cricket:image:1439092 [365x205]
cricket:image:1439092 [365x205] (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

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This space is not going to give into the exceptionalism that Pakistan cricket is more prone to this kind of a thing than any other cricket, but they have ended this disappointing campaign on a tragicomic note. It was like the middle order was hell bent on vindicating the RizBar way of playing white-ball cricket, and in these conditions it might well have been. And yet, in the end, even the RizBar way needed some fearless hitting from Shaheen Shah Afridi to relieve the pressure. It leaves you none the wiser about the course Pakistan should take.

If we were to be left with Pakistan cricket's improvisation on the chicken-and-egg situation of whether RizBar are so regressive because of a weak middle order or whether the middle order is so ordinary because RizBar don't let them play at all in flat conditions, did we really need Pakistan to play the World Cup? To be fair to him, Babar Azam took the demotion, pushed up a more attacking left-hand opener, and still the results haven't been great.

In their final match, where the best they could achieve was a consolation win, Pakistan were staring at embarrassment when Babar showed his class, his ability to bat at a run a ball on a difficult surface, but eventually it wasn't enough. It took Afridi's sixes to settle the nerves.

Afridi provided glimpses of what might have been: back to taking wickets in his first over, back to setting the game up for what can be a menacing pace attack. Of all the World Cups, this one had conditions where Babar and Mohammad Rizwan might have been justified in playing the way they do, but Rizwan cracked under the asking-rate pressure against India when the game was his to take home.

A day before this match, Imad Wasim spoke about the mindset needed to play while-ball cricket at par with other excellent modern teams. He spoke about how Pakistan used to rule T20 cricket before they became a regressive unit. He spoke of the need to get rid of the fear of failure.

When asked if it is insecurity from the decision-makers or the highly emotional reaction of the fans that nurtures this fear, Babar pointed at perhaps a question of quality. He said the selections have been consistent, that in fact there has hardly been much churn when he has been captain. In 85 matches that Babar has captained, 27 players have batted from Nos. 3 to 7, including Babar himself and Rizwan. By comparison, in 96 matches since the start of 2020, India have tried 32 players from Nos. 3 to 7.

"I think we are playing the same eight-nine players for the last four years," Babar said. "They should not fear on that front. They are being backed. They are being given opportunities. But as a player, you have to step up a little. Look, the mindset should be how you want to play. Now you can't hit every ball, you can't hit a six on every ball, you can't even get a wicket on every ball. You need to assess the conditions, what's required here.

"Tell me how many matches have been played here [in the USA] and has there been any outstanding batting? There's been a struggle, but you need to be proactive about what's required here. You need partnerships, you need to bowl at good, hard length. It's not that you come with a set mindset and follow just that.

"I am not denying that we have to think out of the box. Every player has to think. It's not that one person has to do it. Every player has to think because cricket has become very fast. We have to move with the times. With modern cricket, you must have game awareness. You know that you have to take it deep here, you have to take a bit of load. You know no matter how much you do, you can't score at 150 here. You try to build the innings. I think it's more game awareness and common sense that is required here."

That sounds like an acceptance that in other, more standard, T20 conditions, Pakistan need to move with the times. If this failure results in course correction, this World Cup could yet be an important event in Pakistan cricket.

However, it will rankle them that they failed to make it out of round one in conditions that suited their style of cricket. There can be some allowance made for the USA defeat because they got put in and the scoring trend through the match suggests that only the first five-six overs were difficult, which is a significant portion of the game. Against India, though, they won the toss, they got the best of the conditions, and the one batter who got in neither killed the chase nor took it deep.

It might also be time to crack the whip a little because the job security Babar mentioned hasn't seemed to work for the top order or the middle order.