Even at the best of times, Pakistan are a divided camp. If you needed a proof of that, Shoaib Malik gave it on Thursday. “In the 2009 (Pakistani) team (that won the WorldT20 in England), six of us were not talking during the World Cup, but still we won. When you lose, a lot of people start talking this should have happened or that should not have not happened. But, in 2009 it was so obvious, six of us were not talking,” Malik revealed at the press conference at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium. (STATS || POINTS TABLE || FIXTURES)
Naturally, therefore, reports of groupism within the team promptly surfaced in the wake of two back-to-back losses to India and New Zealand that left their 2016 World T20 campaign hanging by a thread. “Some Pakistani players clearly ganged up against the other (Shahid Afridi) to let him down. They performed shamelessly to play their dirty politics,” a Pakistani minister claimed on Wednesday.
Interestingly, a match they weren’t even playing brought this team together, even if momentarily. Late on Wednesday in Bangalore, as Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah brought Bangladesh within three runs of what could have been a momentous victory over tournament favourites India, the Pakistanis sat glued to the TV set at their hotel in Chandigarh, cheering for Bangladesh.
Asked how was the Mood in the camp when Rahim hit those two boundaries off Hardik Pandya in the 40th over of the match, Malik said: “We all were sitting together. We wanted Bangladesh to win.” Here, he was quick to clarify it wasn’t due to any anti-India sentiment or the fact that Bangladesh were the underdogs. “It’s not because we don’t like India. The reason was we want to see ourselves go ahead in the tournament,” he said.
A win for Bangladesh on Wednesday would’ve bolstered Pakistan’s chances great deal. It would have ensured, both India and Bangladesh could finish with no more than two wins in Group 2, and if Shahid Afridi & Co could then beat Australia, it would all come down to run rate — where Pakistan would have an upper hand. “If it was heartbreaking (to see Bangladesh not getting themselves over the line), I won’t be sitting here,” Malik added.
The thing is, Wednesday’s result changes nothing in terms of what is required of Pakistan tomorrow afternoon: a win over Australia. Luckily for them, the No.1 team in Tests and ODIs hasn’t quite cracked the shortest format yet. The World T20 is into its sixth edition, but it remains the only major trophy still eluding them. It’s a bit like a heavyweight champion who dominates over 12 rounds gets repeatedly knocked out in an amateur-style three-round fight.
On current form too, there is little to choose between Australia and Pakistan, the former is 6th in the ICC T20I rankings and the latter is No.7. It is a bit of a mystery. Pakistan can at least claim — as indeed they have been asserting — that their isolation from world cricket has affected them. Their cricketers are barred from playing in the IPL, and the Pakistan Super League has begun only this year. On the other hand, Australia’s cricketers and ex-cricketers are hot properties in T20 leagues across the world, including the Indian Premier league. And their very own, the Big Bash League, is one of the most robust competitions in this format going around.
Australia’s captain Steven Smith shrugged his shoulders and groped for a reply when he was asked at the press-conference to enunciate what it takes to win the World T20. “I guess you have to ask the teams that have won it,” he said. “I guess from my point of view, T20 cricket is a very tough game, it’s a sort of fickle format where one player can win you a game if they go off. It’s a tough one but I believe in the squad that we have got here to make sure we are playing our best cricket over the next two games. If you get there, you’re in the semi final where anything can happen. We are excited where we are at. we know the equation. We have to win our next four games if we have to win the cup, and that’s really exciting for us.”
To use another boxing analogy, pound-for-pound Australia are perhaps one the best teams in the fray. It’s just that they have erred in their strategy in the previous two games: the narrow loss to New Zealand in Dharamsala and the close win against Bangladesh in Bangalore. Under particularly harsh spotlight is Smith’s decision to bat at No.3, ahead of David Warner. While Smith is indeed one the best batsmen in the world, holding the explosive Warner back is akin to holding the upper-cut back in a slugfest.
No wonder the general feeling is that Australia aren’t playing at the absolute best. And this sentiment is shared by Smith as well. “I don’t think we have hit a 100% just yet. But I think that’s good in tournament. You want to play your best cricket at the back-end of the tournament. Having said that, you want to win games as well. I think we are close. Hopefully, over the next two games, we can play to our potential.” And Smith would hope the team they are facing is a divided lot.