Pakistan cricket team at a world event. Chaos. Defeat. Politics. Criticism. Over-reaction. The PCB chairman saying don’t expect much of this team. That the captain’s future is “evident”, that the coach’s contract ends in June, and that a reconsideration is imminent. In the meantime, on the field, Pakistan need to win every match. We have been here before. This is about time Pakistan magically become an irresistible force, right? A magic wand. Possessed Pakistanis. Cornered tigers. Great individual performances come out of somewhere. Bull manure, says Shahid Afridi. You just need good cricket here, he has said on the eve of their match against New Zealand, losing which will rule them out.
“If you create a panic situation,” Afridi said, “everything becomes difficult to sort out. The straightforward plan has to be to stick to basics. You can’t rely on miracles. It doesn’t work that way. We need to cut down on our mistakes. If you keep repeating mistakes, it becomes difficult. It’s not like we are making huge mistakes, just small mistakes here and there. We are batting well, bowling well, but cricket matches are won by sides that make fewer mistakes.”
Perhaps it has always been like this. Perhaps this is what changes when Pakistan get on their irresistible unstoppable roll. Just make fewer mistakes. It is not all that glamorous, but perhaps that’s how it starts. It’s just the fact that it has to come from a situation so dire that makes it so dramatic. All kinds of things have happened since Pakistan lost to India. A former cricketer has said Imran Khan, who was present in Kolkata, deliberately misguided this team into playing four quicks. Some other former cricketer has slammed Afridi’s move to bat at No. 3. Shaharyar Khan reportedly seems to have made up his mind on Afridi’s future at least.
Afridi knows now only he and his team-mates can help each other. “Even before the tournament began, people began saying things,” Afridi said. “But I am keeping myself away from Twitter, Facebook, nor am I following any other media. I have distanced myself from everything. Whatever is happening there, let it happen. All I know is, I am here, my team is here. Whatever happens, what people are saying back home, we will see about that later. Now it is time to perform, and only that is in our hands.”
As difficult as it is to be a Pakistan cricket fan, it must be just as hard to be a Pakistan cricketer, given the reaction every time they lose to India. Afridi just laughed off the fickle reactions. “Only those who love you get angry at you,” he said. “What we need to do is perform, and not make too much of their reaction because they love us in equal measure.”
It is quite mature coming from a man not known for mature batting on most occasions. It is incredibly sane coming from a man who has survived Pakistan cricket for two decades. It is coming from a man who has seen it all. Afridi was asked to talk about how Younis Khan was pilloried at the start of World T20 2009 before Pakistan turned it around. “This cricket has made not just Younis Khan but many others cry,” Afridi said. “I have seen a lot of cricketers in tears. I have seen them leave because they can’t take it anymore. I am thankful to God that I have played for Pakistan for this long.”
Except that there might not be much time left. There are two matches left. If Pakistan stop making those mistakes, it could become three. If they could make even fewer mistakes, it could become four. Who knows if those at the PCB asking for Afridi’s removal might join his friends and family and ask him to stay? Whatever happens it won’t happen through miracles. It will happen through mundane things such as fewer misfields at the boundary, through batsmen looking for the singles when the boundaries are hard to come. Afridi has played long enough to know that.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.