AnalysisDil Dil Pakistan and the Fairy-Tale Start to the World Cup

Dil Dil Pakistan and the Fairy-Tale Start to the World Cup

Pakistan decimated India with an all-round performance of epic proportions, ending their World Cup heartbreaks.

Sport is a fickle thing. Growing up, there’s always the intense emotion of staggering highs and the immense heartbreak of a loss to a close rival. For Pakistan fans who have grown up watching India-Pakistan matches on the big stage, there’s also an element of lingering PTSD. You tend to counter that by convincing yourself that the result doesn’t really matter. If you lose, it’s just a game. If you win, it’s great. But then last night happened, and it all went out of the window. If you’re a diehard Pakistan cricket fan and you tell me you weren’t overwhelmed by emotion at some point, I don’t believe you.

Just one month after the Champions Trophy in July 2017, Pakistani social media was introduced to Shaheen Shah Afridi. Then 17 years old, he became an instant sensation after a few clips of his bowling went viral. Two months after that, the left-armer made his First Class debut. He took 8/39. Six months after that, he took 5/4 for Lahore Qalandars in the PSL. Less than nine months after the viral clip, he made his Pakistan debut (Apr 2018). Yesterday, he was the Player of the Match in the World Cup against India. Which other player in recent times has had a similar rise at such a tender age?

The first over of a T20 innings is strange. It’s often a low-key affair. Batting teams don’t attack too much. Bowling teams often try to sneak in an over of part-time spin. But Shaheen Shah Afridi is built different. Of his 133 wickets, 22 are now in the first over of T20 innings. 17 of the batters made ducks. Rohit Sharma becomes the 11th to depart for a golden duck. The world’s premier T20 new-ball bowler is in his element.

On the night before the big game, Sanjay Manjrekar was a guest on a Pakistan TV channel. He was asked whether Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli might have trouble with Shaheen’s now publicized method of fast & full in-swing with the new ball. The former Indian cricketer was quick to (probably rightfully) opine that Rohit was now a very well-rounded opener, capable of handling the new ball. He won’t be troubled.

But the problem is, nothing really prepares you for an in-swinging yorker at 145kph with deadly accuracy. With the old ball, missing that yorker can be deadly for the bowler, with the resulting half-volley or full toss often easy to dispatch into the stands. But when a left-armer delivers that ball from a height of around two meters, and it’s moving at that speed, swerving around corners, it becomes deadly for you, whether the bowler misses the length by a fraction or not… you’re better off at the non-striker’s end. Rohit Sharma might have wished he didn’t take the single on ball three that brought him on strike.

  1. 0.4: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Kamran Akmal, bowled. 0 (2)
  2. 0.6: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Imam-ul-Haq, bowled. 4 (4)
  3. 0.1: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Luke Ronchi, caught. 0 (1)
  4. 0.6: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Luke Ronchi, caught. 1 (4)
  5. 0.2: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Shane Watson, lbw. 0 (1)
  6. 0.2: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Tom Banton, caught. 0 (1)
  7. 0.6: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Moeen Ali, bowled. 1 (5)
  8. 0.4: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Jonny Bairstow, bowled. 0 (3)
  9. 0.2: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Abdul Wahid Bangalzai, bowled. 0 (1)
  10. 0.3: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Shan Masood, caught. 0 (3)
  11. 0.2: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Sharjeel Khan, caught. 0 (1)
  12. 0.6: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Sharjeel Khan, bowled. 0 (1)
  13. 0.2: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Haider Ali, bowled. 0 (1)
  14. 0.2: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Janneman Malan, bowled. 4 (2)
  15. 0.1: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Imam-ul-Haq, caught. 0 (1)
  16. 0.3: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Chris Lynn, bowled. 0 (2)
  17. 0.3: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Usman Khawaja, caught. 0 (3)
  18. 0.1: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Shan Masood, lbw. 0 (1)
  19. 0.6: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Abdul Wahid Bangalzai, caught. 4 (3)
  20. 0.2: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Ali Imran, lbw. 0 (1)
  21. 0.4: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Haider Ali, bowled. 0 (2)
  22. 0.4: Shaheen Shah Afridi to Rohit Sharma, lbw. 0 (1)

Shaheen warmed up for this match with 3 wickets in his last 7 first-over deliveries in the National T20 Cup. Here, he makes it 2 in his first 7 balls. Oh out! What a beauty! He’s on absolute fire! They can not play him! Both openers are gone! There’s something reassuring about Nasser Hussain on commentary for such moments. KL Rahul is also back in the hut.

For a Pakistan cricket fan, though, this isn’t normally where the story ends. Virat Kohli starts to rebuild the innings. Suryakumar Yadav departs soon thereafter, but Rishabh Pant takes over. He hits one-handed sixes. You start dreading the worst.

