Pakistan have been in this position many times previously. Or at least they seem to be at almost every ICC event, stuttering through the early stages with utter chaos permeating the set-up until they spring to life all of a sudden. That’s how their storied ODI World Cup triumph in 1992 was scripted, enduring a run of poor results at the beginning before sneaking through to the semi-finals with a dose of favour and fortune.
In the minds of Pakistan’s players and fans ever since, a glimmer of hope seems to reside until all possibilities are extinguished. There must be hence a tinge of uneasy familiarity about the predicament Pakistan find themselves in with two games remaining in the preliminary phase of this World Cup. They must win both games, preferably by a convincing margin, and hope other results go their way to have a chance of advancing to the semis. The resignation of chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq midway through the tournament and the customary blame game among Pakistan’s administrators only seem par for the course. Could this be the classic Pakistani World Cup campaign?
“Yeah, everybody tells me it’s the classic World Cup campaign. And I hate that, because I’d rather, that we were cruising now and things had been really good, it would certainly be a lot less stressful,” Pakistan team director Mickey Arthur said at the pre-match press conference on Friday. “But again, we got ourselves into a position before the Bangladesh game where it was kind of out of our hands and it’s come back in a funny way into our hands again because albeit we’ve got to win and win big in both our games, it’s still in our control, which it wasn’t before the Bangladesh game. We had obviously a really good result there. And then South Africa did us a little bit of a favour as well. So, it’s kind of pushed it back into our hands, albeit a long shot.”
For any calculation about net run rates to come into the fray, Pakistan – fifth in the standings with six points in seven matches — have to first get the better of New Zealand in Bengaluru on Saturday. That they have so far lost to all the teams above them in the standings doesn’t bode well. New Zealand are fourth despite losing their last three matches. If there’s a positive to find in this desperate situation, it’s that Pakistan’s players aren’t panicking.
“The one thing that amazes me, and it’s amazed me so much with the Pakistan players, is generally how calm they are. You know, it’s like, I’m a cat on a hot tin roof, the players are just really calm. They kind of take it in their stride. And that’s the feeling I got before the Bangladesh game. And it’s certainly the feeling I’m getting right now. So, yeah, we’re in a decent place,” Arthur said.
Pakistan have a favourable head-to-head record against New Zealand in World Cups, with seven wins in nine meetings. Pakistan prevailed even in last year’s T20 World Cup semi-final despite huffing and puffing on the way to the knockouts. More than those past encounters though, it’s the win against Bangladesh at Eden Gardens last Tuesday that Arthur may prefer to harp on.
“Every game we go into, we want to win. And I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t think we’ve played to our full potential this tournament yet. I thought the Bangladesh game is the first game where we actually put a complete game together. We batted beautifully, bowled beautifully, and fielded beautifully. So, I’d like to say we’re peaking; we found our best game against Bangladesh and I just hope that’s not too late for us,” Arthur said.
If Pakistan seem to think they are peaking, New Zealand’s form has nosedived just when they should be hitting their stride. Sterner opponents in their last three matches have just had a bit more quality even as the Kiwis have been ravaged by injuries to key players. Not that they will ever be ruffled.
“One thing we do as Kiwis is we stay pretty grounded. We stay where our feet are, and injuries are things that we can’t control. All I know is that the 11 guys that will take the field tomorrow will be very proud to represent our country and get stuck in a World Cup,” said New Zealand all-rounder Daryl Mitchell. “And yeah, we won’t make it bigger than what it is. It’s another two points for this tournament, which is important for us in the big scheme of things, but we’ll just keep playing like Black Caps and Kiwis do, and I’m sure we’ll come a long way to winning the game.”