Up until now, not much has gone according to plan for Pakistan. Or has it? Go back to the World Cup in 1992. Pakistan’s first six matches went as: a loss, then a win, then an abandoned match, followed by two losses and a win. And then they went on to win the World Cup. This time around, their first six matches have had identical results, and on both occasions, their seventh was against an unbeaten New Zealand outfit. “They were unbeaten in 1992 too before playing against us and we won the game,” recalled Wasim Akram to Pakistani news channel Geo TV. “They’re unbeaten again and I hope we repeat the show, but boys will have to give their best.”
Akram has called for skipper Sarfaraz Khan to play the same starting XI that featured in the win against South Africa to keep Pakistan on course for another title-winning run. So things may not have gone entirely according to plan, but the coincidences favour the subcontinental team. Then again, how much can one look into coincidences?
Italy is supposed to reach a FIFA World Cup final once every 12 years – they didn’t last year. Liverpool is to win a Champions League every year Prince Charles gets married — no wedding bells rang this year.
They’ll have to find luck in some other stars now.
Smells like Kiwi spirit
Grant Elliott extending his hand to a distraught Dale Steyn and offering to lift him up off the turf after hitting a six in the semifinals to clinch the game four years ago. Ross Taylor and mates running over to console a heartbroken Carlos Brathwaite after the West Indian’s attempted heist ended in the hands of Trent Boult a few inches off the boundary rope. The New Zealand team deciding not to bowl bouncers to the Pakistan batsmen during a Test match in November 2014 as a mark of respect to Phil Hughes.
Nice guys don’t finish last, they either get knocked out in the semifinals (six times) or are runners-up in the final.
When it comes to the spirit of cricket, one of the awards, which hardly gets a mention when the World’s teams and players are feted by the ICC annually, the Black Caps won it three of the seven times when it was given to a team between 2004 and 2010. Once it was decided that the award must go to an individual player, New Zealanders have picked it up the most number of times between 2011 and 2018 – Kane Williamson (2018), Brendon McCullum (2015) and Daniel Vettori (2012).
It’s not just the cricketers, even the tough ruggers from the champion nation, have played with grace and respect. The All Blacks, the more revered team from NZ, has its share of heroes. Tana Umaga stopped to check on Welsh Colin Charvis, after another All Black Jerry Collins, had knocked him over.
The All Blacks were surging ahead, but Umaga bent down to remove Charvis’s mouth-guard to ensure he did not choke as he had briefly passed out. In 2015, Sonny Bill Williams showed extraordinary compassion in his hour of glory, after beating Australia, when he handed over his World Cup winners medal to a young fan who had rushed onto the field during the victory parade but got knocked over by a security guard. New Zealand fan Charlie Line, then 14, is a proud owner of a Rugby World Cup winner’s medal.
While other teams do have their share of ‘sportsmanship’ moments – Virat Kohli asking Indian fans not to heckle Steve Smith – the Kiwis seem to wear it as second skin, and not only when they are comfortably winning.
Boy can play (guitar too)
His bat has done all the talking. Now, it’s playing music as well. Kane Williamson turned his bat into a guitar, jamming along with singer and guitarist Mike Wilton. Well, Williamson was sitting awkwardly for majority of the duration before strumming a tune and letting himself loose.
It isn’t the first time he’s mixed cricket and music. In February this year, he invited one of New Zealand’s top bands, Drax Project, into the team’s dressing room at Basin Reserve in Wellington ahead of the nets session a day before the T20 international against India. Williamson, a keen guitarist, played some of the band’s famous songs, drawing a raucous response from the band members. The music’s done for now. Time again for bowlers to dance to his tunes.
Over rate yes, over-rated not
Praise has been pouring in thick and fast for Kane Williamson. Only his over-rate has been slow. But add ‘unselfish’ to that list of adjectives. Back home, the New Zealand captain is being hailed for putting the team before self; prioritising win over personal predicament. Williamson was fined 20 percent of his match fee for the team’s slow over rate in the win over West Indies. One more offence during the World Cup and he will be handed one-game suspension.
Speaking to New Zealand Media and Entertainment, Williamson said he was aware of the punishment that would be handed out to him, but was willing to face the music if it increased the possibility of winning the match. “The umpires do keep you noted in terms of your over rate. We were very close, and then when the game got tight, I thought what was more important was trying to make sure we were clear in what we were trying to do as a team, and then cop the charge at the end. Unfortunately, we were an over short.”
Head coach Gary Stead came in support of his captain’s unselfish act of putting a premium to winning over his personal pay. “The pressure of that match’s (vs WI) tight finish impacted the speed of his decision-making. I will be making sure players are prepared if a similar situation comes up in the final three league games.” The Black Caps have been fined just nine times since 1992 for over-rate related offences; two of them have come under Williamson. Kane might want to do something about the over-rate crawl, but his niceness ain’t over-rated at all.
Till defeat do us apart, again
Sarfaraz Ahmed is suddenly getting some praise. Just about a week ago, the Pakistani media, both mainstream and social, and also some former cricketers, were taking the mickey out of the Pakistan captain, as his team lost to India. Shoaib Akhtar went to the extent of calling Sarfaraz’s captaincy “brainless”. Positive vibes have returned after Pakistan’s victory over South Africa.
On the eve of Pakistan’s next match against New Zealand, a Dawn editorial was full of praise for the skipper.
“More importantly, Sarfaraz Ahmed’s captaincy was aggressive and imaginative, which choked any sort of fightback by the other side (South Africa) in the run chase. In the two matches against Australia and India, Sarfaraz had been criticised for not being fully engaged and for being short on ideas. But on Sunday, under him, his charges executed the game plan to the letter,” the editorial said.
Former Pakistan chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed Sallu went one step further and spoke about how the win against South Africa was down to Sarfaraz’s “fine captaincy”. “Batting first at Lord’s, selecting Haris (Sohail) in place of Shoaib Malik, taking the review against Hashim Amla and shrewd bowling changes were fabulous moves by Sarfaraz which paid off handsomely,” Sallu was quoted as saying by the paper.
He added: “It clearly appeared in the Proteas match that Sarfaraz was his own man and was not under anyone’s pressure.” Just one win can make such a difference, notwithstanding that Pakistan are still languishing at seventh in the league standings with five points. They must win all their remaining matches to have an outside chance to reach the semifinals. There’s relief to Sarfaraz’s suffering. Until the next loss at least.