Despite the hype and the bravado expressed in the pre-game media engagements, the Pakistan team that walked on the field to face India on the 4 June in what was termed the ‘El Clasico’ of cricket was a mere shadow of its glorious predecessors. A clearly irate Mickey Arthur in his post-game press conference after the fiasco against India was to describe his wards as overcome by the magnitude of the occasion which really seemed to be an admission of meek surrender.
The Pakistan team that stepped on to the pitch in Edgbaston on 4 June appeared devoid of any backbone and seemed to go through the motions as if the result was inevitable. The fielding was insipid, the batting lacked any planning but more importantly, Pakistan’s bowling was timid and offered no challenge to the opposition. The hesitancy to attack due to fear of failure was apparent from the start of the India innings and with that mindset, things could only go downhill as was clear from the final result.
As many would remark at the end the end of the 124-run drubbing that the Pakistan side received at the hands of their neighbour and arch-rival, the side was closer to a group of frightened kittens as compared to the much publicized ‘Cornered Tigers’ that the legendary Imran Khan spoke about during their victorious campaign in the 1992 World Cup.
The Imran Khan philosophy of unmitigated attack was one that he instilled in his side and left as a legacy for others to learn and follow once he retired. To the Great Khan, attack was a byword for success at the international level where better opposing sides could sniff fear from any sort of defensive approach. Imran's philosophy was to not take any backward steps against any opposition and it was an ideology that reaped rewards.
The ethos of all-out attack as the only strategy for victory was one that any team that Imran Khan was involved in demonstrated and no better example of that was in the manner in which he used the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis under his leadership.
To attack with two great fast bowlers in the most aggressive manner with fields set to put fear in the eyes of the opposing batsmen was something that Pakistan teams put into practice time and time again. It may appear strange in today’s world where statistics are over-analysed but the mantra of bowling as fast as you can without worrying about such things as extras or being hit for the occasional boundary was the order of the day in the old days under Imran.
The World Cup 1992 triumph which still ranks as Pakistan’s crowning glory was built upon the basis of a bowling attack that literally worked on blowing away the opposition. The idea was that to take wickets was the only way to restrict a side, containment was not an option and was regarded as a negative tactic. This obviously meant the use of resources which could take the fight to the enemy and were not there to put in a hard-days’ work with sanitized lines and lengths.
In the world of attacking cricket, even spinners were front-line wicket-taking options. Mushtaq Ahmed demonstrated this in the most emphatic manner to the world in 1992. His performances during that competition possibly changed the role of the spinner in all forms of cricket. Slow-bowlers were now weapons of choice for captains and the world of cricket was richer for that idea.
The Pakistan's Champions Trophy campaign in 2017 started off with a performance that literally brought tears of desperation to the eyes of their supporters. Imran Khan in comments after that game wanted his country’s team to approach each game with a will to win and not with thoughts of failure. The challenge for Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz Ahmed was to instill that spirit in their wards which they did with great success to take their team to the final of the tournament.
The tentative approach of the first game was replaced with an all-out attack by the bowlers in the do-or-die games against South Africa and Sri Lanka. The bowlers attacked the stumps and the batsmen in a manner which would have made the likes of Imran, Wasim, Waqar and Mushtaq proud of their successors. Mohammad Amir bowled with pace and accuracy and the yorkers from each of Junaid Khan and Hasan Ali were fired in with intent to take wickets. When Shadab Khan was asked to take his place in the team for the semi-final clash with England, he responded with a bowling performance which was not meant to save runs but took out arguably the best batsman England had on offer.
Similarly, Rumman Raees on his ODI debut during the game against England could have been excused to have looked to have bowled his quota of overs with a low economy rate but he did much more than that as he took two wickets which further eroded England’s chances of setting up a challenging total for Pakistan. The fact that the relatively unknown Hasan Ali who's now the leading wicket-taker of the Champions Trophy can be credited in no small measures to his ability to attack with all his might to take wickets as and when needed by the team. The occasional loose ball is not a matter of concern as the aggressive right-armer has shown the watching world.
There is no doubt that the tradition of bowling with intent is one that is ingrained in the Pakistani bowling psyche but what is equally true is the fact that Pakistan have been most successful when they have gone in to a game with a plan to attack and not contain. This is the same quality which is now seeing a resurgence during the current tournament in which Pakistan entered as underdogs but now find themselves as finalists, much to the amazement of many cricket followers.
The 92 Cornered Tigers they aren't, but what the current Pakistan team has shown is that they are at their best with an aggressive captain at the helm and bowlers who have no thought for defence and containment . This revival in an attacking mindset could well see Sarfraz Ahmed and his team-mates lift the Champions Trophy at The Oval on Sunday.