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Pakistan look to rally against Bangladesh amid off field controversies

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THE eve of their World Cup game against Bangladesh — the first of the last three must-win games for Pakistan — was more about controversies off the field.

CHAOS has engulfed Pakistan cricket at a time when it was to be avoided at all costs.

Hours ahead of Pakistan’s pre-match training session here at the Eden Gardens on Monday, an alleged text message sent by captain Babar Azam to Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief operating officer Salman Naseer was aired on a mainstream TV channel.

Not long after the players had ended their preparations, chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq resigned owing to the allegations against him of conflict of interest.

All this when Pakistan have to beat Bangladesh, New Zealand and England in their remaining matches of the 50-over showpiece to have any hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals.

In the midst of this turmoil, Pakistan are highly likely to not have the services of all-rounder Shadab Khan at their disposal against Bangladesh.

The side’s vice-captain did not bat or bowl in the nets during training and at least by that point was under observation for concussion fears related to his fall while fielding in the previous match against South Africa in Chennai.

Earlier in the same match, the leg-spinning all-rounder had played an important 43-run knock to boost Pakistan to a fighting 270.

While Shadab is set to miss out, pacer Hasan Ali has recovered from illness and will be available for selection for today’s clash.

Pakistan, however, will be spoilt for choices between Hasan and fellow fast bowler Mohammad Wasim Jr, who fared well against the Proteas.

The team goes into the match on the back of four consecutive defeats — against India, Australia, Afghanistan and South Africa —which have brought the greenshirts to a precarious position from where they have no control over their fate in the tournament.

Pakistan players and fans alike will be hoping other contenders at the global event for the still-open fourth spot in the standings will falter.

Head coach Grant Bradburn said it wasn’t a situation Pakistan wanted to be in at the start of their campaign.

“We were determined at this stage of the tournament to be in control of our destiny but we’re not,” he said during the pre-match press conference on Monday.

“That hurts the group and all we can do now is control what we can control, and that is prepare well for [the remaining] three remaining pool games and then allow fate to be hopefully leaning on us in terms of our semi-final hopes from there.”

Bradburn admitted it was a “reality” that Pakistan had faced and that the players are hurt by what had unfolded.

Amid the uncertainty surrounding the side in relation to what is going on in the PCB offices plus a miserable World Cup campaign so far, Bradburn felt the team’s dressing room environment was not a matter of concern.

“There’s never any issue in terms of the environment,” he said. “We have a wonderful group of players who are very determined, as I said before, to bring joy to their nation, play a quality, exciting brand of cricket for our fans and to make our country and our families proud of the performances that we put on the park.”

Bangladesh have fared even worse than Pakistan in the World Cup and their chances to make it to the semi-finals are effectively none.

Bradburn, however, believed it was important to respect the Shakib Al-Hasan-led side, who finished a place above Pakistan in the Asia Cup last month.

“We know Bangladesh very well,” said the Pakistan head coach. “We’ve played them in the Asia Cup. We’ve played them before.

“As I said, this is a new venue for us. But we’ve done our homework, and we’re very much looking forward to putting our best on the park over these next three games.”

With their World Cup campaign all but over, Shakib believed Bangladesh had a lot to play for.

“As you know, we have to win to be able to qualify for the Champions Trophy,” he said. “That’s an important target I think we can set at this moment and to do that we have to win. We have no other options and that’s what we would look to do.”

Bangladesh’s last outing in the showpiece was an 87-run drubbing by a much less experienced Netherlands team in Kolkata last Saturday. With their players down and out of confidence following that match, Shakib said they had to lift themselves against Pakistan.

“We have to motivate ourselves to return to the form,” he said. “And only one can return to their form individually. In batting, or bowling whichever you say, even in fielding, although cricket is a team game, you have to perform individually.”

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2023


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