But look closely. This isn’t the same Pakistan of yesteryear. There are no fumbles in the field. No dropped catches. Everyone is switched on. Mohammad Rizwan casually remarked in the post-match press conference that one glance to midwicket from an Indian batter saw five Pakistani fielders simultaneously rushing toward the ball. This team – Babar Azam’s team – wasn’t going to let this one slip. They were focused and calm. They knew what they had to do.

Still, a couple of erratic Hasan Ali overs follow. You start cursing the laws that limit Shaheen to four overs a match. One nervous eye remains on the total, which has surpassed 100 and is speeding toward 150. The Eagle returns and gets Kohli before he takes off at the death, but it’s an expensive over (not a bad over, mind you) with a few overthrows – and the total has ultimately reached 150. India have recovered to a reasonable total. In Dubai, this is surely defendable.

Now, if there’s one thing Pakistan fans are used to seeing, it’s a top-order collapse. India have possibly their best bowling attack in history. Despite Babar and Rizwan’s solidity… what if? But Mohammad Rizwan is cool. Calm. Collected. He started the game with a smile, and he’s maintained it. He starts with a four and a signature flick square on the leg side for six. The heartbeat is now steadier.

A couple of tight overs from Varun Chakravarthy, and the pressure is back. It’s still a fairly comfortable ask, but you don’t really have too much faith in the other batsmen. Babar isn’t looking all that comfortable with 21 off 25. But he starts to accelerate just when it is needed and gets 30 off his next 15 balls. Pakistan take 16 off the last Chakravarthy over to bring the required rate down from 8.4 to 7.3. In control again. Rizwan would later reveal that the two batters decided before the last Chakravarthy over that it was time for them to tee off. If one of them got out, so be it. They wanted to ensure they kept a firm grip on the match, and they had wickets in hand. And firm the grip remained.

It comes down to 17 off 18 balls. This is really very doable. But on another October day seven years ago in the UAE, you saw Pakistan fail to chase two off the last over against a certain Glenn Maxwell. It’s not really over till it’s over.

This is, however, a different Pakistan. Mohammad Rizwan has been striking at 200 at the death recently, and 3 boundaries off the next 3 balls followed by another quick-run double brings the chase to an end. Pakistanis’ prayers have been answered. Babar and Rizwan embrace each other, and Virat Kohli congratulates them. The other Indians follow suit.

That’s not all, though. The Pakistani players are streaming onto the field, hugging their captain. He embraces them all and shares the joy but quickly reminds them not to overdo it. It’s the start, not the end. He then reiterates the same in a post-match video released by the PCB. He wants them to play like this again tomorrow against New Zealand. He doesn’t want unpredictability and highs and lows. He just wants his team to always be the best. It looks like something really is different about this Pakistan side.

No Pakistani before yesterday had witnessed a World Cup win against India. If you were to write a script to undo some of the pain of the losses of the past, it probably wouldn’t have been too different from what happened yesterday.

This generation of Pakistan cricketers is perhaps one of the most criticized ever. The advent of social media has given everyone the freedom to voice their opinions, even if they go overboard with criticism. Babar was selfish and too slow. Rizwan wasn’t good enough. Imad was one-dimensional. Shadab was a fraud. Hasan was a show-off. Haris was, well, just rubbish. Shaheen was too young. All of them played pivotal roles. Even the ones not mentioned shone in the field.

It wasn’t just social media. Former Pakistan greats haven’t wasted any time trying to bring players down when they have the opportunity. Just three months ago, Pakistan’s hero with the new ball yesterday was apparently more interested in “blowing flying kisses” than taking wickets. Go back a bit further, and last year, another legend of Pakistan cricket opined that he was a medium pacer lacking sharpness. The knives will be out once again the next time anything goes wrong. After all, Pakistan plays in a vacuum. Other teams aren’t there to compete. We’re competing with ourselves. If we win, we did well. If we don’t, we failed.

But this team of selfish, show-off, rubbish, one-dimensional frauds that are too young has achieved something that former greats dreamed of. For now, it’s time to rejoice.

Pakistan Zindabad! 24th October 2021, a day that will live in the memories of Pakistan fans for a long time to come.

The author

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, conse ctetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonum nibhie. Aenean sollici tudin, lorem auci elit consequat ipsutis sem niuis sed odio sit amet nibh vulputate cursus.


At Grassroots Cricket, we give paramount importance to feedback from our viewers. We value your opinions, and in case of suggestions or business inquiries, feel free to get in touch with us.

61-A Main Boulevard Gulberg, Lahore