Pakistan’s tournament exit despite win robs World Cup of its best story

Special Pakistan’s tournament exit despite win robs World Cup of its best story
Pakistan's Shaheen Afridi celebrates taking the wicket of Afghanistan's Hashmatullah Shahidi at Headingley, Leeds, Britain, on June 29, 2019 (REUTERS)
Updated 06 July 2019

Pakistan’s tournament exit despite win robs World Cup of its best story

Pakistan’s tournament exit despite win robs World Cup of its best story
  • Despite not qualifying, latest victory bookended arguably the best Pakistani performance at a World Cup in 20 years
  • Pakistan’s World Cup campaign, in both its highs and lows, was little short of art

KARACHI: When Tamim Iqbal played a gentle stroke during Saturday’s match between Bangladesh and Pakistan toward square leg for one, it took his team’s total to eight runs, and signalled the end of a World Cup for Pakistan — mid-match in a game Pakistan went on to win by 94 runs, becoming the first team to fail to reach the knockouts despite winning four matches in a row. 
Such was the bizarre mathematics of Pakistan’s razor-slim chances of qualification for the semifinals that despite scoring 315/9 batting first, they had to dismiss Bangladesh for under 8 runs in order to make it through. Teenager Shaheen Shah Afridi, one of the finds of the tournament, ended with the best figures for any Pakistani at a World Cup, with 6/35 after Babar Azam’s 96 meant his debut campaign was the most prolific for any Pakistan batter at the tournament ever. Bangladesh, whose game-changing lethargy while fielding was the first of several suggestions that they weren’t truly invested in a match with no stakes, never truly got into the game. Pakistan were far more invested in the win, but from the very first overs of their chase, it became clear that the team wasn’t playing for qualification. 
Afterwards, Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza, reflecting on the tournament, took to apologizing to star player Shakib al Hasan, whose 63 capped what should surely be a player of the tournament effort from him. “I want to say sorry to Shakib, if we had stepped up, the tournament could’ve been different…he was fantastic. During some of the important matches, our fielding wasn’t good, and that cost us a lot.” 
His counterpart, Sarfaraz Ahmed, reflected on a topsy-turvy campaign for Pakistan: “It’s very unfortunate — we played good cricket but haven’t qualified. That one game, against West Indies, cost us the tournament,” he said, referring to the opening defeat that led to the impossible equations of this last match. 
Despite not qualifying, this latest victory bookended arguably the best Pakistani performance at a World Cup in 20 years. While the 2011 (semifinals) and 2015 (quarter-finals) squads both played the knockout rounds, they qualified via easier formats, and each really had only one major win against a top side. In contrast, 2019’s run was something else.
Consider, for a second, the seemingly undeniable fact that the world is ending. There is the constant terror of climate change and its impending threat of ending life as we know it; there is the distinct possibility of a nuclear war being sparked by an ill-advised tweet; there is the rise of angry politics fueled by social media. In such chaotic end-times, one of the most precious commodities is attention, perhaps because we are all seeking to escape the horrors of reality. Technology has created a world where we have never-ending, constant-streams of attention demanding moments, people, ideas. But there are few ideas, people or moments that are so shocking and original that they demand our attention. And one such moment was the 2019 Pakistan world cup experience, from its team to its hysterical media and dramatic, hilarious fans. 
To begin the tournament, Pakistan gave one of the all-time worst batting performances at a World Cup. All time in a list that includes amateur sides from the past. To a team that wouldn’t win another match until it’s very last against Afghanistan. It’s one thing to lose, it’s another to do so with this much spectacle, with the net run-rate from this match planting the seeds of their eventual destruction. 
How does one bounce back from such a match?
Of course, by smashing the hosts and favorites England for a huge total, one of the highest in their tournament history, and then strangling the supposedly strongest batting lineup ever conceived to take victory. In their next match against Australia, the team that is now the tournament’s favorite, Pakistan’s bowlers almost batted to a sensational win when their batters threw it away, in the process exposing many of their rival’s weaknesses. 
The loss versus India, both insipid and totally one-sided, would have been immediately forgotten had it not been for the hilarious reactions of Pakistani fans and the volcanic vitriol of ex-players on the media. Burgers, pizzay, yawns, late-night sheeshas, parenting advice from Veena Malik, fitness tips from Shoaib Akhtar, and historical, era-defining memes — the world couldn’t help but notice. 
The wins over South Africa and New Zealand were remarkable for Pakistan fans, but the rest of the world wouldn’t have thought about it so much had it not been for the eerie connections with the 1992 World Cup, which put even these otherwise routine matches into moments within a three-decade old prophecy that had ensnared Disney releases and weather patterns. Pakistani fandom had truly gone mainstream. The Afghanistan match brought with it an entire university course of sociopolitical subtext, but that wasn’t going to be enough. One of the matches of the tournament played out to a forbiddingly tense finale, ensuring that everyone possible was engrossed at multiple levels. And finally, even this final match against Bangladesh should have been a dead rubber, the media’s hype briefly took the dream of 500 as a possibility. 
The World Cup still has a week to go, but it just lost it’s most compelling story. Pakistan’s World Cup campaign, in both its highs and lows, its beauty and its crassness, was so contemporary, so of the moment that even though it ended at Lord’s, it should now be curated for posterity across the River Thames at the Tate Modern. This campaign was little short of art.