DHARAMSALA, India — As Pakistan belted Bangladesh around Eden Gardens in their World T20 opener on Wednesday, they finally showed the world they are getting to grips with the shortest format of the game.
Never before had Pakistan reached 200 in a T20I but in Kolkata, Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad and Shahid Afridi sent the ball to all sides as the Men in Green imposed themselves.
The inconsistency and unpredictability often associated with the country’s cricketing sides has certainly been prevalent in T20Is for Pakistan over the years. On this occasion, however, the potential of a talented side was realised.
It has been a landmark year already in Pakistani cricket, the inaugural Pakistan Super League arriving in the UAE to much fanfare and quickly establishing itself as a competition to be taken seriously.
This victory against Bangladesh saw the optimism created by the PSL return, as Pakistan’s difficulties in the build up to the World T20 – both on the pitch at the Asia Cup and off it with the debacle of the India match switching venue – were swiftly forgotten.
Sharjeel Khan may not have had a score of any real note since a century in the PSL saw him called-up to the Pakistan squad, but two sixes and a four in his innings of 18 epitomised this new, confident Pakistan.
Khan’s opening partner Shehzad made a mockery of the selectors’ initial decision to leave him out, with 52 off 39, while Hafeez’s 64 off 42 couldn’t have come at a better time for a man with just 31 runs in his last four T20Is.
That Afridi finished things off with a typically whirlwind 49 from 19 was fitting, everything coming together in blissful, belligerent unison for a country so often unable to make the most of its abundant cricketing resources.
The onus had been placed on the batsmen to take responsibility of innings with the bowling attack settled and in superb form. At the famed Eden Gardens, at last, they did just that.
Particularly sweet was that it came against a Bangladesh side that had been Pakistan’s nemesis in recent limited-overs cricket, culminating in a five-wicket win for the Tigers in the group stage of the Asian Cup when Al-Amin Hossain, Arafat Sunny & co ran riot with the ball and bowled their opposition out for 129.
Two weeks have passed since that match but it seemed a world away, such was Pakistan’s progress.
The Pakistan of old saw players lose their heads and capitulate just when the situation demanded calmness. In Kolkata, the current incarnation appeared more confident, their self belief built on the premise that the players better understand their roles as individuals and as part of the team.
Much needed common sense in the selection of the squad that ended up in India cannot be underestimated, with officials at last listening to the cases of the players – all stubbornness and ego removed.
The real test for Pakistan is whether they can maintain this momentum and build on their landmark moment with the bat. Only then will we know whether or not this team is ready to take on the best of the world at every turn rather than just when they feel like it.
The ruthlessness shown against Bangladesh needs to become a hallmark of their cricket, the rule not the exception.
If they were to do this in India, after everything that has happened so far, it may well cause riots on the street but would be an incredible story.
Similar to India’s triumph at the inaugural World T20 and the insatiable thirst it created for T20 cricket in the country, a victory for Pakistan could elevate the game even higher, building on the strong foundations of the PSL.
We shouldn’t get too carried away, after all a wounded India are up next at the World T20. But on this early evidence, there has not been a Pakistan side more ready to spark a major change in fortunes.