In good news for dark horse Pakistan, cricket World Cup is a game of surprises

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II joins the captains of the teams taking part in the ICC Cricket World Cup for a photograph in the 1844 Room at Buckingham Palace, before a Royal Garden Party in London, Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Back row from left, Pakistan's Sarfaraz Ahmed, South Africa's Francois du Plessis, Bangladesh's Masrafe Bin Mortaza, Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne, New Zealand's Kane Williamson and Afghanistan's Gulbadin Naib. Front row from left, West Indies' Jason Holder, Australia's Aaron Finch, England's Eoin Morgan and India's Virat Kohli. (Yui Mok/Pool photo via AP)
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Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli, Faf du Plessis, Eoin Morgan, Sarfraz Ahmed, Dimuth Karunaratne, Gulbadin Naib, Aaron Finch, Mashrafe Mortaza and Jason Holder of West Indies pose for a group photo on May 23, 2019 (Photo courtesy Official Twitter account of the ICC World Cups)
Updated 01 June 2019

In good news for dark horse Pakistan, cricket World Cup is a game of surprises

  • World Cups are never truly representative of what comes before and after and have a habit of distorting form and rewarding luck
  • Commentators call Pakistan a ‘wildcard’: “they will find a way of making the top four”

KARACHI: During a meet and greet with fans and journalists as part of the buildup to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 which starts in England today, the captains of the ten participating teams were asked by an audience member: If you could add one player to your squad from any of the other teams, who would you choose?
“I think for me [it would be] Jos Butler,” Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed said, referring to one of England’s best batters. Intriguingly, Butler is also England’s main wicket keeper, the same role Ahmed performs for his side.
Pakistan has borne the brunt of some of Buttler’s most breathtaking innings of late and Ahmed probably picked the English player because of his batting, rather than his wicket keeping, skills. Even so, the choice inadvertently cast Ahmed in comparison to Butler and highlighted the degree to which many players on the Pakistani side are less talented, less exciting versions of their opponents.
This might seem harsh given that Pakistan won the last major multi-team tournament, the Champions Trophy, held in England two years ago. Since then, however, the team’s record has been subpar and the manner of its play, old-fashioned and one-dimensional, has caused both panic and despair among fans and experts. Most recently, Pakistan ended a five-match One Day International series against England — their final preparation ahead of the World Cup — empty-handed.
“The bowling and fielding has not been up to the mark,” skipper Ahmed said after the final ODI. “It’s not ideal for the World Cup, but I’m confident my batsmen are ready.”
In a forecast piece ahead of the series kick-off, Guardian Sports said about Team Pakistan on Wednesday: “Famously hopeless till it matters, their ludicrously bad fielding during the whitewash by England means only one thing: they’ve got something up their sleeve.”
Indeed, despite the blistering loss against England, there might be some good news for Pakistan: World Cups in any sport are never truly representative of what comes before and after and have a habit of distorting form and rewarding luck.
“Pakistan are Pakistan — they will find a way of making the top four,” former England captain Michael Vaughan told the BBC on Tuesday. Ebony Rainford-Brent, 2009 Women’s World Cup winner with England, has said: “Pakistan are my wildcard — whether they have form or not, they find something in big tournaments.”
Other teams may surprise in other ways. Consider South Africa, whose captain Faff du Plessis answered the same question asked of the Pakistani skipper by naming several players for his hypothetical squad. Unable to pick just one player, Du Plessis’s flustered response under pressure seemed to mirror his team’s fate in earlier World Cups. Since their return to international cricket in 1992 following an apartheid-era ban, South Africa have entered every single tournament as one of the most dominant sides, only to lose when the stakes get high.
Also take the example of England. Currently the number one team in the world, England were last a World Cup favorite when the USSR was a stable world power. The country that founded cricket has never won a World Cup and in the last tournament in 2015, it finished as the laughing stock at the group stage. In the four years since, however, England’s revamp has been Stalinesque in its efficiency: no other team has scored more runs per over in ODI cricket or broken the 500 mark.
In light of this, the answer England captain Eoin Morgan gave when asked which player he would pick for his dream team spoke volumes about how meticulous his team’s effort has been to transform itself and reach the apex of world cricket. Instead of selecting a player, Morgan said he would pick Ricky Ponting, a notable Australian ex-cricketer and current coach — a choice that betrayed the ruthless desire to hunt for any extra advantage by a team leader who understands that his side’s very strength, an aggressive approach with the bat, has made it the most consistent team in the ODI format but can also be a recipe for collapse in the more bowling-friendly conditions often precipitated by the greatest villain in English history: the weather.
But as Indian captain Virat Kohli has said, dealing with “pressure is the most important thing in the World Cup and not necessarily the conditions.” Some of the favorites might start off strong but experience and nous could well trump skill and talent as the tournament progresses.
There are few better examples of this than the experience of Imran Khan in the 1987 and 1992 World Cups. His team entered the former as the only real challenger to a West Indies team now considered the greatest side ever. Khan proved himself one of the world’s best performers and led a talented, successful and heavily favored side that even defeated rivals West Indies, only for a shock loss to Australia in the semifinal at Lahore.
Five years later, Khan, a shadow of his former self, led an inexperienced team into the 1992 World Cup but ended up winning the series — a turnaround, and a narrative, so thrilling and dramatic it swept him to political power and landed him in the prime minister’s chair over two decades later.
This example, more perhaps than any other, shows how much the World Cup is a game of surprises and shocks, where great heroes make their final stands and new champions rise for the first time.
“It is 27 years since Pakistan won the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup for the first time and this year feels like it did back then,” former Pakistani test captain Waqar Younis, who was part of the 1992 squad at the World Cup, told ICC in an interview this week. “No one gave us a chance and we arrived as the underdog. But momentum came and we won the whole thing. That is the beauty of Pakistan cricket.”


Gunmen kill journalist in northwestern Pakistan

Updated 26 February 2020

Gunmen kill journalist in northwestern Pakistan

  • Javedullah Khan was traveling with a police guard when two gunmen opened fire on his vehicle
  • Police says it was a targeted attack

PESHAWAR: A Pakistan journalist whose relatives were members of an anti-Taliban group has been gunned down, police confirmed Wednesday, the latest attack targeting media in the restive northwest of the country.
Javedullah Khan, 36, was shot dead late Tuesday in Matta, a former militant stronghold some 40-kilometers (24 miles) northwest of Pakistan’s picturesque Swat valley.
He worked as a bureau chief for the Urdu language newspaper Ausaf.
“Javed was traveling with a police guard when two gunmen opened fire on his vehicle. He died on the spot,” senior police official Muhammad Ijaz Khan told AFP.
Ali Muhammad a local police official, also confirmed the incident.
“It was a targeted attack,” Muhammad added.
“Many of his relatives, including a brother, uncles, and cousins were killed due to their involvement in anti-Taliban peace committees.”
For years, Pakistan has encouraged tribal vigilante forces, known locally as peace committees, to defend their villages against militants.
Most have been disbanded following a dramatic improvement in security across the country.
While militant networks have been severely disrupted in recent years, insurgents still retain the ability to launch attacks.
Amnesty International said Khan was an “exceptionally brave journalist” and called for an independent investigation into his killing.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but militants have long targeted pro-government tribal elders in the past.
Pakistan routinely ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the powerful military or Islamist militants.