AsiaCup’18: Dear Pakistan, you can’t be a champion if you only play against the weakest

Published: September 27, 2018
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Bangladesh's Rubel Hossain (C) celebrates the wicket of Pakistan's Shoaib Malik on Wednesday. PHOTO: AFP

Now that Pakistan has been put out of its misery and the dust is finally starting to settle, let’s get back to the drawing board. There is a lot that went wrong but it wasn’t entirely unpredictable.

Give me an opportunity to walk you through the events that transpired when the nation was still high on the Champions Trophy victory. Immediately after becoming champions, Pakistan hosted a weak Sri Lankan team in the UAE. They cruised their way to an ODI clean sweep. Confidence went skyrocketing and a bubble of illusion was formed.

Pakistan’s cricketers celebrate the dismissal of Seekkuge Prasanna of Sri Lanka during the fifth one day international (ODI) cricket match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Sharjah on October 23, 2017. Photo: AFP

Then came January of 2018 and we went on a tour to New Zealand. This was our first competitive tour since June 2017. Pakistan got hammered, beaten, thrashed, smacked and finally whitewashed in the ODI series against New Zealand.

Pakistan’s Babar Azam (C) walks from the field after being caught during the 5th one-day international cricket match between New Zealand and Pakistan at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on January 19, 2018. Photo: AFP

I tried to raise the red flags that all is not well. I wrote on Pakistan seeming like a lost child but little mattered back then because we were still watching the Champions Trophy final on repeat. It was alarming that whitewashes didn’t hurt our ego anymore; somehow Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) scrapped that humiliation from the fans’ memories. They kept diverting focus to our T20 ranking.

Then came the below par West Indies tour of Pakistan in April of 2018, three months after the boys returned with bruises from New Zealand. There was not a single ODI scheduled. The team kept breathing life into the Champions Trophy memories.

Pakistani cricketers celebrate the dismissal of unseen West Indies batsman Denesh Ramdin during the first T20 match between Pakistan and West Indies at National Stadium in Karachi on April 1, 2018. Photo: AFP

Next up, the Men in Green went on a tour to Ireland, Scotland and England during May-June of 2018. They toured three countries and participated in a total of zero ODI series. Nobody cared!

By this time, one whole year had passed since the Champions Trophy final and except the drubbing received in New Zealand, Pakistan had not played ODIs against any top competitive side. Nobody cared!

July of 2018, Pakistan decided to tour Zimbabwe that included five ODIs. I am all for promoting cricket but is the responsibility of playing against teams of lower quality solely on Pakistan? Had we not done our share by playing Scotland and Ireland earlier in the year? We beat a depleted Zimbabwe side 5-0 in ODI series with a full strength team and blew more air into our bubble of illusion.

Pakistan’s pose with the trophy during the price ceremony after winning the fifth One-Day International (ODI) series final cricket match against Zimbabwe at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo, on, July 22, 2018. Photo: AFP

Finally, we enter September of 2018 and where we stand today. We entered Asia Cup high on a victory that took place more than a year ago. Since then we have not played a single competitive ODI series, except one where we took a severe beating from New Zealand. Instead of being nervous of our lack of preparation prior to the Asia Cup, PCB made a great use of white lies.

Misleading numbers, stats and figures were used to hype up the fan base. Figures such as Pakistan has won its last ‘xyz ODIs’ or Pakistan has not lost in the UAE for ‘x amount of time’ were floated around on social media.

White lie means telling a partial story and intentionally hiding the relevant facts. Nobody revealed that the stats are highly inflated because Pakistan has only been playing ODIs against below average teams.

The stats of teams like India may not seem so pretty on paper but that is because they have been playing only quality cricket. While Pakistan was busy sending their top quality side to tours like Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland, India was battling with the big boys. Whether India lost against Australia or England would not matter. The fact is they were always playing best quality of cricket.

Now that we have done a little flashback of what has followed since our Champions Trophy victory, tell me honestly what surprises you? Isn’t a team that plays quality cricket supposed to thrash a team that either played no ODIs or played against lowest quality opponents for a whole year?

Does it surprise you that a team that has won no significant ODI series against a quality side in over a year got knocked out of the Asia Cup? If this was not on the cards then what was the expectation? Did we really think we would wake up to see Fakhar Zaman ride his luck and guide us to another trophy?

Pakistan’s captain Sarfraz Ahmed (L) leaves the field followed by India’s Dinesh Karthik (R) and Ambati Rayudu (C) at the end of the one day international (ODI) Asia Cup cricket match between Pakistan and India at The Dubai International Cricket Stadium in Dubai on September 19, 2018. Photo: AFP

I didn’t say a word prior to the Asia Cup. I knew the bubble hasn’t burst yet and my concerns regarding the team wouldn’t hold merit for Pakistani fans. Finally, when the nightmare has ended for Pakistan, I thought it would be best to share where I felt we went wrong.

