Pakistan take on Australia today, and if I were into betting, my money would be on the latter.
Australia have not established themselves as the best team in this version of World T20, unlike New Zealand, struggled as they have for all their victories so far. Their last match against Bangladesh was a close call. The team is not high on conviction in its own abilities; often giving the impression of an outfit still confused about a game plan in the shortest format of the game. Yet when it comes to a clash with Pakistan, Australia have to be the favourites.
If Pakistan win this match it will be a stroke of good luck, a happy accident. For many years now, most of their victories have been precisely that. One exceptional knock or one exceptional bowling performance but never a result of sturdy, sustained team effort; reflecting the character of their cricket. When Bangladesh put up a spirited fight and lose, you know they tried hard. You understand that a collective effort went into their competitive zeal, yet it didn’t reflect in the result. But next time they will be as tenacious and tough a challenger as any. That is not the case with Pakistan.
What is remarkable about Pakistan’s cricket is its yo-yo quality, brilliant on one day and abysmal on the other. The lack of consistency perhaps explains why they been overtaken by sub-continental peers.
India and Sri Lanka have established themselves well. Bangladesh, despite, being relative newcomers in international cricket, have made their mark. Now, we have newbie Afghanistan attracting a lot of attention. Being No.4 in a club of 5, is certainly a huge letdown for a cricket-playing nation that has produced some of the world’s best talent.
The Imran Khan days were perhaps the Golden Age of Pakistan cricket. Following a few years of afterglow, a period dominated by the likes of Wasim Akram, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis, it has been a steady decline. Curiously, the country’s assembly line for talent is still intact. It keeps producing players with exceptional ability, particularly bowlers.
All through the post-Imran days new cricketing sensations have broken into the national side and made an impression. The current bowling unit, including Mohammad Amir, Irfan, Wahab Riaz is several notches superior to that of other countries, the batting talent available in the team and on the benches is formidable too.
Yet Pakistan evoke little respect. They can only launch a successful ambush now and then but never be good at sustained war. The available talent has rarely translated into great teamwork. Shahid Afridi symbolises best what Pakistan cricket is all about.
The rallying point of Pakistan’s winning hopes for many years, particularly in the shorter formats tailor-made for his brand of cricket, Afridi has been far smaller a success story than what his country would expect him to be. Brilliant on rare occasions and dismal in most others, he in many ways personifies the predicament of Pakistan’s cricket. It stopped growing up many years ago, like Afridi as a player, and there’s little hope things will change.
Possibly, what Pakistan lack is a leader. Forever a deeply fractious team, it needs someone with the force of Imran Khan’s personality to act as the unifier. Imran led by example in bowling and batting. Afridi is only a caricature of a leader that Pakistan’s cricket direly needs. The cricket establishment in the country, allegedly divided itself on several lines, has been casual about or deliberately indifferent in grooming someone with strong leadership potential.
If this situation persists, then relying on Pakistan to deliver will always remain a big gamble. Coming back to today’s match, Australia do not inspire much confidence with their present form but against Pakistan they are a sure bet.