How the Asia Cup debacle burst Pakistan’s ODI bubble


LAHORE: Surprise knockouts and early tournament exits can happen to the best of sides. This on its own should never be used to conjure knee-jerk reactions or call for a mass exodus. And even though what happened to Pakistan in the ongoing Asia Cup was a disaster of epic proportions, it still shouldn’t result in a similarly calamitous reaction.

Even so, what the Asia Cup has done is burst Pakistan’s ODI bubble, which was formed after the epic Champions Trophy win last year. That win last summer remains the only noteworthy ODI performance since Pakistan beat South Africa away in a three-match series in November 2013.

But it is understandable that given Pakistan’s ODI struggles – especially since 2013, but largely throughout this decade – the Champions Trophy was being touted as the turning point. After all, the tournament features the top eight sides in the world, and bottom-ranked Pakistan beat the likes of South Africa, England and India en route to their first ever triumph in the second most illustrious ODI tournament.

While nothing should be taken away from the tournament win itself, perhaps its long-term ramifications were overstated. The camouflage was maintained with the help of two five-match series whitewashed against Sri Lanka (UAE, 2017) and Zimbabwe (away 2018).

And even though Pakistan were at the receiving end of a five-match ODI series whitewash in New Zealand (away 2018) between those two series, there was no fallout given Pakistan’s run in the T20Is.

Pakistan are unbeaten in T20I series under the captaincy of Sarfraz Ahmed. This includes tours away to England and New Zealand in addition to a tri-series this summer which featured Australia.

Given the consistency of the run, and indeed the number one ranking, Pakistan are without a shadow of a doubt a top T20I side, if not the very best in the world. However, the same is far from the truth in the 50 over the contest, with Pakistan’s batting continued to be ill-equipped to bat in accordance with modern day requirements over a 50 overstretch. And now, Pakistan’s bowling limitations have been unearthed as well, especially in conditions which aren’t conducive to swing bowling.

Similarly, while Pakistan were the best Test side in the world until the final year or so under the captaincy of Misbah-ul-Haq – which was reflected in the number one ranking in 2016 as well – they’re a considerable distance away from the top as things stand, especially following the retirements of Misbah and Younis Khan. Yes, Pakistan earned a positive draw against a top side like England away, but they were clean swept by a depleted Sri Lanka in the UAE last year, in what had been their fortress for seven years.

Even so, while the management had acknowledged Pakistan’s Test limitations and the rebuilding process, the same hadn’t been done for the ODIs based almost entirely on the Champions Trophy win. A win, one must remember, which was almost entirely based on the performance of Pakistan’s pace attack in seam-friendly conditions, with the batting only coming to the fore in a solitary game that was the final.

With premature talks of Pakistan being the favourites for next year’s World Cup, the Asia Cup is a much-needed reality check to sort out the problems. What is needed primarily is a change of mindset and approach, and not necessarily an overhaul in personnel.