When you see it often enough you begin to notice patterns. It’s a movie you’ve seen many a time before. It’s the story of Pakistan in a middling chase.
It begins with an opener, falling early and cheaply too. Fakhar Zaman obliged.
Then there is the partnership; the one that makes it appear as if this won’t be a problem. On a few occasions, like in the game against New Zealand, a couple of those are all Pakistan need. But those are exceptions, or maybe not – maybe the numbers say that Pakistan usually complete these small chases with a couple of middle order partnerships – but that’s not the feeling you get. The feeling is one of impending doom, the realisation that even at one down the team is in a precarious situation. Maybe the failures stick longer in your memory. In either case, those partnerships, when they fail, usually tend to end with a shocker. Imam-ul-Haq obliged.
If it’s another team, a normal team, a competent team, that wicket is followed by the set batsman taking over. For Pakistan, especially when it’s Mohammad Hafeez, that’s when the set batsman throws his wicket away. Today, it wasn’t Mohammad Hafeez who did that; it was Babar Azam.
And then the choke. The partnership that makes you think that the point of this team is to torture its fans. Think back to Javed Miandad in 1996, to Saleem Malik at any time in the late 90s, to the countless Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan block-a-thons – they are all unique and yet they are all the same. They are an exercise in futility. Haris Sohail had looked pristine throughout this tournament; Hafeez, for all the times he has thrown away his wicket, has consistently looked in fine touch. Today the duo combined for 40 at under 3.4 an over. That was the rate Pakistan seemed to be targeting. From Babar’s wicket till Sarfraz Ahmed's brain-fade Pakistan went at under 3.5 an over. Pakistan are famous for collapsing in clusters, but it’s this slow strangulation of hope that their fans define them by.
Haris Sohail had looked immaculate against South Africa and for the most part against New Zealand too. Today he was out twice in an innings where his strike-rate never went above 60. Hafeez has played over 200 ODIs, and yet it appeared as if he was the least experienced player in the side.
But that’s not how the chase actually messes up. Not with batsmen being out-skilled. It needs more, it needs something that makes you question a player’s intelligence, it needs something uniquely Pakistani. Like the captain running himself out for no apparent reason; or one of the youngsters doing something similar. Or ideally both. And so Shadab Khan and Sarfraz obliged.
And that’s where the Pakistan team truly defines itself. In small chases with all-rounders and tail-enders. That’s where heroes are made. Umar Gul against South Africa; Anwar Ali against Sri Lanka; Sarfraz and Mohammad Amir against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy; Amir originally, with Ajmal nearly against New Zealand; Wasim and Waqar at Lord’s all those years ago; Waqar and Saqlain against India in Australia. These are innings that live long in the memory – not just because of how rare they are, but because with every choking of a middling chase by Pakistan that’s what the fans begin to hope for.
Imad Wasim is a better batsman than the names above. In his mind it might even be an insult to compare him to those names. If there’s one thing no one has ever accused Imad of it’s a lack of confidence.
The story goes that in a season of the CPL, in every innings that the Jamaica Tallawahs batted in, Imad asked Chris Gayle and Kumar Sangakkara to send him up the order for hitting. Their answer was that they didn’t need to – they had Andre Russell and Rovman Powell to do that: two of the best hitters in the competition, if not the world. Imad’s job was to be the leading spinner and contribute with the bat if he ever got the chance. But he wasn’t satisfied with that response. In every innings Imad would be there, with the same request to the captain and the coach. Eventually, it became a running joke among the players, particularly when he told them that this is the role he is famous for in Pakistan – that in his home country he is referred to as David Miller. The players asked other Pakistanis if that was the case, all said that this was the first time they had even heard of such a thing. Thus, he became known as David Miller in that dressing room; completely in jest obviously.
Over the past two years David Miller has averaged 37 at a strike rate of 93 in ODI cricket; in the same time period Imad has averaged 49 at 114. Perhaps Imad was being too harsh on himself.
Pakistanis aren’t particularly good at hiding their emotions. With every batsman barring perhaps Sarfraz you could see it in their faces that this chase wasn’t one they were particularly enjoying. Sarfraz appeared calm, until the storm of course. The other exception was Imad. Even when he was being befuddled by Rashid Khan, there appeared a serenity to him; a serenity built upon confidence. Whatever the source of that confidence it’s something Imad has always had, even in the days before he even played international cricket.
He tends to rub a lot of people the wrong way because of it, and yet that might be his greatest strength. In a game so dependent on mentality it’s the key to his success. Imad has never faced a batsman or bowler he didn’t think he could deal with. He isn’t the greatest athlete, he doesn’t have the skills of modern T20 spinners nor the natural hitting ability someone of his role, in another team, might have. But through graft and determination, he has honed his game to a level that he has become a necessity for Pakistan. He began as a bowling all-rounder, yet over the past two years he’s averaged nearly 60 with the ball. But in those two years he’s transformed himself into a batting all-rounder as the numbers above suggest. And through it all he has always had the confidence of someone who has been winning matches for his country for a decade, even though before today his highest score in a successful chase was 16.
Now he has his moment, his innings, the match he can point to, whether it's in dressing rooms throughout the world or when he’s arguing about his value in Pakistan. Miller has never contributed with the bat to a successful World Cup chase. Wasim has, and that too in a pressure game; a pseudo knock-out game; when everyone else had folded it was Imad who stood up. When he hit the winning runs there was no fist pump, no jumping in the air, Imad quietly ran to the other end, turned around and hugged Wahab. While the rest of the world, the fanbase and the dressing room may have been losing its mind, Imad had kept his.
When Imad walked out to the press conference after the game the first question he was asked was “Were you nervous when you walked out to bat that the game might be beyond you?” His answer, without missing a beat, was what you would expect: “Nah, it wasn’t like that.”
Hassan Cheema is the strategy manager of PSL franchise Islamabad United