As the cricket World Cup enters its latter stages, Pakistan does not have things in their control with how the points table stands. They depend on other results. The lacklustre loss to India severely dampened the mood of Pakistani supporters. India’s balanced squad spurred on by its professionalism, performed better on the day with Rohit Sharma sealing the initiative early on. Pakistan were shabby in the field, missing a dolly of a run out of Rohit Sharma, and except Mohammad Amir, the bowling effort was not up-to the mark. On the other hand, starts were not converted into match winning performances with the bat, reflecting a loss of confidence and self-belief. Shot-selection, as has been mentioned in earlier pieces, was wayward and too premeditated, as the target of 337 became too much to handle. The team received a severe backslash on social media and traditional media spaces and some of it was unwarranted. The verbal abuse was definitely below the belt and reeked of entitled behaviour on part of the support base. It was unfortunate to see cricket players asking the fans not to attack them on personal grounds and bring their families into the conversations. At international events, a semblance of grace and wit has to be maintained by the supporters who have to learn to live with the grey areas inherent in the sporting experience and understand that winning and losing are part and parcel of the whole exercise. Desperate calls by the pundits to revive and revise the domestic structure, improve psychological training regimes, and refine fielding to bring it at par with international standards, make sense on many levels. But in all honesty, Pakistani performances in ODIs have been poor since the last World Cup, and the Champions Trophy cup win was an exception, and not the rule. Serious fans understand that the ODI team has been faring badly for quite a while so the Indian loss did not occur in a vacuum.

Bigger issues impeding Pakistani cricketing prospects need to be addressed in the long term, but for now, the team needs to perform at optimal levels in the remaining matches. Deeper structural issues will need a clear rethink. Whilst the current Prime Minister, and national cricketing hero Imran Khan pledged to make a cricket ground in every union council in the past, does the Pakistani state now possess the economic capabilities to successfully operationalize such a move? It seems impossible at the current going rate. There is an ongoing debate about whether to keep departmental cricket going and from the player’s point of view, it makes sense for it to go on. Under the current weight of material conditions, many talented youngsters seek greener pastures abroad. This trend should concern the cricketing board. The Quaid-e-Azam trophy, the country’s premier first class competition needs to be marketed and popularised once again as the audiences have completely shrunken. Pakistan joined the T20 franchise league bandwagon under the previous PCB Chairman, Najam Sethi, and while that has made sense from a business point of view, T20 becoming the most watched style of cricket in Pakistan is a dangerous precedent because future players are going to be the impressionable youth of today. Granted T20 cricket is the need of the hour, but the higher forms, ODI and Test matches require wider and generally more complete skillsets. Cricket coaching at the youth levels, is the severe need of the hour, and as the population continues to grow at 2.1 percent, there are simply not enough facilities in the country. The sporting decline in the nation has gone hand in hand with a real economic slump. In 1994, Pakistan was world champion in cricket, hockey, squash and snooker - all sports have faced a steep decline since then. Visionary leadership and commitment to a long term policy framework are essential in bringing back the glories of the past.

Pakistan responded well to the loss against India by winning against South Africa by 49 runs. An inspired batting effort by, previously discarded, Haris Sohail, helped Pakistan on its way to 308/7 in the allotted overs. His stroke-play was delightful to watch as he middled all his big shots and looked composed, leading to questions over whether he should have been included earlier. Babar Azam chipped in with a handy 69, but his usual folly of not being able to convert his starts into centuries was on display again. Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq both scored 44 each, as the opening stand worked as well, however both face the same criticism as Babar Azam. Capitalising the initiative and building on it are necessary for the top-order. Later, Pakistani bowlers took wickets at regular intervals, putting the pressure on the South Africans, whose World Cup showing has been miserable and below-par. As Pakistan knocked South Africa out of the World Cup, Wahab Riaz and Shadab Khan grabbed three wickets apiece, ably supported by the rest of the pack. Mohammad Amir took 2 wickets in an attacking spell and has been the pick of the Pakistani bowlers in the World Cup. The catching and ground fielding by Pakistan was extremely poor, however, and the display amounted to being probably one of the worst fielding efforts by any team in the tournament. Serious consideration needs to be taken by the coaching staff because these elementary errors are unforgivable in contemporary standards. Catches win you matches, and at this rate, we are being forced to claim 15 dismissals instead of 10. Many analysts had suggested Pakistan to bat first if they won the toss, and their assertions were vindicated. Recent records show that Pakistanis are not good chasers, and in World Cup settings, the pressure is doubled batting second. But the management and the captain must have noticed or expected the pitch to behave in a friendly manner on the instances they chose to have a bowl first. The toss matters, but it is not the only thing that matters, with a whole day of cricket left to play. Pakistan now have encounters against New Zealand, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, listed in decreasing order in terms of their difficulty. With three wins in the next three games, Pakistan opens up the very slight possibility of sneaking into the semi-finals, depending other results go their way and the leading nations on the leaderboard slip up. Even if the Pakistani team does not manage to qualify to the next round, they need to go out on a high and undo the mistakes made in the earlier matches whilst being competitive.