Pakistan cricket icon, and probably the most favourite player of T20 cricket, Shahid Afridi has sought the ‘spirit of 2009’ for another World T20 title. The box office trailblazer of white-ball cricket believes that “unpredictable” Pakistan can win a second T20 World Cup with the same ‘spirit’. It means that according to the retired all-rounder Pakistan’s chances rest more on the ‘X-factor’ — like passion, spirit, and unpredictability — instead of team formation, management, and strategy.
Always a passionate and ardent competitor — both on and off the field — and characteristically optimistic, Afridi is sending a signal to the Pakistan cricket team just before the mega event. The specific mentioning of the 2009 T20 World Cup was also a reminder of Afridi’s central role in the victory, when he had steered Pakistan to glory, with ‘Man of the Match’ performances in both the semifinal and final. Indeed that astounding performance in the major tournament could hardly ever be matched. It was that T20 World Cup, where Afridi showcased his true talent in the format he was best suited to.
No doubt, the Pakistan cricket team is constantly credited with bringing passion and enthusiasm to the field. The wins in 1992 and 2009 had been attributed to that extra zip among the players. Furthermore, the advent of T20 would have been looked at as more favourable than the other formats, as described in Afridi’s words it “suits our character”.
But the fact is that the team Pakistan has always been inconsistent, except in the brief period under Imran Khan. And with the turn of the century, this inconsistency has widened up, and even led to failures. It means that besides having a manifold increase in the followers and aspirers, the modern management, coaching, and team selection methods have not been adapted. Yes, passion and enthusiasm bring extra mileage, charm, and especially love of the game, but for enthusiasm to work, planning is a requisite in today’s cricket. If spirit alone could do wonders, then the Bangladeshi team, which could do all types of dances in fervour to celebrate their rare wins, must take the place of the quiet but effective running Kiwis, the finalist of ODI World Cup and the current Test champions.
Though compared to other formats, T20 is thought to be unpredictable, more zealous, and fast-paced; yet these aspects have to be synchronised with the right team balance, modern coaching, and the ability to surprise the opposing team with different plans and techniques. An erratic team can upset one or two, but to sustain the winning streak in a major and long tournament is not quite possible.
Remember, in 2009, these were the early days of that format. The teams were just finding out the right combination and understanding of playing with 20 overs, and even ICC was in a panic, conducting T20 championship year after year. This is not to undermine the effort of the Pakistani team, their right balance, and the supreme heroic of Afridi that brought any major trophy of cricket in the country after 17 years. What is intended to mention here is that lot of the functioning of the international sides has been transformed since 2009, and that besides spirit and courage, the successful teams have carried better balance and planning.
Also, there is nothing that suggests the Pakistani squad is carrying any extra luggage of spirit that the other units don’t have. Regarded as the ‘dark horse’, Pakistan is no more unpredictable than the West Indies, the two-time World T20 champions. The thinking that we are carrying any extra tag at all might not be truthful.
In essence, under Babar Azam, it all suggests that the side would have liked to take the opposition on with ‘safer’ cards. With not-too-sure newcomers, there are two senior pros now in Malik and Hafeez who would provide the settling role with the calm captain. Seemingly carrying the traditional approach, Pakistan is going to bank on a similar combination, with preference for experience – more settled and predictable.
Do we have a hero like the 2009 World Cup? Energetic, assured, and possessing supreme talent, Shaheen Afridi would be gearing up to baffle the rival batsmen. However, in T20 and under these pitches and conditions, the fast bowler’s role is limited. The history of T20 also complies with this.
With the last-minute replacement of coaches, the extra input of the new PCB boss, and the typical strategy by the captain and management, one feels that the squad is likely to be worked out by the smart sides. Maybe pessimistic, but the chances are that the World T20 might end up being a disappointment this time.
As far as spirit to win the World Cup is concerned, one must consider the captain of the 1992 World Cup, and present prime minister Imran Khan, who is thought to have been working right under the ‘spirit’. A World Cup win would work well for PM Khan, who is definitely in need of taking another credit in the current crisis.
By the time dust settles Haider Ali would be in the team and Hafeez and Malik both retired.