Imad Wasim is facing as Ben Stokes charges in, with 3 runs required off the final ball. He swings, it goes high into the air and Joe Root goes back and back and back, goes for the leap into the air but it slips through his fingers for 6 and Pakistan win! The crowd goes wild as 1992 is repeated, even winning against the same opponents! Sarfaraz Ahmed makes an appeal to be Pakistan’s future Prime Minister, and we all know that, in 27 more years, the same thing will happen all over again, as memes of Pakistan winning once every 27 years end up with some comical yet strangely inspiring movie.
That’s the dream, and, somehow or other, it is actually achievable. While England being their final opponent is unlikely, that’s possible too, if England win all of their matches and so do Pakistan, and New Zealand loses, and Pakistan’s net run rate gets ahead of New Zealand’s. But Pakistan would prefer it if they make it instead of England, not as well as them, as then they don’t need to worry about the margins of victory.
The first opponent is lowly Afghanistan but Pakistan would do well not to take this lightly. Afghanistan beat them in the warm-up match and, after being depressed for much of the tournament, they have started to play some good cricket. But Pakistan should win. Just in case it ends up being a net run rate issue, perhaps against New Zealand, they should try to win as big as they can but most likely they just have to win. Just don’t play stupid cricket and they should get there.
If Bangladesh had beaten India, this is effectively a knockout, and even if they lost it is still effectively a knockout – maybe. It all depends on England and perhaps New Zealand too. The best thing for Pakistan to do is to assume that this is a knockout, and to assume that the other games go well.
Bangladesh are more of a one-man team than at any other time in their history, and that one man is Shakib al Hasan, the player of the tournament who has won 3 man of the match awards, in each of Bangladesh’s 3 wins, and was the best player in the team in 2 of the others. His only “failure” still saw him get 41 runs. While most of his performances have been with his batting, he took a 5 wicket haul too.
So the key is to get Shakib out cheaply. Whoever is bowling when Shakib comes in, take them out and bring in Mohammad Amir. Put the very best bowlers in against him and have targets for how to get him out. Get him out cheaply enough and you win. Don’t forget that, had Shakib played at his normal level, Bangladesh wouldn’t have won a single game. While there are other good players, they are at nowhere near the same level.
Mushfiqur Rahim is a fighter who might put in a good batting display, while Tamim Iqbal is, usually at least, Bangladesh’s best batsman. Mustafizur Rahman is their best bowler, and none of these players should be ignored. Bangladesh are also full of a lot of confidence. They believe they can win. So you can’t let them get ahead. Right now they are playing ahead of themselves but so are Pakistan.
Semi finals: Most likely against India
Pakistan have never beaten India in a World Cup match, ever, so the prospect of a semi-final match-up against India is a daunting one. Much of Pakistan’s chances depend on other games, especially whether England or Bangladesh had beaten them – or New Zealand. Of course, if India had lost all of those matches then India won’t be their opponent. But for the sake of argument let’s assume that they are.
India have a very good team, but it feels a bit like those charity games of batsmen versus bowlers that New South Wales used to put on every season. India have 11 batsmen, a few of whom can bowl a bit, while Pakistan have 11 bowlers, a few of whom can bat a bit. The key, therefore, is to get their best batsmen out cheaply and for their own batsmen not to get out too cheaply. Babar Azam had a good innings against New Zealand while Mohammad Hafeez did well against England. The rest haven’t been as good but they could be.
Mohammad Amir needs to get Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni out cheaply for Pakistan to be a chance, and then they need to have Babar Azam and Mohammad Hafeez get big runs.
It’s difficult and Pakistan won’t be favourites at all but it is possible and if it does happen how much would that mean?
Final: Most likely against Australia
Australia are a better opponent than India, as Pakistan have beaten Australia in World Cups before – quite a lot of times, actually. Indeed, if Pakistan do get past India then they should get past Australia too.
A tougher opponent would be England, though that’s only possible if England had won all of their matches and New Zealand hadn’t and then Pakistan get there ahead of New Zealand. England would be tougher because they’d have their own dream going.
The chances are slim, but they are a lot stronger than when the meme started, when they lost their first match against West Indies, just like in 1992.