We are almost two-thirds into the pool matches of the ongoing World Cup. Pakistan are second from bottom. They have been second from bottom for a while now. Last Sunday’s defeat against India means that qualification for the semifinals is out of their hands – and Pakistan still haven’t been formally knocked out yet.
Given the performances thus far, second from bottom is an accurate reflection of where Pakistan deserve to be. Long and excruciating this World Cup’s format might be, but what it guarantees is that every team will end up finding themselves precisely where they should be on the points table.
The only way for Pakistan to still make the top four is if they win their remaining four matches – that too convincingly – and hope for favours elsewhere. Yes, the “this happened in 1992 as well” brigade will tell you that this is precisely what the scenario was 27 years ago as well. Unfortunately for them, those particular straws have been clutched so much that the vastness of the waters and the inevitability of drowning is becoming more ominous after every defeat.
1992 or not, Pakistan have little choice but to treat every game as a knockout contest henceforth. For, it’s not just their future in the tournament that the team would be playing for: they would be fighting for their own futures as well.
Even if winning the four remaining matches eventually ends up being insufficient, finishing the tournament strongly would result is some feel-good factor that they can take home. A top-five finish, which four wins would ensure, would still be better than the current 9th position. Finish near the bottom, and given the format, this could turn out to be Pakistan’s worst ever showing at the World Cup.
Pakistan’s remaining fixtures read: South Africa, New Zealand, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Sunday’s match against South Africa is a 1/64 final for Pakistan if you will, with New Zealand (1/32), Afghanistan (1/16) and Bangladesh the quarterfinal – should Pakistan get on a winning streak.
In any case, Pakistan should take the matches one at a time beginning with South Africa. At the time of writing the Proteas are struggling against New Zealand, in what is a must win game for them. A loss for South Africa would knock them out of the tournament, which would mean Pakistan facing a side that mightn’t have anything to play for by Sunday.
A win against South Africa, would make Pakistan’s contest against New Zealand interesting, given that the Kiwis might just be the side that Pakistan would look to supplant from the top four, should everything else fall their way as well.
The team isn’t just playing for their future in the World Cup: the players are fighting for their own futures as well
Multiple changes are likely for Pakistan against South Africa. Shoaib Malik might just have played his last match for the national side, regardless of what happens henceforth. Haris Sohail is likely to play in his place, especially given that Asif Ali has done next to nothing with the opportunities he has been given.
Similarly, Hasan Ali might finally be dropped after a run of wretched displays with the ball. Mohammad Hasnain might be played on Sunday – he’ll definitely be played, if/when Pakistan are formally knocked out of the World Cup.
A detailed post-mortem would follow once that happens. But till Pakistan are alive, they need to continue to believe.
Indeed, the future of Sarfaraz Ahmed’s captaincy hangs in the balance as well. It is hence his responsibility to instill the same fight for survival that he’s currently clinging on to.
Unfortunately, the noise coming from the dressing room doesn’t imbue much confidence. But win the matches against South Africa and New Zealand and optimism might gradually seep in.