New Zealand burst Pakistan’s Champions Trophy bubble

KARACHI: Euphoria is one hell of a drug. It sweeps over large groups of people in one fell swoop, completely and utterly trapping them in the moment. All those who have experienced euphoria will tell you that in that very moment, it is the only thing that matters. Not the past, not the future. Nothing.

As a nation, we were swept away by such euphoria by the Champions Trophy. How could we have not? Sarfraz Ahmed was so inexperienced. Hasan Ali was so young. Fakhar Zaman was so wild. Muhammad Amir was so fired up. Virat Kohli and India were so helpless. Someone called it the work of angels. It was all so perfect.

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As a nation we spent hours looking at clips of Muhammad Amir getting the better of Kohli twice in two balls. “Pakistan cricket at its very best. One minute down, next minute up,” proclaimed Nasser Hussain as the Men in Green celebrated and the Indian skipper slowly removed the gloves off arguably the greatest pair of hands the game has ever seen.

It was entertaining. It was exhilarating. It was euphoric. And so it made us forget.

It made us forget that Pakistan went into that tournament as the lowest ranked team for a reason. It made us forget the frailties of Pakistan’s batting line-up. It made us forget the profligacy of their fielders. It made us forget about the inconsistency of their bowlers. It made us forget about the limitations of their captain.

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And then along came New Zealand. Or rather we went to them. Euphoric lambs to the slaughter. Sri Lanka had been kind enough to prolong the euphoria by letting the Men in Green walk all over them. New Zealand had no such plans.

All those problems that the euphoria had masked came rushing back. Hafeez’s ban has once again produced a conundrum that no one seems to know the answer to; what exactly is Pakistan’s best combination without the reliably and more-than-handy off-spinner?

Sarfraz is still one of the worst, if not the worst, wicketkeeper at the highest level. Technically questionable yet highly effective Fakhar is the team’s only opener who would even be considered for a spot in any of the teams Pakistan consider their rivals. There is only so much Babar Azam and Shoaib Malik can do and only so long that their form will last.

This is still the worst fielding side in the world. The batsmen are woefully clueless in conditions that they are not used to playing in; and that is increasingly becoming the case with the bowlers too.

It took the visitors, the mighty victors of the Champions Trophy, four games to even let the hosts know that they were in a competition.

When the first semblance of a fight was shown by Pakistan, it was brutally and emphatically stamped out by a rampant Colin de Grandhomme. It was like watching a weak young boy finally standing up to his bully only to be punched hard in the gut. The euphoria had made us believe Pakistan are the playground bullies when instead they are the weird unpredictable kid that suddenly musters up inhuman strength during all-consuming fits of rage. Yes that makes him dangerous and feared but it sure doesn’t mean he stands a chance against the meanest and the baddest of the lot.

The fact that New Zealand had to work for their final two wins will be seen as some sort of scant consolation by some. But it should not be. It seemed more like a case of New Zealand lifting their foot off the pedal, perhaps having gotten bored by the lack of competition that was being offered.

Haris Sohail did his bit after being drafted into the team for the final two games and he can claim to be difference between the humiliation of the first three games and the relatively dignified defeats of the final two games. But his emergence, and the positive performances of Shadab Khan and Fakhar, should not mask over the issues — so ruthlessly exposed by New Zealand.

The euphoria has ended. Now begins the painful task of facing the harsh reality. And the harsh reality is that this team needs improvement. Those improvements will not come in a day. It is important to realise that just like the Champions Trophy triumph didn’t fix all the issues, this whitewash doesn’t remove all the positives.

It is important that the euphoria doesn’t give way to a witch hunt.

Imad Wasim, recovering from knee injury, replaced with Muhammad Nawaz

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