. Without going into much detail, the Pakistan team of that time was an established unit that had a consistent past record, led by a leader with a no-nonsense attitude who did not care for the selectors, chief of mission or even the highest level functionary of the cricket board.

Imran Khan was a one-man show who commanded authority and respect from his team and whoever he played against. Imran was a master tactician like no other.

Photo: AFP

The Pakistan team of 2015 is not like the 1992 team. There will be never a team like the 1992 team.

Comparing each Pakistani World Cup squad to the 1992 outfit is a diversion and a distraction. Worst of all, the 2015 team does not even have a home for eons now. They have been playing in foreign lands and moving around like refugees and nomads. This was certainly not the case with the Cornered Tigers.

Photo: AFP

This Pakistan cricket team of today, if they want to win, needs to rid itself of whatever happened in the past, i.e. the Cornered Tigers phenomenon, the wretched political circus within the cricket board and, of course, the two defeats in the ongoing World Cup.

What they should do and, for the life of me, I ask the Pakistani public to help and cooperate, is to keep their heads down, focus, bat with a straight bat, bowl their hearts out and field as if there’s no tomorrow. Leave the rest to God and don’t worry too much about the results. Victory is not how the result comes out; it is, in fact, a question of how much effort did you put in. Did you play with your heart and soul? Did you give your 100 percent?

I understand there is a lot at stake but these guys have already performed incredibly well under the given set of circumstances. No other team is faced with this much off-the-field stress than this Pakistani side. Whatever happens in this World Cup, bring the boys home, bring international cricket back to Pakistan, get them some competition in their home territory, kick the rotten eggs out and perhaps ask Imran to run the cricket board. Now that he is done with the dharnas and the honeymoon period, he can spare some of his time and effort to regenerating and reinvigorating the spirit of the game in the country.

As for the Ireland match, all that matters is Pakistan showing up and putting up a brave fight. Everything else is a bonus. On the other hand, the Irish have nothing to lose. They are a happy-go-lucky but exceptionally professional team. If they make it to the quarters, they will not only make St Patrick proud, they might herald a completely new era in the world of cricket.

Ironic it is though that pathetic teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are allowed to play test cricket but Ireland is not. My question is, why not? I am certain O’Brien would not have the answer.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.