Pakistan vs West Indies: A different shade of green
Cricket News Updates! As the disparate green speck-shirts on the field at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium converged towards the exit and filed out at the dot of 5.30 pm on Tuesday, the solitary figure of Saeed Ajmal remained lurking around one of the nets propped up for Pakistan.
In another recent era, he’d have been left to wrap up himself and linger on, but coach Waqar Younis’ booming, snapping orders to end the session got the youngster to instantly hustle and march straight out in a show of discipline, unlike what you’d associate with Pakistan. But then, this World Cup has seen Pakistan in a new disciplined avatar — an ominous sign for the rest of the cricketing world, stumped by this significant step forward from a team that was forever termed unpredictable (read undisciplined, faction-ridden, under-achieving and prone to self-destruct).
So when Shahid Afridi came and said that in his 14 years of international career he has never seen a Pakistan team train so seriously and focus on their game, he was clearly giving an idea of how things had dawdled and drifted along in the past. It’s not just Afridi who has been saying this; the support staff too admits how the team has turned a corner and changed into an austere outfit that doesn’t flirt with controversy at the drop of hat, or many catches.
Since the entry of Waqar as coach, the team hasn’t been what it used to be. Players are no longer treated according to a hierarchy based on international experience and star images, while everyone has one thing in common — an intent to do well.
“What’s been remarkable is that they have maintained discipline. One is seeing the results now. They are stubborn to do well at any cost. That is why we have been able to pull off wins from any situation,” says former Pakistan coach and current manager Intikhab Alam, someone who has seen Pakistan cricket from close quarters over some tumultuous years.
Breaking the mould
Pakistan certainly have managed some consistency and lined up a winning streak, which they never managed in the last four years. They would beat lower-ranked teams like New Zealand, Bangladesh, West Indies and Zimbabwe but struggle against the big sides. Not here, though.
At this World Cup, Pakistan not only handed a bruising defeat to Sri Lanka in their own den but also brought the Australians’ unbeaten-march to a halt — they were the last country to have managed that, in 1999, incidentally a year when they made the World Cup final.
Their quarters opponents, the West Indies, will not only try to stop the Pakistan juggernaut but will also challenge the in-form team in a knock-out situation — which often tests the mettle of disciplined, consistent units. Afridi agrees there won’t be a second chance from here on, and the team can’t afford to take anybody lightly. Even the West Indies captain Darren Sammy insisted on keeping past performances out of consideration.
“Any team is capable of winning on their day, there is no second chance from here,” Afridi said, adding the team will go ahead without any change — which means Shoaib Akhtar will have to wait for a farewell match, and might not get to play against the Caribbean outfit.
Having played all their matches away has been a blessing in disguise for Pakistan. They haven’t had to deal with crowd pressure, tucked away in idyllic Lanka. Had they been the co-hosting nation, one suspects, the collective temperament of this team would have looked very different.
“I think our playing away has worked for us. The boys are not under immense pressure which they would have been, playing at home. There was no distraction, which helped the boys focus more,” Alam says. Pakistan has lived with the fact that they will need to bond as a team here. Nevertheless, Afridi says, the team need to focus to do well, and they can be assured of some very partisan backing from a Bangladeshi crowd.
Gayle, Roach to return
Meanwhile, the good news for the West Indies will be the return of Chris Gayle and Kemar Roach. West Indies would like to get rid of the label of having lost their last 18 matches against Test-playing nations, though pound for pound, they might pale in front of the sheer talent and Pakistan’s formidable presence. Still, the West Indians have shown glimpses of hitting the extremes and can hardly be expected to roll over.
The tickets are sold out as Pakistan and West Indies chase their dreams of a World Cup charge which will start from the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium. Up next, Mohali will be waiting with bated breath. After Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Pakistan would be keen to dish out their disciplined drills on Indian soil as well. Ultimate glory beckons a side that’s recently befriended the idea of working by the clock.