This article was first published on February 28, 2016, after Pakistan’s loss to India in Asia Cup. It remains current and accurate, still, after latest clash between the two sides ICC Champions Trophy 2017 at Birmingham.
Growing up watching Miandad and Imran stepping into the peak of their careers and transforming Pakistan team from a ‘good-contest’ to a fierce competitor, I always considered myself lucky to have witnessed that transformation. Along the way, also came that fascinating period of total dominance of Pakistan over the arch rivals, India.
There was a time – that was the time – when Pakistan almost always had the psychological upper hand over the arch rivals and it was Indians who always looked nervous, unsure and mentally not ready to snatch a victory from Pakistan’s grasps. On the other hand, Pakistanis simply looked more confident, sure and ready to win over India from any situation. That last ball sixer by Miandad seemed to have not only dented the hoarding in Sharjah Stadium but also the psyche and self-belief of Indian team as well.
There were countless games after that Sharjah game where India could have won but when it turned from a game of Cricket to a game of nerves, Pakistanis seemed to make Indians blink first and lose the games from winning positions more because of panic and nervousness rather than Cricketing capability itself.
Times have changed, situation has been reversed and tables have been turned. Being still a passionate supporter of Pakistan team and having the luxury of comparing ‘that past’ and ‘this present’ based on my personal experience and observation, I am left with no option but to acknowledge that Pakistan team of today has turned exactly into the Indian team of 80s.
That Indian team of 80s didn’t lack the quality, skill or individual brilliance either. They still had Kapil Dev, Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Shastri and young Sachin but for one reason or the other, they didn’t seem ready to put up a fight when it came to facing Pakistan team of that era.
Since then – the exit of Imran and Javed – there have been many games in between where Pakistan also managed to win quite a few but when it comes to the peak of pressure and test of nerves, self-belief and confidence, nothing can come close to India Pakistan games than at the World Cups and other ICC events.
It all started, probably, in Benglore back in 1996 when Ajay Jadeja decided to take on Waqar Younus at his peak and managed to thrash him all around the park. Probably that’s when, for a change, Indians showed the self-belief on a pressure stage while Pakistanis succumbed to the pressure of the occasion. Saeed and Aamir, and later Miandad and Rashid did put up a fight but that was not enough.
Probably that’s when Indians announced the reversal of fortunes between India and Pakistan at the greatest stage of all, ironically, in the game that turned out to be the last of Miandad – the same man who dented their confidence some 10 years ago.
From then on, it has been just one way traffic. The same theme and posturing of characters only with difference in faces and tactical details. Be it Misbah failing to score a single off last two balls in the first ever T20 clash between the sides back in 2007 or failing to score 5 off last 4 balls later in the finals of the same World Cup or Sachin and Sehwag blunting arguably the most ferocious pace attack of Pakistan’s history in 2003 World Cup or Pakistanis spilling 4 chances of Sachin before going into a mystery nap while chasing at Mohali in 2011 World Cup or Pakistani team doing the repeat of 2011 World Cup in 2015 World Cup at Adelaide or even that game of 1999 World Cup where a weaker ranked Indian side nailed arguably the best ODI side of Pakistan’s history that had the luxury of going on to beat everyone with someone like Waqar Younus warming the bench, there has been a common theme to the proceedings.
That common theme has been the nervousness, anxiety and lack of self-belief in Pakistan team while facing India. On one side, from Sachin to Kohli, Indians have managed to step up their game during the contests carrying highest level of pressure in any game anywhere in Cricket, while on the other side, Pakistan has managed to display self-inflicted choke one after the another. They have simply not showed up for a fight on the day of the duel and succumbed under the pressure again and again.
The latest game between the two sides – Asia Cup encounter in Dhaka – has followed the same theme. The Pakistan team looked nervous, anxious, unsettled and unsure all throughout except for that spell from Amir. Amir and his individual performance can go the same way like the occasional individual performances of some Indian players back in the time of Pakistan’s dominance – brilliant but not good enough. Even through that period of brilliance from Amir, the Indians looked more assured, confident, calm and settled as compared to Pakistanis. And, if we have to put it this way, Kohli casted the same effect on the game that Miandad used to do to Indians back in his days.
It is now safe to say that from established best, Pakistan team has silently transformed into established second best. Reasons can be many but not all are Cricketing ones. The difference between India and Pakistan Cricket is, now, not Cricket but professionalism and self-belief.
Pakistan has simply surrendered to psychological dominance of India and they don’t seem to be coming out of it any time soon. More than Cricketing skills, if Pakistan has to change the pattern of results, it will have to address the lacking in professionalism and self-belief. Else, it will be just another day, another venue, another show but the same theme and the same results, that is, India dominating and outsmarting Pakistan yet another time.
The author is an independent writer who runs his blog at krick3r.com and can also be reached directly at fb/krick3r and twitter/krick3r for any interaction and feedback.