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Four years ago, when the Asia Cup 2018 was held here in the UAE in September, many already predicted Pakistan to be the finalists. All because they were the Champions Trophy winners, they won 5-0 against teams like Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe and the top three were coming off a record-breaking series.
They were so confident that they thought they will defeat India twice in the tournament. As if the path to their final was just easy. But it was horrible. It was so horrible that many of fans did not anticipate what was to come.
Asia Cup: Where did it go wrong?
For starters, the squad itself was just poor. Pakistan took six fast bowlers and two front-line spinners. From the Zimbabwe series they were coming from, they dropped Mohammad Hafeez and Yasir Shah and added uncapped Shaheen Afridi and Haris Sohail. On slow wickets of the UAE, it was baffling. The experienced Hafeez averaged almost 50 since 2013 and dropping him was perhaps a worst decision that was made.
They had their opening game against Hong Kong. Easy win. Nothing else. There was no real threat from the qualifying team. Then came India vs Pakistan. There was a lot of excitement and a lot of confidence. All of the Pakistanis believed that it was their game to win. Eight hours later (or less than that. Maybe six), PAK were humiliated by India. The manner of defeat was embarrassing as they were bundled out for 162.
That was the fourth time in seven innings from Jan 5, 2013 till that day that PAK managed scores between of 157 and 165 against India. The men in blue, led by Rohit Sharma, won by eight wickets.
The hype may have died afterwards with more sense theory and predictions were put by the experts and journalists. Because the Afghanistan game went down the line. Shaheen made his debut and AFG put on a fine total of 257. Sarfaraz Ahmed and his side started off great (apart from Fakhar’s loss). But the moment Babar Azam and Imam ul Haq got out, their fragile middle order could not put up. If it wasn’t for Shoaib Malik, this would have been a bad loss.
Asia Cup: From Bad to Worse in Super 4s
PAK met India again. What happened? A below-par total of 230 odds was *enough* after another poor start. But there was more pain in the bowling than it was in the batting. Twin centuries from RG Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan gave the Green Team a nine wickets defeat. This loss was far more embarrassing than it was in the first round and Pakistan needed to beat Bangladesh to qualify for the final to face IND for the 3rd time.
Bangladesh game came and finally, Junaid Khan was included in the Playing XI. It was an astonishing decision not to include him from the start, especially how he has been successful since his return in 2017. PAK had BAN troubled for 10-3 odds. Junaid ended with 4-19 figures by innings break where Bangladesh recovered to 239 thanks to 99 from Musfiqur Rahim.
Chasing 240, What happened? Imam in 80s, Shoaib and Asif Ali in 30s. The rest? Forget it. Sarfaraz’s side lost by 37 runs. Pakistan was eliminated. More likely, they were humiliated in the country where they played cricket as their home games since 2009.
For those whole 2 weeks, the excitement and confidence of fans turned into disappointment and anger. A despairing performance was shown by the Pakistan team. Many stated that it was their worst Asia Cup campaign ever.
So here we are again four years later. Same Groupings. Same Teams. Same Venue. But will Pakistan pull out better this time under Babar Azam and his men in the country where they have been so successful since 2016?