Crescent Kashmir

‘Friendly atmosphere’ fails to inspire as Pakistan left staring at early exit

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CHENNAI: Pakistan finally had the atmosphere they’d been craving, the sounds they wanted to be ringing in their ears, the positive energy they needed to spur them on during what has been a spiralling World Cup campaign at the M.A. Chidamabaram Stadium here on Friday.

But they just couldn’t match it with the result. There were cheers for Pakistan as they closed in on a victory — a much-needed one to stop a run of three straight losses — only for South Africa to deny them and secure a one-wicket win.

Now, they’re really staring at the exit door; a berth in the semi-finals looking elusive. Keshav Maharaj roared after hitting the winning four, South Africa’s last stand leaving Pakistan limping in the race for the final four.

“We had a very close fight and fought very well. We had an opportunity to win this match and stay in the tournament but we missed it,” rued skipper Babar Azam after the tense one-wicket loss.

“Of course it is very disappointing for all the players,” he added. “We fought back but we were 10 to 15 runs short and didn’t finish well. The way fast bowlers and spinners bowled, they fought well but unfortunately the result was not in our hands.

“We will try our best in our next three matches and put our effort in every match so let’s see where we stand after the three matches.”

With the country’s unofficial anthem — Dil Dil Pakistan — being played at the Cheupak, Pakistan had reduced South Africa to 250-8 in their chase of 271. The place was buzzing, team director Mickey Arthur caught smiling by the TV cameras in the team’s dressing room.

After the hammering by hosts India in front of a partisan crowd in Ahmedabad, one that started this run of losses, Arthur had complained of the World Cup looking like an event organised by the Board of Control for Cricket in India rather than that run by the Inter­national Cricket Council.

But here, the crowd was backing Pakistan. Shaheen Shah Afridi, who’d turned the game in his superb finishing spell, had the crowd on its feet. Each time he would beat the outside edge of the South African tailenders, there were loud gasps.

But once Pakistan’s pace options dried out, South Africa’s wagging tail — led by Maharaj — saw them through.

Arthur would end up regretting the fact that Pakistan had posted a below-par score after electing to bat.

“To be brutally honest, we haven’t put together the perfect game yet. I don’t think we’ve batted well enough yet as a unit. I think that pitch, certainly par on that pitch is 300 at least. We haven’t put together enough runs,” Arthur told reporters at the post-match presser.

“And then we haven’t put together a bowling performance that goes with it. Tonight I thought was our best bowling performance of the competition. We bowled really well, but I still thought we were under par in terms of the runs that we had.“It hasn’t been for lack of effort, we haven’t got enough players in form at the minute, particularly with the bat.”

Pakistan’s fourth successive defeat after two early wins left them on the brink of elimination from the knockout stages but Arthur said he would not throw in the towel with matches against Bangladesh, New Zealand and England coming up.

“You never know. What I do know is we need to go and assess combinations again, we need to have a look at the holes we have within our team,” Arthur said “We need to start improving in a lot of areas and we’ve got to go and finish this tournament with three victories. Every day we’ll be trying and striving to do that.”

He did, however, have a word of appreciation for Chennai and its cricket fans.

“…the crowd was outstanding tonight. It was really good,” Arthur said. “You know, take the results out the way. Chennai has been outstanding. Training facilities, everything has been brilliant.”

Just not the results, though, that Pakistan needed.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2023


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