Wounded Pakistan still 'feeling the pain and hurting', but morale remains intact

“It always hurts you a bit after losing such a big match. We can't pretend that nothing happened,” says Iftikhar Ah

After such a harrowing defeat, amid such a surreal spectacle at a heaving MCG magnified by the entire cricket world watching, Pakistan captain Babar Azam had the difficult task of addressing his crestfallen players in the dressing room.

Some players were slumped, others had their hands on their heads, trying to rationalise the absurdity of what had just transpired. In a 90-second rallying cry, which has since gone viral on social media, Babar calmly but firmly, gesturing with his hands, lifted his team off the canvas.

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“(Babar) told us that it was not our last game. That it (the match) is over, and we all put in our best effort,” Pakistan batter Iftikhar Ahmed,
who hit a 34-ball 51 against India, said after clasping together in front of his head while listening intently to Babar.

“The captain and the management have supported us. Our morale is high and we are confident as always.”

Even though spirits were lifted, the pain over such a defeat in an instant classic between great rivals that will be forever remembered, gnaws away.

“It always hurts you a bit after losing such a big match. We can’t pretend that nothing happened… no, it really hurts,” Iftikhar said. “After all, we are representing more than 200 to 250 million people here. Therefore, we are all feeling the pain and are hurting.”

It looms as a major challenge, but Pakistan will need to regroup quickly against Zimbabwe on Thursday. The sunny skies in Perth to greet Pakistan would have surely provided a tonic, after so much weather innuendo in Melbourne, and so too stepping onto Optus Stadium, which mirrors the nearby WACA with its bounce and pace while swing on the green-tinged pitch has been notable with the new ball.

After such a menacing burst against India on a similarly nippy MCG deck, until he was finally collared by a peerless Virat Kohli, speedster Haris Rauf looms as the key for Pakistan with expectations he can replicate England quick Mark Wood’s rapid spell against Afghanistan on Saturday.

“Haris is our main strike bowler and we expect him to bowl better here and win it for Pakistan,” Iftikhar said. “The Australian pitches are fast and bouncy and we have prepared for that.”

After Pakistan were rattled early by menacing movement, which almost resembled something out of a Shield match, from India quicks Arshdeep Singh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Iftikhar steadied the innings by cleverly utilising the gaps on the vast MCG before being inventive against left-arm spinner Axar Patel.

“People say I don’t play sweep and reverse, so I am also trying to master these shots. Sweep and reverse sweep will be key shots on these pitches because of the bounce here,” he said.

“My role in the team is to stay long at the crease after we lose a wicket. My role is to take stock and then attack. When you get runs against big teams then it raises your morale and I will take this confidence forward.

“Every match is a new game and the effort will be to give my 100% for the team.”

Pakistan’s heartbreaking opening defeat has put them – even at this early stage – on the back foot, meaning there is little room left for error if they are to make the semi-finals again.

While hot favourites against Zimbabwe, Pakistan will know nothing is guaranteed in a tournament throwing up upsets and nerve-jangling finishes against an opponent who confidently navigated the first round and then shared the points with South Africa albeit in controversial circumstances.

“Zimbabwe is an international team and we have to play strong against them like any other team,” Iftikhar said. “Important to play well…the players are hungry to perform.

“We are trying to prepare for the next game, come back strong and remain in contention for this World Cup.”