Pakistan vs Australia: Without Irfan, our romance with fast-bowling continues

As we qualify for the quarter-finals (the super eight) in the most unobjectionable style possible – keeping in mind how we lost our first two matches – it makes me wonder how phenomenal our team’s journey has been.

Looking back at how things were about a month ago, and how they are now, it was nothing less than an emotional roller coaster ride for the 180 million people of this country.

Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz (L) runs to his teammate Mohammad Irfan (R) as they celebrate their 29 run win over South Africa. Photo: AP

For the first week or so, our performances were so poor that many broke their TV sets, people were bursting with rage on social media and perhaps exaggerated a bit too much by saying things like,

“This team can’t win a tea cup, let alone the World Cup!”

Former cricketers called this team as bad as a “club side”.  It was all too emotional for us to accept.

However, things have changed and the picture looks more optimistic now. People have started looking for similarities with the 1992 triumph. I have realised that the reaction we had after the first two defeats was because we, as a nation, could not handle the frustrating thought that our bowling attack, which we were so proud of, was not the same as it has always been.

Pakistan’s Rahat Ali celebrates the wicket of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s Amjad Ali during the teams’ Pool B Cricket World Cup match. Photo: AFP

We neither had any high hopes from our batting nor did we think that we would take a dozen Jhonty-like catches in the field, or produce phenomenal run outs, to win us a match. It was always our bowling attack that we had faith in, no matter how weak it was, and this time too, it did not disappoint us. Even in the first two matches, when Pakistan lost, in all fairness, our bowlers did extremely well, apart from the last 10 overs in the match against West Indies.

In the game against Zimbabwe, facing a potential early exit from the World Cup, they tried to defend a mediocre target set by us, in a tournament where 300 runs had been chased down with ease and on a ground where 236 runs had never been defended in the last decade or so. This is when our bowlers came to the party at just the right time and we dismantled the minnows with aggression that showed shades of the 90s, when our bowlers were not scared of going for runs and they came back steaming in and blew the opposition away.

Pakistan’s spin bowler Shahid Afridi (R) gestures as India’s batsman Shikhar Dhawan (L) gains his ground. Photo: AFP

Then came the big game.

I, along with everyone else, thought it would be ‘impossible’ to beat a team, who scored 400 runs in consecutive ODIs with such ease. Things looked bleak when the mighty Proteas had to chase 232 runs in 47 overs but then the Pakistani pace battery stepped in, aiming to bring down one of the best batting line ups in the tournament like a house of cards.

From 67 for one in the 10th over, South Africa was all but gone when they went down to 102 for six wickets in the next 10 overs. AB de Villiers kept attacking our young and inexperienced bowlers but our pacers were undeterred. They were sure of their abilities and so were we. They ran in with fire, bounced out the opposition, set the batsmen up by bowling the out swingers, and then brought in the yorkers – it was just amazing to see the aggression we are known for.

Pakistan bowler Sohail Khan celebrates the dismissal of Indian batsman Virat Kohli. Photo: AFP

ESPN Cricinfo’s headline “Pakistan roar back through bowlers”, next to Muhammad Irfan’s picture is a testament of our match against South Africa. We came roaring back at Dale Steyn after removing him in a famous and first ever victory against South Africa in the ICC World Cup. Just reading the headline got me excited for our future matches and I am sure that many readers like me, who have grown up watching Pakistan play cricket, would have gone ballistic seeing a bowler in a Pakistani jersey labelled a “lion”.

All this sums up Pakistan and its cricketing abilities. We love our bowlers and we expect them to win it for us, anytime, anywhere and against any opposition.

That’s what we are and that’s what we do, whether you like it or not.

Muhammad Irfan (L) celebrates after dismissing Dale Steyn. Photo: AFP

Perhaps it’s because it has always been our bowlers who, in almost unwinnable situations, have come up with solutions for our team in the past and have produced innings which are nothing sort of magical. Our bowlers have done it time and again and that’s why they are the darlings of this nation. They are being followed, admired, idolised; they are the real superheroes of this nation full of cricket fanatics.

No wonder this nation broke into pieces when the spot fixing scandal came about, when two of our talented bowlers, whom we were very proud of, were taken away from us.

A year back, who would have thought that this team would be playing without two of the world’s best spinners in ODIs, Saeed Ajmal  and Muhammad Hafeez, without their best fast bowlers, Junaid Khan and Umar Gul, and yet will be competent enough to fight back nearly every team in the tournament.

Junaid Khan (TL). Saeed Ajmal (TR), Umar Gul (DL), Muhammad Hafeez (DR)

Now, it is a very crucial time in the World Cup, where even a single defeat could be fatal. We face Australia next, in their backyard, on their home turf and, to our disadvantage, we will be without our ace pacer, Irfan, who is out of the World Cup due to an injury.

Yes, this hurts our team’s chances, but that is how it is and we have to move on. We are the ‘cornered tigers’, we have always loved that title, but perhaps we’ll be even more dangerous as ‘wounded tigers’. No matter whom the PCB will send in, he won’t be here for the quarter-final match, so we have to go on with the four pacers left in the squad and believe in them, like we have before.

Misbahul Haq (L) and Muhammad Irfan (R).

Given that the pitch in Adelaide is a slow one and is not that scary for Asian teams, the batsmen should give our bowlers something challenging to bowl at, and if they are successful, then fingers crossed, the Kangaroos better watch out.

We are going to come in hard on you, we are going to roar like lions do, and we will do whatever it takes to take you down, because if our pacers are in the mood, then no victory is impossible.

The original post was posted here on 18th March, 2015.

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