The Heartbreak Of 99′

I was not even 4 when we won the world cup in 1992. I do not remember a single cricketing moment from the famous MCG final, what I remember is the joy and glee that win brought. How fascinating and how fairytale like that world cup triumph was, a perfect script for a sports drama.

Among many things, that win cemented the status of cricket as the premier sport of the country. Other than that 90’s was a very hard decade to be a cricket fan in Pakistan. In spite of the fact that our team was almost perfect and was may be the best since Pakistan’s induction into the international fold, it under achieved and above that its reputation was tarnished by the match fixing allegations that plagued the game world over in the 90’s. That is why with all the talent, we were not able to repeat the success of 1992. The closest we came to reliving the glory of 1992 was in the summer of 99′ in England.

Pakistan was among the favorites to lift the cup. The road to the 1999 World Cup was very promising. They won a tri-nation series each in Australia and India and then won the customary Sharjah Cup before heading to England. In the beginning of the 99′, Pakistan cricket team had a tough tour of India which meant that they were battle hardened.

The team was also a good mix. It was a perfect combination of youth and experience. In Wasim, we had an able leader, one of the best exponents of the cricket ball and someone who can fetch you some quick runs when needed. Moin Khan, the wicketkeeper was his deputy and was one of the finest wicketkeeper batsmen Pakistan has ever produced. Saeed, Inzimam, Ijaz were the batting spine of the team. All of them were experienced and were in a league of their own. Afridi, Razaq and Azhar were the young all-rounders who were highly promising and talented. In Saqlain, the team had the mystery spin wizard. Saqlain with his doosra had become a potent threat to the batters worldwide. The Rawalpindi express Shoaib Akhtar was the cherry on top as he was at that time the fastest bowler in the cricketing circuit. The best thing about that team was that it was carrying no passengers. The competition was so tough that veterans like Mushtaq Ahmed, Saleem Malik and Waqar Younis had to warm the benches for most of the tournament. Above all, like mentioned above, the team was in a good shape and form. Though just before the world cup it lost its coach Miandad but that jolt did not showed any effect as Pakistan started their campaign with back to back wins.

Pakistan was placed in the Group B along with Australia, Bangladesh, Scotland, New Zealand, and West Indies. Pakistan’s strategy was plain and simple; win the toss, bat first, preserve wickets early on and accelerate in the last ten overs of the game with players like Wasim, Moin and Mehmood in the tank acceleration was not a problem and bowl out the opposition. Pakistanis were not good chasers as almost all of their losses in the cup came while batting second.

Pakistan aced the group stages and was at the top of their group table before the second stage of the tournament which was called the Super six. Pakistan’s only defeat at the group stage came at the hands of minnows Bangladesh. Eyebrows were raised but the shock value of Pakistan team had become a hallmark of our cricket then and unfortunately even today we are tagged as the unpredictables.

Interestingly, Pakistan lost its first two super six games to South Africa and India but like always there was a comeback. Pakistan defeated Zimbabwe convincingly and while doing it Saqlain became the second bowler to take a hat-trick at the world cup. Good omen for Pakistan was that it’s out of form opening batsman Saeed Anwar got his form back and scored a good hundred in the Zimbabwe game. Pakistan qualified for the Semi-final.

Pakistan met New Zealand in the semi-final; the very team they defeated in the semi-final of the 1992 world cup. It was a one sided affair as Pakistan surprisingly chased the target of 242 set by the Kiwis thanks to a good opening partnership and another Anwar century.

The hopes of the Pakistani fans were sky rocketing. The team was peaking. All corners were covered, no weakness in sight and glory was just a match away but in the fateful final, Pakistan team tanked. As usual it was a batting collapse and Australia which they had beaten already in the group stage was crowned the world champions.

Heads were turned back home, the usual match fixing charges were made and the Ehtesab Commission started investigating any wrong doing. Nothing was found and soon it was business as usual.

For me the 1999 world cup campaign encapsulates Pakistan cricket of the 90’s; lots of talent, inconsistency, unpredictability, wasted opportunities, infighting and individual brilliance.

The 1999 world cup changed cricket forever, it ushered the Australian dominance which improved the quality of the game as cricket was no longer only a talented man’s game, and to succeed you need skills and professionalism too. Pakistan who had always relied on its natural raw talent found itself lacking the other two ingredients of success.

In today’s cricket you can win a game or two on the basis of talent but in order to attain consistency in your output you are needed to have the right skill set and professionalism. As the game is continuously evolving it is important that you have the tendency to adapt. Unfortunately, we are always found lacking and always a step behind when it comes to adapting ever changing techniques and rules.

Still the 1999 world cup will always be remembered by the Pakistani fans for what it could have been but could not.

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