Sarfaraz Ahmed’s comments from the eve of the match, about putting up “600, 500 or 400”, had become social media fodder. But as is wont to happen depressingly often these days, the rest of his answer got lost in the jokes and memes. Sarfaraz wasn’t just saying that he hoped Pakistan scored as many against Bangladesh, but that the expectation to post a humungous total and then bowl out their opponents so cheaply, all to ensure they overtook New Zealand in the net run-rate stakes, was not going to be easy on the same pitch.
“We will do our best but we need to be realistic,” he said on Thursday. “If you score 600, 500 or 400 score on a pitch then you think you can get the other team out for 50? It will be tough but we will still give it a try. The target is in front of us, there are no secrets that [we have] to score 500, 550 and then win by 316-run margin.”
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The technically obvious point, which said much about how they actually felt about such an impossible task, got lost in the way the rest of the press conference panned out, particularly when Sarfaraz said “no comments” gruffly to one question about their progress as a team. Overnight, the comment got out of hand, and it was suggested that Sarfaraz was being daft. But he wasn’t. He was right. He was thinking much the same way any other captain would have.
But when Pakistan came out of the blocks with a jog, and not a sprint, the approach shifted the spotlight from Sarfaraz’s words. Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman, partly because of the way Mehidy Hasan bowled in the first Powerplay, didn’t – or couldn’t – push on. For a team so desperate to be in the last four, there might have been more urgency, however ridiculous it sounded. “We did have a discussion about trying to get 400, but the first ten overs were crucial, and then Fakhar told us that the wicket is slow,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur said afterwards.
Watch on Hotstar (India only) – Babar Azam’s 96
Sarfaraz added that Pakistan needed something miraculous. “I said yesterday it would be a miracle if we scored 400-500. I said yesterday if you are realistic about it, this tournament has seen average first innings scores around 280-300. I didn’t say we’d score 500.
“We read the pitch and knew it was slow. Our target was to score as much as possible, and we scored as many as we could. Our target was to win this match and finish on a high note, which we did. Everyone executed their role well and that satisfies me.”
Shaheen Afridi helps Pakistan end the World Cup on a high Getty Images
But ending up on 315 for 9 in their 50 overs also drove home the point that, had they been a bit more adventurous, they may well have got closer to 350, if not 400. They batted at 4.6 per over for the first 25 overs, and only when they had overs producing 14, 15 and 14 between the 27th and 32nd, did they attempt to push on for a substantial score. The first time they reached more than six an over was at the end of the 46th, but Mustafizur Rahman played his part in slowing them down during the death overs.
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Ultimately, though, given how their World Cup has gone, it was also practical that they settled to play for a win rather than going for broke for what appeared to be a nigh-on impossible dream. Beating Bangladesh would mean that they finished with 11 points, the same as New Zealand, only to miss out on net run rate, a metric that, in itself, has proven a hot topic of discussion over the past few days. If they had done slightly better against West Indies and Australia, the story would have been different for Pakistan.
It may speak of their limitations as a team, but not being able to win this game by 300-plus runs was never the central reason they must pack their bags and look for a flight out of London at the same time as Bangladesh. If anything, the performance of their three youngest players -Shaheen Afridi, Imam and Babar Azam – bodes well for their future. The only hope is by the time the next World Cup rolls around, they will have done enough early on not to need to set ridiculous records in the final game to claw their way to a final-four berth.
But then again, with Pakistan, could it really be any other way?