The moment has finally come after years of will-they-won’t-they, months of administrative wrangling, and weeks of visa uncertainty. In Hyderabad, India, Pakistan will play in a World Cup game against Netherlands; Hyderabad is a somewhat modest location. It’s a quiet beginning rather than an explosive one, but it’s still a beginning between two sides who, at times, seemed as though they didn’t really want to come to India and who would have given anything to be here.
Though this match at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium is unlikely to be played in front of a crowded public, the opening Pakistan game at a World Cup is often a lively affair. The crowd may lack some of the energy Pakistan games typically have due to the tickets rollout, which is little short of chaotic, and the fact that practically all Pakistani citizens are still awaiting their visas. But it’s a city where they were made to feel incredibly welcome, and they had enthusiastic local support for the exhibition game against Australia. Since Pakistan won’t be in town frequently, it’s impossible to dismiss the chance to see players like Babar Azam or Shaheen Shah Afridi up close.
Less than a month ago, Pakistan believed they were in the lead when all three of their key fast bowlers were healthy and effective, but since then, things have drastically declined. Naseem Shah has been disqualified from the competition after Pakistan placed last in the Super 4s at the Asia Cup.
Due to the slumping play of Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman, Pakistan lost the warm-up match with six overs remaining despite scoring 345 against New Zealand and 351 against Australia. They ought to be strong enough to avoid being overly concerned about the Netherlands team, but in a World Cup, it’s risky to take anything for granted.
The main reason for Netherlands’ disappointment is that both of their warm-up matches were disrupted by weather, with one of them being entirely wiped out. As a result, their last 50-over match as a team was the World Cup Qualifier final three months ago. As the campaign progressed, built momentum, and eventually showed their talent and capacity to handle pressure few teams at the World Cup proper had to. Since they have a superior batting lineup, they may benefit if the field is as level as Hyderabad was for the two exhibition games played here. However, with Bas de Leede, Shariz Ahmed, and Paul van Meekeren leading the assault against Australia, and Roelof van der Merwe playing well, Netherlands have something to work with.
There is only one man participating in this discussion. Nobody in this Pakistani side is as forensically scrutinized by a quarter of a billion people as Shadab Khan. Due to the vice-captain’s lackluster performance, particularly in this format and with the ball, there have been hitherto inconceivable requests for his exclusion from the starting lineup.
He had a dismal Asia Cup, giving up 218 runs in 35 overs at 109 runs for each wicket in his last four games. He also had a poor warm-up game against Australia. Usama Mir’s legspin stock has increased over the previous several weeks, despite the fact that he hasn’t produced many runs to make up for it. Against the Netherlands, Shadab’s position shouldn’t be in jeopardy, but his performance may well determine if that remains the case as the World cup goes on.
Haris Rauf’s inquiry about Bas de Leede’s health following a bouncer from the bowler that left him with a concussion and a serious cut under his eye during the final Netherlands-Pakistan match played in Perth last year was the iconic moment of the game. Haris had then advised de Leede to “go well,” and she has. He had dazzled in an ODI between the two teams in Rotterdam a few months prior, coming close to a century. But his best performances came during the World Cup qualifiers, where he helped his team advance with scores of 41, 33, 41, 39, and an incredible 116-ball 123. A year after the sad match in Perth, that is still the last ODI he played, and he has the opportunity to participate in the opportunity to show how well he’s going.