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Behind the Scenes with Team Pakistan

Pakistan tame Ireland, set sights on the Aussies

ADELAIDE – The group stage was done and dusted Sunday evening with Team Pakistan taming the best of the associate sides, with two of its three wins against full member nations, with a clinically efficient performance.

This sniffed out Ireland’s prospects of qualifying for a knockout spot. And as Team Pakistan strode back into the team hotel around eleven, while supporters in green rejoiced and celebrated those in Ireland colours were found drowning their sorrows at the InterContinental bar and at a weekend soiree at the back overlooking the river and the Adelaide Oval.

This was green shirts’ fourth win on the bounce, consigning the two early demoralizing losses to distant memory.

What is more the pugnacity and aggression on display in encounters against the might of South Africa and Ireland has made the opponents take note of the serious challenge Team Pakistan now poses

To begin with, the batting was the greatest of nightmares. The opening pair was contributing next to nothing, exposing an uncertain middle order still trying to come to grips with the pitch and conditions with only skipper Misbah-ul-Haq mostly remaining his unflappable self, standing like a rock to avert total rout.

Trio of games on the go, all in one week in three different cities, involving long-distance travel across the Tasman Sea, from Brisbane to Napier and Auckland, and trumping the opponents in all three, brought back the self-belief and can-do spirit in a side that was desperately searching for it.

Another factor was of critical import: the viciousness of the vitriol from back home stung and hurt deep. The indefatigable Waqar Younis, backed by a proud and competent quintet in the coaching staff, and for good measure manager Naveed Akram Cheema, instead of allowing it to sear the psyche, channeled this sense of hurt quite expertly to raise the self-respect and morale of their charges.

The ‘wounded tigers’ metaphor was in play all over again!

By the time the South Africans were pulverized, from a position of weakness, it was already evident that Team Pakistan was not going to unravel like the ones in 2003 and 2007.

The sense of camaraderie was back. The boys had started winning and they were now enjoying it too. The stage fright was gone, replaced by a hunger to do well, and leave their own indelible imprint – a recurring theme in team talk and individual chats by Misbah, Waqar and Grant Flower.

Sarfraz Ahmed is back, and batting at the top of the order, he already has two man of the match performances from as many games, and Pakistan’s first hundred in a World Cup game since 2007 under his belt too. That for nearly five overs his partner Umar Akmal held himself back, straight-batting to give him strike the next over so that he could go past the three figures was also reflective of team spirit.

Sarfraz’s induction and Ahmed Shehzad’s striking form have taken the pressure off the middle order, giving it a much settled look.

But it is Pakistan’s pace battery that has emerged as its potent weapon, giving nightmares to opponents like its quarterfinal opponents like Australia. “More than us, the pressure is now on Australia”, Misbah neatly summed it up in his post-Ireland win presser. Even a cursory glance at the Aussie cricket commentariat’s outpourings reaffirms Misbah’s assertion. 

(The writer is General Manager, Media, Pakistan Cricket Board, on assignment with Team Pakistan as Media Manager).