Cricket: Eat, sleep, T20
By the time the article gets printed, the fourth edition of ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka will be in the sixth day of competition. Two-thirds of the one dozen preliminary-round fixtures are already done and dusted of what is being touted as the most open tournament with no one particular side billed as the favourites.
Observers say that the shortest version offers so much unpredictability that it is invariably a risky business to envisage the eventual champions. When the inaugural championship was staged in South Africa in 2007, who could have predicted that it would end up with an India-Pakistan final?
Some of the purists still scorn at the concept of this type of cricket, but contrary to their thinking, the T20 format has given the sport a new lease of life in the shape of countless leagues in the sub-continent in recent times. One example of its popularity is the energy the format brings and the kind of quick money it generates. These days, cricketers work harder on their fitness levels to meet the rigorous demands of it.
The belief that the shortest form of the sport could have a disturbing effect on the upcoming generation of cricketers is true in some respect. But T20 is not the wholesale slam-bang stuff as many would think it is supposed to be. The skills — such as strength, speed, agility and reaction time — have helped to improve all areas of the game, particularly the standards of fielding. Certainly T20 has made the sport more eye-catching, its impact everlasting and none more so than the World Twenty20 with
the game’s governing body making it a biennial event from 2010 onwards.
In this background, it is hard to overlook the prospects of the Pakistani team which is undoubtedly international cricket’s surprise package, capable of self-destructing madness at times even against the harmless of opponents. On the other hand, it has the uncanny ability to bounce back from nowhere to emerge as a serious contender.
In this format, Pakistan boasts of an impressive CV with that runners-up finish in the first edition and the losing semi-finalists in the West Indies when Mike Hussey produced perhaps the most spectacular World Twenty20 innings ever played by an individual — demolishing then the not-so-rated highly Saeed Ajmal out of sight — by scoring 37 of the 48 runs Australia required from the last 17 deliveries at Gros Islet.
Sandwiched between those events is the successful 2009 campaign in England which led to Younis Khan’s Pakistan outfit being crowned champions for the shortest duration. Just over eight months later, the men-in-green were dethroned in the Caribbean where England, skippered by Paul Collingwood and inspired by the unorthodox batting of Kevin Pietersen, outgunned arch-rivals Australia in the final at Bridgetown.
The Pakistani team launches its campaign in the current championship today against New Zealand with expectations running high among ardent supporters following that morale-boosting result against India six days ago. That win couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for Mohammad Hafeez, the captain who now forms a relatively new partnership with head coach Dav Whatmore. The victory should serve in giving the team a self-belief that could go all the way despite its recent troubles.
The fact that their territory is a ‘no-go’ area for foreign teams for more than three years ago now, Pakistan will once again look upon Sri Lanka as home away from home and take a leaf out of the 50-over World Cup performance last year on the lovely island where they gelled pretty well as a unit under Shahid Afridi’s leadership to qualify for the quarter-finals as Group ‘A’ winners.
The only defeat experienced by Pakistan in Sri Lanka during the 2011 World Cup was against New Zealand who will be trying this time to draw inspiration from the fond memories of the picturesque Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, where Ross Taylor celebrated his birthday with a fortuitous unbeaten century courtesy Kamran Akmal’s generosity behind the stumps early in the set piece.
Pakistan should also not underestimate the dark horses in their pool, Bangladesh, who are equipped with the personnel to upset big teams this time in sub-continental conditions. The West Indies are well aware of this piece of history since they were knocked out by Bangladesh in opening round of the inaugural competition five years ago. This obviously illustrates that there won’t be easy games on offer. If the initial phase goes as planned, the seeded teams should progress to the Super Eights stage; the highlight of that phase is the anticipated mouth-watering clash between Pakistan and India in Colombo next Sunday evening.
Top-seeded in Group ‘D’ and provided they qualify, the Pakistani team is guaranteed all of the three second-round matches at the R. Premadasa Stadium where the conditions could favour it in securing its first win over India which has won both the previous World Twenty20 encounters against them, including a farcical bowl-out when the teams tied the league match in South Africa.
Australia and South Africa are expected to join former champions Pakistan and India in the Super Eights pool which is described as the ‘Group of death’ as only the top two among them would progress to the semi-finals. Barring shock results at the preliminary stage, hosts Sri Lanka, reigning champions England, New Zealand and the West Indies are tipped to make the other group for the Super Eights.
As in any other sport, the side maintaining their composure on the given day always prevails. Pakistan needs to remember this aspect all the time. They must seize the moment and each one has to contribute to the team’s success. Several players in the Pakistani squad would be under spotlight, notably Shahid Afridi who masterminded his country to glory in 2009 with runs, wickets and catches and Umar Akmal who somehow doesn’t seems to learn from stupid mistakes at the crease. Swapping his shirt number with oldest sibling Kamran recently from No 96 to 23 isn’t going to change his luck unless he starts reading the game situations and bat accordingly.
Afridi, sadly, looks more of a spent force these days, particularly with the ball, while his batting has deteriorated to such an extent that it is simply a waste of time expecting him to reproduce the form when he used to change the complexion of a game with blink of an eye.
This Pakistan side should keep in mind that Saeed Ajmal can’t alone win the trophy for them. Whoever is playing has got to play a part because the team isn’t formidable enough to have the luxury of letting Afridi and Umar Akmal carry on in the same vein as they have been of late.