Cricket World Cup 2023: Afghanistan’s guts, skills and planning highlighted what Pakistan and England lacked

Sri Lanka played in fits and starts t while Bangladesh could not shrug off the mediocrity in which they were mired

By Ayaz Memon

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Afghanistan were unlucky not to make the semifinals. - PTI File
Afghanistan were unlucky not to make the semifinals. - PTI File

Published: Sun 12 Nov 2023, 6:09 PM

Last updated: Sun 12 Nov 2023, 6:13 PM

Netherlands and Bangladesh occupy the bottom two places in the points table after the completion of the league stage in the World Cup, but the two most disappointing performers from the 10 teams are Pakistan and England.

Both former Cup winners – England in fact are defending champions – have had a harrowing time, being eliminated before the knock-out stage. Five weeks back when the tournament began, both were among the favourites – along with India and Australia – to make the last four.

As it transpired, Pakistan finished 5th and England 7th, overtaken by South Africa and New Zealand in the race for spots in the semifinal.

Sri Lanka, also past winners (in 1996), progressed in fits and starts before fizzling out while Bangladesh, after a win first up got mired in mediocrity which they couldn’t shrug off till the end.

So what went wrong for Pakistan and England? The outcome for both was a flop show, but for different reasons.

Kolkata: Pakistan's batter Mohammad Rizwan. - PTI File
Kolkata: Pakistan's batter Mohammad Rizwan. - PTI File

Pakistan, also from the sub-continent, were familiar with the conditions. This is why they were rated so highly. The IPL experience, of course, is denied to their players, but that is an old situation which should have been factored in when selecting players and working out strategies for various opponents.

Pakistan paid the price for a pusillanimity and flawed choice of playing XIs, and inability to handle crises with calm temperament.

The lacklustre approach stemmed from captain Babar Azam whose body language was timid and unassertive, with bat or when marshalling his troops. His form with bat was okey-dokey, running up a string of half centuries, but he never looked the dazzling, matchwinning batsman who had earned encomiums everywhere. Among other batters, plucky Rizwan excepted, were inconsistent. Explosive opener Fakahar Zaman was strangely kept on the bench for a major part of the tournament. By the time he regained his place, it was too late.

Pakistan were also badly let down by the bowling, particularly in the spin department, though the pacers, Shahin Shah Afridi apart, floundered too. And even Afridi didn’t provide the early breakthroughs expected. So, the attack was toothless at the start, in the middle overs and at the death.

England's Ben Stokes. - AP File
England's Ben Stokes. - AP File

These problems were compounded by unimaginative, tepid captaincy. Looking back, it appears Pakistan had their focus and energy only on the marquee match - the high-pressure contest against India. Clobbered in that match, they lost self-belief and they went into decline clutching at straws to remain alive.

England’s issue, unlike Pakistan’s, wasn’t self-doubt, rather overconfidence. They entered the tournament as defending champions, having started a `new brand’ of ODI cricket four years back. Most of their players had thorough knowledge of what this meant, but failed to make sensible adjustments to cope with conditions and match situations.

To make the team formidable, major domo Ben Stokes ‘unretired’ himself from ODIs to play the World Cup. This was a major boost to England’s campaign. And of course, almost all England players were involved in the IPL, so while the format was different, the local conditions and pitches were well known.

These were advantages, of course, but not reason to be smug. England’s approach in the early matches betrayed some cockiness in batting, and compounded by failure of bowlers to adjust quickly.

The situation was further confounded with Stokes missing the first three matches. This included defeats against New Zealand and Afghanistan. Fear of worsening a long-standing injury would have compelled Stokes being rested, but it worked enormously to the benefit of the opponents.

When Stokes did take the field, he was clearly his team’s best batsman. But by this time, the team was under pressure of being ousted prematurely. This pressure showed up most harrowingly in England’s match against india. After bowling the home team out cheaply, England would have fancied a win. But the openers flopped, then Stokes bombed, and with him England.

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Most impressive of the teams not to make the semifinal was Afghanistan, sandwiched at no. 6 between Pakistan and England.

Had they held one of the two dolly catches offered by Glen Maxwell early in his innings, Afghanistan would likely have won the match easily. Instead, Maxwell seized on the opportunity make an epic 201 not out. This effectively pushed the plucky Afghans out of the last four, but with their gutsy approach, fine skills, and clever planning, highlighted what Pakistan and England had lacked


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