Pakistan runs the risk of being defined by who isn’t playing rather than who actually is and even by the standards of tumult in their cricket, and indeed in the country, this is extraordinary. The ability of Pakistan cricket to throw up talents that light up the game has always seemed to be independent of either their structure or the environment. In this team, you will struggle to see that kind of player.
There is no Umar Gul and no Junaid Khan. And for reasons that are part of a bewildering spectrum, there is no Saeed Ajmal and no Mohammad Amir. Equally improbably there is Mohammad Irfan, 7ft 3inches tall, described by some batsmen as equal to playing a bowler on a trampoline. Between Irfan, Wahab Riaz and all the other bowlers put together there are 134 ODI wickets. Shahid Afridi alone has 393! These are hardworking bowlers not wizards or possessors of hoodoo. For the first time that I can remember, Pakistan’s bowling looks benign. It could almost be India’s!
And in a reversal of sorts, the batting looks more threatening. It should be built around three fine young batsmen but relies instead on two elderly gentlemen, each just either side of forty. Sarfaraz Ahmad, the wicket keeper has made a tremendous impression in his little time in international cricket. And while being completely unpredictable, Ahmed Shahzad and Umar Akmal can still win you matches. But their best limited overs batsman is still Misbah ul Huq who at 41 is capable of stopping at all stations on the way to his destination but can also clobber the fastest test century of all time! It is also a measure of how little some younger batsmen have progressed that Pakistan have gone back toYounis Khan, a truly wonderful test batsman but who tends to play at a rather ponderous pace in one-day cricket.
If Pakistan have to make an impact in this tournament, and therefore start well in the first game, they must get a big performance from Shahid Afridi. That is a worry in itself because his greatest value is as an unpredictable floater, capable of changing the game in an instant.
But more than anything else Pakistan are a product of the mood that resides in their camp. They don’t need to be friends, there could be a punch-up a few minutes before going out, but they need to believe they can win. In recent times, they haven’t convinced everyone that they take the field thinking that way.
I believe they will struggle against organised teams that bowl well. But even more than for India, I think the first game is crucial for them. If Pakistan win that, they might get the tailwinds to drive them forward in the tournament. If however, they lose on the 15th, I fear they might come apart.
Pakistan continues to be unpredictable and fascinating. But this time they are a bit more fragile than they normally are.