FIRECRACKERS reverberated throughout the City of Joy on Thursday, the roads lit up and decorated with effigies of deities as the festival Diwali neared.
It still felt festive when the Pakistan team bus pulled up by the gate of the Dr. B.C. Roy Clubhouse in the premises of the iconic Eden Gardens.
Clinging to barricades placed at a safe distance from the bus, fans stretched out their phones, cameras zoomed in, to capture a glimpse of the Pakistan stars, who are elusive in the country.
As the nets were being prepared inside the ground for the national side’s optional practice session, the stands echoed with the fans’ chants for Pakistan captain Babar Azam, seeping in from outside the venue.
Pakistan left needing to beat England by an almost impossible margin to leapfrog fourth-placed New Zealand on net run-rate
That was all the noise there was inside the stadium. Even when the players started warming up for practice, which commenced half an hour later than the scheduled time, the decibels hardly went up.
It was supposed to be, as one of the team officials put it, a “full-fledged” practice session and no media interactions were planned. It didn’t look like one though.
The reason probably was how New Zealand were cruising towards an easy win against Sri Lanka in Bangalore at the same time, eventually all but sealing a spot in the semi-finals at the expense of Pakistan.
Towards the end of the practice session, Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan — who has finally been cleared fit after recovering from a concussion injury — would ask journalists, sitting just over the tunnel leading to the dressing room, about the equation for the side to still somehow make it to the last four.
Pacer Hasan Ali would do the same. When they were told Pakistan would need to beat England by at least 287 runs or bowl them out in three overs if they bat first in their final appearance at the World Cup on Saturday, both players would smile wryly and nod their heads. This wasn’t only a herculean task, but simply an impossible one.
The ask is very similar to what was required for Pakistan to go through to the semi-finals of the 50-over showpiece’s last edition in 2019.
New Zealand were the very team that toppled the 1992 winners at that time for fourth place. It seems that not much has changed for Pakistan in the last four years.
Days before the World Cup they were the number one ranked One-day International team in the world. First, they were broken by a 228-run drubbing by India in the Asia Cup – in which they finished even below Bangaldesh.
Then, after kicking off their World Cup campaign with impressive wins against Netherlands and Sri Lanka and Hyderabad, Pakistan went on to lose four matches in a row, the first of them being a seven-wicket painful beating by the hosts, their arch-rivals.
A seven-wicket humbling of Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens, in some way, lit up Pakistan’s hopes for a place in the semis before rain and Fakhar Zaman combined to generate more hope for the team after a 21-run DLS method win against the New Zealanders in Bangalore.
But when they are flying high, the Pakistan team and its fans tend to forget about the weaknesses that they have shown through the tournament.
It is only when what isn’t in their control goes out of their favour — read
New Zealand’s win over Sri Lanka — they realise it’s all over, even before the last match.
Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2023