Sarfraz Ahmed will face an unprecedented amount of criticism, as the losses have undoubtedly been embarrassing and ugly. His captaincy, specifically in the last match against Bangladesh, has been appalling. However, it is not entirely his fault as the management had scheduled tours with teams that never tested his captaincy for an entire year, barring Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand.

Fans will be calling for heads to be rolled but that is not the main problem. These young players were talented back in Champions Trophy and they are talented today as well, but how will you discover your weaknesses when you only play against the weakest?

To remain a champion, one must keep playing against champions. Pakistan did the opposite and paid the price. Batting, bowling, fielding and captaincy, all of it went downhill when the pressure was on and the opposition wasn’t amateur. Tour better teams next time prior to a tournament or choose a different tournament where only Ireland, Scotland, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe are participating. We’re not ready for the big boys as yet!

Hamza Junaid

Hamza Junaid

The author is an avid cricket follower and plays for a team called Gladiators based in New York. He tweets as @hamza_junaid1 (twitter.com/hamza_junaid1)

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

  • Yogi Berra

    Agree. Pak Team is not yet ready for Big Boy’s club. Will take some time for that to happen.Recommend

  • Sufiyan

    You make a very good point. The writing was on the wall all along. We just chose to look the other way. It was quite obvious the reputation of the Pakistani team was inflated due to recent victories against fragile opponents. What you have to keep in mind is, to get a tour against a “top side,” you have to convince that you can put up a fight against them. I don’t think top ranked teams will be lining up to host or to visit Pakistan considering what just happened. The current form of our batsmen or bowlers will not attract big crowds and expensive broadcasting rights so why would they be interested in playing against Pakistan. You need to show that you belong in that league first. In the 90s we did, can’t say the same for now.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    what a silly title. like winning against India, England, Southafrica on english conditions was not enough.

    Pakistan cannot win every title specially whey they leave out players like Azhar, Imad & Hafeed. We wanted that stability in batting and spin attack.

    poor selection of team lead to this.

    India on the other hand was playing with 2 pacers & 4 spinners.Recommend

  • Waqas

    100% agreed, but the problem is that there is no FTP now, and teams play bi-literal series as per their discretion. If no country is willing to tour us or host what will the PCB do.Recommend

  • Rahul

    “Whether India lost against Australia or England would not matter. The fact is they were always playing best quality of cricket”

    The writer forgot to mention that India defeated South Africa in South Africa in both the ODIs and T20s. We beat England in the T20 and ran them close in the ODIs in England. We won the triangular Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka minus key players like Kohli, Dhoni, Bumrah, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar among others. Dinesh Karthik was the unlikely hero in that series.Recommend

  • Engr.Amir Sultan Rana

    The long string of continual success remained with us in almost all aspects of cricket for the last many years. We should not penalize our team for their bad performance in Asia Cup rather we should prepare them for coming world cup in 2019.

    At this time, the PCB chairman should start preparing our team to be wining team for the coming world cup.

    Sarfaraz has proved to be good captain and their should be no changes in this immediately. Take the best for the worldcup in 2019 and make the name of Pakistan at high.Recommend

  • Engr.Amir Sultan Rana

    I think we should give current team more time to settle again on a stream of wining. Try to prepare for next year worldcup 2019. Make a come back with wining it.Recommend

  • jssidhoo

    If you do not stop export of terror to India you will not get any bi-lateral series against India nor will your players get to play IPL so there will be no improvement in your team . See the improvement in the Afghan team if you dont get my logic .Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    @PatelPara I am talking about one day format only since champions trophy victory. I don’t know when did Pakistan beat India, England, South Africa and England in ODIs in that past one year so please enlighten me. It is important to realize that victories that took place years ago have nothing to do with the team’s abilities today.
    I would agree that dropping Hafeez and Azar Ali was probably a mistake. They both are useful in UAE conditions.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    Yes and shouldn’t we question PCB why no top nation is giving us series anymore? Lack of performances from the team combined with PCB’s lack of diplomatic skills to build better relations with other boards means we stand here today where teams are not interested to host Pakistan for a full series. I don’t remember when was the last time where we spent an entire year playing below par teams(except New Zealand).Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    Good for India! The point was not to count India’s victories but to stress the fact that they come well prepared for tournaments because they have been playing against the best in the world. You don’t learn much when you keep playing teams that are weaker than you. Had Pakistan played against quality sides the red flags would have been raised earlier rather than living in a fairy tale.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    Wouldn’t you agree that playing against the best sides would be a good preparation for the 2019 world cup? Or should we go back to playing Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland till 2019 world cup and then all of a sudden face quality sides in the tournament?Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    I would disagree. The current team has had enough time to settle and a lot of confidence boosting series against weaker sides. Now its time to play against the big boys and produce some results. World Cup 2019 is not far at all.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    I still don’t get your logic… Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus, Shoaib Akhtar were not products of IPL. Not everything in the world revolves around IPL.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    It may take a lot of time if corrective measures are not taken instantly. PCB is still asleep… Hope the new chairman takes some bold decisions regarding domestic setup as well as making PCB a professional institution that runs on merit not connections.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    You made a very valid point. The tours of top sides need to be earned rather than be taken for granted. I agree Pakistan team should take a fair share of the blame for playing so poorly that viewership is not attracted. They get rolled over by opposition like minnows these days hence top sides have not been inviting Pakistan much. Team of the 90s always put up an entertaining show regardless of a win or loss.Recommend

