Pakistan, forgetting how to win, and the Bumrah factor

Pakistan cricket is struggling at the moment. (PC:

Those born and raised in the USA, or who have lived there for decades, might have been transported to another venue exactly 400 miles away as they watched Pakistan implode in mind-bending fashion at the Nassau County International Stadium. The Highmark Stadium is home to the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills. In the early 1990s, a time when Pakistan cricket was riding high, the Bills made four consecutive appearances in the Super Bowl, the showpiece event in America’s sporting calendar.

In 1991, with eight seconds left on the clock, Scott Norwood missed a field goal that would have given the Bills victory – a moment that was the inspiration for a similar scene in a Jim Carrey movie a few years later. Thereafter, the Bills just got worse. Jim Kelly, their usually metronomic quarterback, would lose his poise on the big stage and what might have been a dynasty tailed off instead after four years of misery.

By the end, the Bills looked like a team that didn’t know how to win. That’s Pakistan against India in a nutshell, especially in global events. As time passes, the solitary World Cup win in Dubai in 2021 looks more and more like a flash in the pan, the snowflake that should never have landed in the Sahara.

How else can you explain what happened on Sunday afternoon? Everything you could think of went in Pakistan’s favour. They won the toss under overcast skies, and stuck India in on a pitch with plenty of moisture. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma gave them a head start with indiscreet shots early on. And a dismal collapse of 7-30 after some risky hitting from Rishabh Pant left Pakistan needing just a run a ball.

The sun also started beating down, and the pitch was far less challenging than it had been early in India’s innings. But even with all these aces in hand, Pakistan still folded. Instead of a Royal Flush, they were a royal mess once Rohit Sharma started to tighten the screw in the second half of the innings.

South Africa recently chased down a low total to end their hoodoo against the Netherlands. The secret to that was David Miller recognising that the run rate wasn’t a factor and just playing the situation. With the usually cavalier Tristan Stubbs also knuckling down, South Africa overcame a nightmare start to win with a measure of comfort.

That kind of composure was nowhere to be seen from Pakistan. The faces and names may change, but the result never does. Not against India. Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Rizwan have 379 international caps between them, going back nearly a decade. Only they could possibly explain the shots they chose to play when the game was well in hand.

Their cat-on-hot-tin-roof approach was in stark contrast to the clarity with which Jasprit Bumrah bowled. Indian cricket has seen many champions going back to Amar Singh and Mohammad Nissar nearly a century ago. But Bumrah is the closest it’s seen to a certainty.

When India were comprehensively outplayed in the semi-final of the T20 World Cup in 2022, and the World Test Championship final less than a year later, there were so many whaf-ifs, none more so than Bumrah being absent with a back injury that eventually needed surgery.

Yes, he was there in Ahmedabad when India lost the World Cup final last November, but even the most partisan observer would also tell you just how lucky Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne were to survive a Bumrah opening salvo that claimed Mitchell Marsh and Steve Smith. As long as he has overs in the tank, India will always have a sniff.

On Sunday, the 15th over was effectively Rohit’s last throw of the dice. And how Bumrah responded. The game-turning wicket of Rizwan and just three runs conceded. And another three-run over to leave Pakistan needing 18 off the last six balls, with the wicket of Iftikhar Ahmed for good measure.

Two overs with the game up for grabs. Two wickets, seven dot balls, the kind of pressure build-up associated with Chinese water torture. You can talk about game awareness and processes for hours, but to win a World Cup, you also need X-factor players to stand up. From Viv Richards’ direct hits (1975) and Kapil Dev’s catch (1983) to Adam Gilchrist with his squash ball (2007) – it’s always been that way.

Bumrah may or may not be rested against the USA or Canada, but one thing’s for sure. If this World Cup campaign is to end on the trophy podium in Barbados, he will be the one charting the route.