Cricket World Cup: Shoaib Malik exits, Imam-ul-Haq and Shaheen Afridi chart Pakistan cricket’s next chapter
Shaheen Afridi claimed 6/35, the best figures for Pakistan in the World Cup. (Image: Twitter/@cricketworldcup)

LONDON: A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard declared, but not necessarily in that order.

Pakistan cricket in itself is a story that possibly no chronicler of history, no bard worth his salt, no ancient Greek playwright could accurately make sense of. Because while there is certainly a beginning to Pakistan cricket, there have been so many near-ends that this story’s volumes have grown thicker with each passing decade.

In this World Cup, Pakistan‘s beginning was awful. Bowled out for 105 in 21.4 overs at Trent Bridge by West Indies, who galloped to victory in 13.4 overs. The loss that left them playing catchup in the tournament, and which ultimately put the semi-finals out of their grasp.

Then, the middle. And oh man, what a middle. After beating England, getting one point from a washout with Sri Lanka and losing to Australia and India (for the seventh World Cup in a row), Sarfaraz Ahmed‘s team launched a bid to enter the final four in a manner not seen, eerily, since the 1992 World Cup. It sparked a twitter frenzy – #1992MeinBhi will be remembered for years to come – and had people salivating at what was unfolding. It had Pakistan fans around the world believing that it was possible, even when Pakistan were dropping catches in one match against South Africa as if hot coals were being tossed to them on a 50 degree summer day in Lahore.

And then came the end. And what an end it was.

Sarfaraz Ahmed World Cup 2019
What is Sarfaraz Ahmed’s future? Time will tell. © AFP

After India’s loss to England on Tuesday, Pakistan were left with a near-impossible task in their last group match, against Bangladesh at Lord’s. If they scored 350 against Bangladesh, they needed to win by 311 runs. If they made 400, they had to win by 316 runs. If they got to 450, they had to won by 321 runs. If Bangladesh won the toss and bat, Pakistan would have been out of the semi-finals race instantly.

(READ: Shaheen Afridi’s six wickets seal Pakistan’s thumping win over Bangladesh)

A day before this match, Sarfaraz muttered sweet nothings about getting 500. As it panned out, Sarfaraz won the toss and opted to bat, giving the sizeable Pakistan collection of supports in the stands something to smile about, even though it was a weary smile.

Pakistan made 315/9. Eleven deliveries and one dropped catch into Bangladesh’s innings, Pakistan were eliminated from the World Cup.

The beginning, the middle and the end of Pakistan’s story at the 2019 World Cup. What a story.

On Friday – it had to be Friday, right? – Pakistan didn’t get the start they could have expected. Fakhar Zaman made 13 from 31 balls when it should have been the other way around, at the very least. He has struggled against spin this tournament, and after being bogged down by Mehidy Hasan Miraz he tried to break free against Mohammad Saifuddin only to slash a tired shot straight to point.

In their first 25 overs, Pakistan hit seven fours.

PAKISTAN vs BANGLADESH FULL SCORECARD | WORLD CUP HOMEPAGE 

Babar Azam eased to another fifty off 62 balls, without urgency. It was Babar Azam being Babar Azam, much like Virat Kohli. Smooth, stylish, efficient. During his innings of 96, Babar surpassed Javed Miandad’s mark of 437 in 1992 to become the most successful Pakistan batsman in a single edition of the World Cup. He’s destined for lofty heights, this one, but he sure won’t be humming the Beatles’ ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’.

Imam-ul-Haq followed to his half-century, in 52 balls. His second of the World Cup. There’s a story in that stat right there. One fifty, one hundred, two 44s, a 36 and a 19. Imam chose Lord’s to score another ODI century, cheered heartily by the fans in the stands. At 23, the youngest Pakistan centurion in a World Cup match. Just the second Pakistan batsman to score an ODI century at Lord’s, mind you. The first? Sarfaraz, who copped a blow to the right elbow while batting and had to retire hurt.

Imam ul Haq Lords century
Imam-ul-Haq, 23, became the youngest Pakistan batsman to score a hundred in a World Cup game. © AFP

As soon as he raised the landmark, Imam trod on his stumps when looking to flick the ball away. There are many ways to get out in cricket, and Imam chose the manner in which only 68 batsmen before him have been dismissed in 4185 ODIs – hit wicket. Go figure out that one.

(READ: Pakistan’s impossible task at Lord’s marks the end of 1992 comparisons)

In the second over of Bangladesh’s chase, Soumya Sarkar edged Mohammad Amir to first slip where Haris Sohail dropped the catch. Off the next ball, Tamim Iqbal collected the single that officially eliminated Pakistan from the World Cup and confirmed New Zealand as the fourth semi-final team.

Moments later, Mohammad Hafeez ambled into bowl and let the ball slip out of his hand to serve up a massive slow looping full toss which had Soumya Sarkar waiting and waiting before he smacked it to deep midwicket for four. It aptly encapsulated Pakistan’s grip on the World Cup, once tightened in a manner few teams can achieve, but then let go of with almost comical precision.

(READ: For first time in 232 years, MCC hosts school children at Lord’s Pavilion)

On this day, however, Pakistan did not let their grip over Bangladesh slip. For what it’s worth, they ended their World Cup campaign with a huge win (94 runs) and Shaheen Afridi had the day of his ODI career, taking six wickets to bowl Pakistan to victory at Lord’s. A famous six-wicket haul, for these are the best figures in a World Cup by a Pakistan bowler. Like Imam, young Afridi, not even a year old in international cricket, will find his name on the Lord’s honours board. It is a rare achievement from a rare talent.

shoaib malik retirement
Pakistan batsman Shoaib Malik confirmed his retirement from ODIs. (Image: Twitter/@cricketworldcup)

There was finality in this chapter of Pakistan cricket, in the form of Shoaib Malik turning up after the match to announce his retirement from ODI cricket. The man who made his ODI debut in October 1999 called it quits, expectedly, and then faced a barrage of questions from the Pakistan media gathered at Lord’s.

Like Pakistan’s coach Mickey Athur who spoke a while later, Malik requested the Pakistan fans, media and selectors to have patience with this World Cup squad, because of talent like Babar, Fakhar, Imam and Afridi. Both Malik and Arthur praised various members of this unit for competing and not throwing in the towel. Each spoke admirably of the skipper Sarfaraz, and how he must be remembered for keeping his sanity in a turbulent tournament. Both Malik and Arthur hoped that this isn’t the end for Sarfaraz.

And so while this chapter closes, and Malik exits the stage, there is hope in the likes of Imam and Afridi. The story that is Pakistan cricket continues, in no particular order.