  • Sufiyan

    If you can stop export of Kulbushan Jhadav that would be much appreciated. Also, you can keep your bilateral series. We don’t need it. There are other reputable teams that we can and should play with. Thanks for your 2 cents but we are good over here!Recommend

  • jssidhoo

    I remember a statement from Wasim Akram( one of my favourites ) that a India tour was the best tonic to revive the Pakistani team as it got their competitive juices going and united the team . Regarding the IPL it would give your players a chance to play against high quality opposition as not only do the best Indian players take part each team also has 4 overseas players who are normally among the best in the world . Playing good opposition improves your game . The Pakistani greats that you mentioned are not products of the IPL but they did get to play against the best in the world , which your players are not getting enough off .Recommend

  • jssidhoo

    Please see my reply to Hamza belowRecommend

  • gp65

    I think he is referring to Champions Trophy victory against these teams.Recommend

  • gp65

    Fair – Pakistan cannot win every title. But are you satisfied with the performance? Winning against Afghanistan with barely 2 balls to spare, losing to Bangladesh by 37 runs and losing to India – once with 8 wickets and another time with 9 wickets and both times under 40 overs.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    absolutely not. Pathetic performance and was expected by a 5-0 rubbing in NZ. People complained at that time as well for selector Inzimam. The other issue Mickey being picky and not respecting seniors.
    I was only commenting on the title. yellow journalism at its best.

    Inzi Mickey and others in PCB including the new one, are the same as Sethi and folks (politicians) who believe they are above everyone and are never held accountable.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    My God you don’t understand FTP’s don’t you???Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    So it goes back to my point. They need to be playing quality cricket against the best. There are other sources apart from IPL to get quality cricket but Pakistan’s management has failed to book full series with top sides. As for IPL, it am not sure about the quality of cricket but certainly quality bookies to meet at IPL. I would rather not get into politics. We can do just fine without IPL as well.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    The title is always picked by ET so you can address your concerns to them. The blog is my content and I am open to talk on that.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    Yeah but the blog was about what happened post champions trophy. Unfortunately, when we win we forget to remain focused. I certainly believe Pakistan did not come prepared in Asia Cup. All their ODI victories in past 1 year have been against below par teams.Recommend

  • gp65

    Thank you for your response. I am wondering what part of the title did you find problematic? Basically it is saying that in order to ensure that Pakistani team retained the good form of Champions Trophy, they should have continued to play good teams afterwards and instead they chose to only play weaker teams (with exception of NZ). It seems like a logical viewpoint. Of course you may disagree. But why do you feel it is yellow journalism?Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    I understand FTP PatelPara. Apart from the minimum required tours with other teams, each cricket board is free to reach an agreement with another board to play more bilateral series. Hence, India will be playing the most matches across all formats from 2018-2023 because BCCI is most in demand when it comes to playing cricket. PCB on the other hand wasn’t able to reach a mutual understanding with any quality side(except NZ) over the past 1 year for a bilateral series. If i missed something please enlighten us.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    so if Asia cup would have happened next year just before World cup you would not have an argument for the schedule?

    you think PCB can schedule something against teams against their own will??? when they are definitely giving time after asia cup & not before asia cup???Recommend

  • Swati Singh

    Well I came across this blog very late. Anyways I agree with your point about playing weak teams but would like to add one more point. You guys were overconfident. Seriously, I came across the statements made by some of the Pakistani players specially from your captain. He “wanted” his players to score 300 runs in every match, he thought india would be under pressure. The chatter about kohli’s absence (who of course is the best ). They actually thought that they would just walk through india. When I read all those statements, it kind of made dent in my confidence I had in my team. So of course when opposite of that happened in 1st match, Pakistani player’s confidence and self believe was completely shattered. They are not that bad a team to lose by 9 wickets. They are much better bowling unit then they displayed on that day.
    P.s. all the hype about contest between M. Amir and Rohit sharma should be stopped now. They are similar kind of player. Both of them need help from pitches . Though Dubai’s pitch was not that good for batting so Rohit actually did a better job.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    By your logic, England should not have played srilanka, india should not have played westindies & south africa should not have played zimbabwe because all are play against a very weak team and happen to be the ones Pakistan excelled against in ODI form.Recommend