There are two things that bind the divided Pakistani state: cricket and tea. When both at their best, the nation seems to be overwhelmed with unity and joy; however when not given their preferred cup of tea or a dismal showing by the Pakistani cricket team, the general mood becomes quite nasty. Over the years I would say, tea has had a better run as compared to the performances of the Pakistan cricket team. The recently concluded Asia Cup held in the grounds of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is a case in point. The drubbing which Pakistan received at the hands of India — twice — and Bangladesh — which eventually knocked us out of the tournament — has once again led to negative public perception and pessimism. Before the continental tournament began, Pakistani cricket fans were quite certain that the team would reach the final and eventually win the Asia Cup. Ask anyone at home, school or office and they would agree with this sentiment. Perhaps this notion came from the goodwill generated by winning the recent Champions Trophy. Many are now saying that Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win was a fluke, considering their Asia Cup performance. However they are absolutely wrong. It took Pakistan performance after performance, to beat South Africa and then Sri Lanka, before getting a hammering against India in their opening games of the Champions Trophy. It also took a great performance to beat a very competitive England in the semi-finals; and eventually it took a lot of courage and confidence to emphatically defeat India in the final. So where does Pakistan go from here? However, this was all a pipe dream as Pakistan’s batting and fielding was back to its faltering best. It is pretty annoying when one has to watch Pakistan’s batting collapse, especially when we have had this problem for the past several years. I wonder why though? as Pakistan is known to have pitches which produce runs and there are many quality batsmen involved in the domestic circuit as well. The pitches set up in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were very similar to those in Pakistan and most players should have easily managed to adapt to them, and boast a big total. So why then did the batting not provide winning totals or a successful run chase, yet again? What happened in the Asia Cup which led to Pakistan’s poor showing? Well for starters, the selection combinations were pretty questionable during the tournament. I wonder why Mohammad Amir was dropped in the crucial game against Bangladesh in the semi-final. If both Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan bowled in tandem in that match, the result could have been a lot different. However, holistically speaking; I don’t think one should have changed the winning combination from the Champions Trophy during the entire tournament. Right from Pakistan’s first game against India, we once again saw the anxious and panicked Pakistani team which many of us are familiar with. This anxiety and panic eventually led to low confidence which was admitted by Micky Arthur later in the tournament. I was not expecting much from Fakhar Zaman; but I did have great expectations from Imam-ul-Haq and Babar Azam. Imam did not disappoint but many in Pakistan were really let down by Babar Azam. Babar Azam is a promising player with very good technique. His previous records in the UAE also speak volumes about his performance in such conditions. This is a very crucial stage for Pakistan’s top three batsmen in their careers. This is a time when a batting mentor from yesteryears, is required to step in, and sort out their problems. With the bat as I feel Grant Flower is not being able to get the best out of them. The middle order over the past several years has been quite fragile, with the exception of Shoaib Malik’s superb form. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed is also not happy with his form, but I guess the pressure of captaincy is taking a toll on him. After being knocked out, Sarfaraz did accept full responsibility for Pakistan’s poor performance in the Asia Cup. At times, his captaincy does show a lot of eagerness when he is behind the stumps, which paves the way for anxiety to get the better of him and the team. Leading to the Asia Cup, Pakistan’s fielding transformed under the leadership of coach Steve Rixon. His resignation was due to the administrative delays of salaries by the PCB. As a result, Pakistan dropped around eight catches in the Asia Cup. Many are now saying that Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win was a fluke, considering their Asia Cup performance. However they are absolutely wrong. It took Pakistan performance after performance, to beat South Africa and then Sri Lanka, before getting a hammering against India in their opening games of the Champions Trophy. It also took a great performance to beat a very competitive England side in the semi-final; and eventually it took a lot of courage and confidence to emphatically defeat India in the final. So where does Pakistan go from here? Realistically it’s back to the UAE for a two test series against Australia and that too without strike bowler Mohammad Amir being replaced by an aging Wahab Riaz. It will not be easy against the controversy stricken Australian side who wants to desperately bring the focus back to cricket, by winning the series after their ball tampering incident against South Africa. In all of this uproar over the Asia Cup, there is one positive in which the panic button was not pressed which more often than not leads to unnecessary drastic changes. For this we should be thankful that the current Pakistan Cricket Board is being run by the very wise and capable Chairman Ehsan Mani. The writer is based in Karachi Published in Daily Times, October 4th 2018.