Perennial underachiever

Pakistan Captain Wasim Akram in conversation with Shoaib Akhtar during the Super Six match against India in the 1999 World Cup. Pakistan, attempting to win another title, came a cropper in the final against Australia.-PICS: V. V. KRISHNAN

Barring the triumph in 1992, Pakistan's cricket history is sprinkled with more disappointments than victories, writes S. Dinakar.

Intikhab Alam rolled his big eyes and then recollected. "It was the switch in the batting order that made the difference," the former Pakistan captain and manager then said. He had travelled to the heart of Pakistan's most famous cricketing triumph, in 1992. To be more precise, the decision of Imran Khan to promote himself to the No. 3 slot.

The great Khan's move proved a masterstroke. It was also based on sound cricketing reasoning. Imran's technical attributes and his ability to build an innings could prevent the pacemen from making inroads. The ploy worked.

It was essentially the top-order fragility that had proved to be Pakistan's nemesis in the earlier games. The stroke-makers in the line-up arrived too early, were sorted out by the swing bowlers.

Javed Miandad was a supreme fighter, but then there was too much pressure on him. The side required stability and a platform to build a good total on. Imran, among the greatest cricketing leaders of all time, could inspire. He also had vision. And his side came back from the dead down under in 1992. The Pakistani surge was fuelled by Imran's great dream — to build a state-of-the-art cancer hospital in memory of his mother.

Pakistan had an attack that could sting with Wasim Akram and Mushtaq Ahmed forming a formidable pace-spin force. But Pakistan needed runs to regain momentum.

Under the circumstances, Imran's 44 in the semifinal in Auckland ensured Pakistan had wickets on hand. Then, Miandad's resolve, Inzamam-ul-Haq's enterprise and Moin Khan's cameo enabled Pakistan edge out New Zealand with one over and four wickets in a humdinger.

In the final at the MCG, Aamer Sohail and Rameez Raja were prised out early by the English pacemen but Imran's 72 at No. 3, and Miandad's 58, followed by some booming blows by Inzamam and Akram ensured Pakistan finished at a respectable 249 for six.

Then, incisive bowling by Akram and Mushtaq shut the door on England. Imran had, in a significant statement before the final, said he would encourage Akram to go flat out even if the left-armer sent down wides in the process. Imran comprehended that claiming wickets was the best way to slow down run-rate. He was also, psychologically, imploring his best bowler to attack. Akram's speed and swing had the final say.

Pakistan was the World Champion. Said Imran: "Our team had come through a torrid time in the early matches. Midway through the World Cup, we were second from the bottom and only got to the semifinals because Australia beat the West Indies. Yet by playing under pressure for so long in the run-up to the final, we were far better equipped to handle it than England, who cruised into the last four."

Imran was right when he spoke of the luck factor — Pakistan was bundled out for 74 by England in the league game in Adelaide but inclement weather prevented a result in the contest — but once the door opened ever so slightly, Pakistan joined the party. It seized the moment.

The skipper ruled with an iron fist. He brought discipline into the cricket of the talented Pakistanis.

Yet, the country's cricket history is sprinkled with more disappointments than Cup triumphs.

Pakistan is a volatile unit. It can sweep past opposition. The side, with fiery pacemen and extraordinary shot-makers, can also crumble under pressure.

Pakistan players, led by Wasim Akram, congratulate Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid after India's victory at Supersport Park, Centurion, in the 2003 World Cup.-

This is a side that does not play the percentages too well. It often goes for glory and pays the price.

Unlike India, which did not quite possess a pace attack that could inflict serious damage in the first two editions, Pakistan had the firepower. Let's take the inaugural World Cup in 1975 for instance. Pakistan was a side, whose star cricketers had plenty of experience in the English conditions.

A line-up that included Majid Khan, Sadiq Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Wasim Raja, Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz glittered. And someone like Asif Masood, a lively right-arm paceman with an angular run-up, was a fine bowler.

Pakistan disappointed against Australia, undone by Dennis Lillee's swing and seam at Headingley. Then it lost a wonderful opportunity to stun the West Indies at Edgbaston and the side's end-game skills were under scrutiny.

Clive Lloyd's men, chasing 267 in 60 overs, stared defeat at 203 for nine before Derrick Murray and last man Andy Roberts scripted a sensational win for the Caribbeans. Pakistan crushed Sri Lanka at Trent Bridge, but lost out on a semifinal place.

The side performed slightly better in 1979, qualifying for the semifinals. Yet, despite mounting a brave chase, countering a fearsome pace attack, Pakistan fell 43 runs short of 293. Majid's 81 and Zaheer's 93, both brilliant efforts, reflected the side's batting capabilities though.

A shin injury to Imran Khan, which prevented the paceman, now at the peak of his abilities, from bowling, was a crushing blow to Pakistan, ahead of the 1983 World Cup. However, Pakistan exceeded expectations by qualifying for the semifinal; the side's pace bowling reserves came in handy. But the Pakistanis crumbled against the four-pronged West Indies pace attack at the Oval. A total of 184 was never going to be enough. It's another matter that the Indians triumphed at Lord's three days later, scoring one run less.

Pakistan, in the sub-continental conditions, was among the favourites in the 1987 World Cup. However, the side succumbed to the pressures of the chase in the semifinal in Lahore.

Australia's 267 was a useful collective effort. But then, Pakistan was well placed for victory at 150 for three when Imran (58) fell to his opposite number Allan Border. The pugnacious Miandad (70) battled with the tail, but the fast and furious Craig McDermott (five for 44) cleaned up the lower order. Australia had clinched a thriller by 18 runs.

Eight years later, Pakistan would go down to India in a titanic quarterfinal duel in Bangalore. India, with Navjot Singh Sidhu blitzing 93 and Ajay Jadeja — he dented Waqar Younis' figures — cutting loose at the death, progressed to 287. Pakistan replied strongly with openers Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar blazing away, but once Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad struck, the innings lost momentum. Pakistan lost its way and India was a comfortable 39-run winner. The fact that Akram pulled out of the squad ahead of the match due to fitness concerns harmed the side's chances.

Pakistan had plenty of firepower for the 1999 edition in England. Akram's craft was complemented by Shoaib Akhtar's pace. Then, the side possessed two capable pace bowling all-rounders in Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood.

The side cantered to the Super Six despite a shock defeat at the hands of Bangladesh. Pakistan then went down to India and South Africa but defeated Zimbabwe and entered the last four, with points carried over helping its cause.

The side outclassed New Zealand in the semifinal at Old Trafford. The inform Saeed Anwar struck a glorious unbeaten 113. Pakistan, chasing 242, was home by nine wickets.

The final at Lord's proved to be an anticlimax. Pakistan, bamboozled by Shane Warne's leg-spin and stifled by the pace bowlers headed by Glenn McGrath, was skittled out for 132. Akram's decision to bat came under the scanner.

Australia raced to the target in the 21st over, losing just two wickets.

Pakistan promised to deceive in the 2003 edition in Southern Africa. In a high octane encounter at Centurion, that saw Shoiab Akhtar and Sachin Tendulkar facing off, the paceman emerged second best. Akhtar bowled quick, but provided width to Tendulkar. Pakistan posted a challenging total, but the Indians made light of the target. A semifinal berth eluded Pakistan.

Given the wealth of ability in the side, Pakistan is an underachiever in the World Cup.